Who Can I Claim As a Dependent?


The age-old question, “Who can I claim as my dependent?”, has remained a confusing topic for many taxpayers and an area where tax deductions are often missed or misstated on tax returns.

Diverse generations

Did you know, you may be able to claim your couch potato friend as a dependent?  Did you realize that support of your struggling aunt who didn’t live with you may qualify you for the dependency deduction?  Don’t feel bad, you would be surprised how many people don’t understand the dependency tax laws.

The bottom line is a dependent must be your “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative” and meet specific tests in order for you to claim them.

There are 5 test that will qualify a child as a dependent as follows:

  • Relationship – Must be your child, adopted child, foster-child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these(grand or nephew).
  • Residence – Must have the same residence for more than half the year.
  • Age – Must be under age 19 or under 24 and a full-time student for at least 5 months. They can be any age if they are totally and permanently disabled.
  • Support – Must not have provided more than half of their own support during the year.
  • Joint Support – The child cannot file a joint return for the year.

There are 4 tests that will qualify a relative as a dependent as follows:

  • They are not the “qualifying child” of another taxpayer or your “qualifying child”.
  • Gross Income – Dependent earns less than $3,700 TY 2011 and $3,650 TY 2010.
  • Total Support – You provide more than half of the total support for the year.
  • Member of Household or Relationship – The person must live with you all year as a member of your household or be one of the relatives that doesn’t have to live with you see IRS Publication 501 for a list of qualifying relatives.

Many taxpayers are surprised to find they may be able to claim a boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner, or friend as a qualifying relative if:

  • They are a member of your household the entire year.
  • The relationship between you and the dependent does not violate the law (you can’t still be married to someone else.  Also check your individual state law.  Some states do not allow you to claim a boyfriend or girlfriend as a dependent even if your relationship doesn’t violate the law).
  • You meet all the other criteria for “qualifying relatives” (gross income and support).

Here are  some common questions from our users that we answered:

Question:  My 26 year old is living with me.  He works and has made more than $3,600.  Can I claim him as a dependent?

Answer:  No, because your child would not meet the age test, which says your “qualifying child” must be under age 19 or 24 if a full-time student for a least 5 months out of the year.  He may be considered a “qualifying relative”, but his income must be less than $3,700 for 2011 and $3,650 for 2010.

Question:  I start work in September of this year and had my baby in March.  Can I claim my baby as a dependent on my taxes?

Answer:