Who Counts as Your Dependent /Tax Deduction? You Might Be Surprised

Deductions and Credits

For updated information also see Who Can I Claim as My Dependent?

Tax season is when we look at our family and friends in a different – and tax-deductible – light.

Can I count my sister-in-law as a dependent? How about my live-in girlfriend and her unemployed brother? What about my golden retriever?

Believe it or not, the IRS code tells us that any of the above, except the retriever, could qualify as a dependent under the right circumstances.

Why are dependents good to have at tax time?

For each dependent you can legally claim, you get a $3,500 deduction on your 2008 taxes. So if you are in the 25 percent tax bracket and have three dependents, worth $10,500 in deductions, you could save $2,625 on your taxes. (However, for some higher-income earners, deductions are reduced.)

In our society, where growing numbers of people live together who aren’t married or aren’t related, it’s good to know the rules. And if economic realities mean that you’ve had grown children move back home with you, or that you’ve extended financial help to a family member, you could get a tax break.

The following guidelines only apply to adult dependents. (The IRS has all sorts of rules for dependent children, particularly those whose parents are divorced. For information, see IRS Publication 504: Divorced or Separated Individuals.)

If you claim an adult as a dependent, that person must meet several IRS qualifications:

  • Had less than $3,500 of gross income during 2008.
  • Received more than half of his or her support from you for the year.
  • Did not file a joint income tax return for 2008 with anyone else.
  • Is a citizen or resident of the United States, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.
  • Is a member of your household for the full year, or a relative who does or does not live with you.

As you can see, this last requirement opens your door – and your tax return – to many potential dependents, as long as you’re willing to support them.

So, to use our initial example, your live-in girlfriend and her brother who also lives with you could count as your dependents, if they meet qualifications.

But what if you support someone who doesn’t live with you, such as your elderly mother?

The IRS allows you to count as a dependent a whole list of relatives who don’t also have to occupy your home, as long as you provide more than half their annual support:

  • Children, stepchildren, eligible foster child, grandchildren or great grandchildren
  • Siblings, including half or step siblings
  • Parents, grandparents, or any other direct ancestors
  • Stepparents
  • Aunts or uncles
  • Nieces or nephews
  • Fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, brothers-in-law, or sisters-in-law

Unfortunately, your golden retriever is not among these. Nor is your gardener or house cleaner, even though it might seem you support them. They’re your employees, not your dependents.

Comments (264) Leave your comment

    1. Hi Ashley —

      Your brother may be able to claim your cousins if they meet the IRS requirements. Briefly:
      Relationship: The person lives in your home for the entire year and is considered to be a member of your household. If they don’t live with you, they need to be related to you.
      Income: Generally, their income is less than $4,000 (not including Social Security and welfare).
      Support: Generally, you provide more than half the person’s support.
      Marital status: Generally, a dependent can’t do their taxes with a spouse (married filing jointly). The also can’t be a dependent on someone else’s return.
      Nationality: The person is a United States citizen; or a resident or national of the U.S., Canada or Mexico.

      Your brother can go ahead and start his return in TurboTax. As he enters information the program will determine whether or not they can be claimed according to the IRS guidelines.

      — Joanna

  1. Can i claim my 18year old just started working but still and high school was with me the whole year i do take care her

  2. My 18 year old sons lived with me 6 months in 2015. I supported them durnig this time. They then moved out on own and earn own $ & support selves now. Can I claim them for 2015 as dependants? They will be filing own taxes because earned own income last 6 months of year.

  3. My mom wants to claim me and my two children. We have lived with her for over 6 months but she doesn’t have proof. Does she need any proof to claim us?

  4. Can I claim my brothers two kids who live in a shelter but I support the kids with food, transportation, and clothes monthly?

    1. Hi Bree,
      You can claim them if you are providing over half of their support and no one else is claiming them. TurboTax will help you claim them if you’re eligible to claim them.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  5. My son is 22 has mental illness and can’t work he goes to group and therapy every week, we provided for him all of 2015 can we claim him on our taxes? and how?

      1. Hi my name is laqueena I calimed my friend whos disabled with seizures and i did mines on turbo tax and it said I she was eligible for 4,000 and im eligible for 89 I dont understand my frien is 23 im 25

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      A married spouse can not be a dependent, but if you file a joint return your spouse will get an exemption of $4,000 for you.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  6. Can I clam my brother in law he lived with me for 8 months then moved out got a job I supported him the whole time he lived with me

  7. If I had my grandson for a solid six month’s and then another 2 1/2 months and continued paying for the things that he needed the rest of the year can I claim him on my income tax? My daughter say’s I can but that if I do she gets 1/2 of it,? How does that work?

  8. Hi, I’ve been on maternity leave since August, and will not be returning to work till may, would I be considered a dependent since I have not had a pay check since August?

  9. Can I claim my grandaughter , who lives in my home ( with her dad as well ) even though THEY get food stamps ? He is not working so he does not claim her … Thanks , N

  10. My son turned 18 in March 2014. He graduated high school and worked for the rest of the year. He couldn’t start college until January 2015 because the lineman program is only offered at the school from January thru December. He made close to 13,000 but saved most of it for his apt and schooling. Can my husband and I claim him on our 2014 taxes since he lived at home and we still supported him?

    1. Check the age requirement. But in either scenario, your son need to file a return and pay taxes on that 13000, unless it was under the table.

  11. How does the federal government think that a 24-year-old in their senior college year earning only $4,000 a year (more than the cap so I could claim her) could support herself on that kind of money? NOTHING as changed from this year to last year with my supporting her 100% because she works in a pizza place just to pay for gas and upkeep of a car to get to and from college. She is unable to afford rent or utilities to keep a roof over her head during this time in her life. It is RIDICULOUS that our government thinks someone could like on four grand. I want to see one of them live on 4 grand. We are working hard toward her getting an education to be able to earn enough to be able to support her and not live off of welfare like so many others. It sickens me to see how much of my income goes to taxes to support people who play the system and have babies and get food stamps and cash assistance and don’t even have social securities. I work in healthcare and see how many suck that system dry. Taxpayers and homeowners are paying for this and I can’t even claim my OWN child toe get a SMALL TAX CREDIT.

    1. They only need to meet the 3950 if you’re a qualifying relative. This is your CHILD. You CAN claim them if he’s a student.

  12. My mom is brain washed buy a con artist now I know why they never wanted me to pay this house off I am 33 and have a brother who is 27 and me and him live to get her in there old house I support my brother 100 percent my mom is so stupid and so am I columbus georgia is terrible for identy theft . Now I know why my father died 100 percent disabled and selected children only because I took care of him and found him dead feb 09 2011 I was allready on ssi because I am bipolar so they put me on SSD my father left me and my brother military benifits it’s been 4 years and we both have not got a straight response from DFAS I tought that I never had to do taxes because I was disabled turns out my stepfather since 2011 has ruined my life by filing my social under my mom because he says he has too because he pays the morgage here wat a eye opener to life taxes mean everything sick people get away with murder in my case I sent the irs a letter and put a shied around my ssn and he did it again even claimin my brother under my mothers ssn this is sick irs disabled people suffer enough do somethin now

    1. Hi Rita,
      You can if:
      – He is a US citizen or US national
      – He lived with you the entire year
      – He did not make over $3,950
      – You provided over half of his support.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  13. If i pay my eldest daughter to babysit her younger sibling. Can i report that as childcare and can she report it as income?

    1. If you want to, yes you can, but your daughter would have to report that income and possible pay taxes. And as an employer, you’ll have to 1099 her

  14. im on ssi and i have a live in no relative caregiver can he claim me on his 2014 taxes? if so do i have to claim his income on my ssi.

    1. I have a parent who lives in a nursing home. I receive his SSI checks and pay the home. Can I claim him as a dependent? SSI is not income, therefore I’m paying out of pocket. There is no clear answer.

  15. Can I Claim My 1 Year Old Cousin If I Have Been Helping my aunt with everything for the baby throughout this year?!? Someone please get back to me

  16. Can I claim my boyfriends 9yr old son he has lived with us for 8months. I have supported him the entire time.. I already have 1 dependent (our daughter-4yrs old).

  17. Can my boyfriend claim his daughter. Even if she doesn’t have his last name, but we have lived together for over a year. Our baby girl was born in November 2014.I had to give her my last name

    1. Hi Leah,
      If she didn’t provide over half of her own support and he supported her then yes he can.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

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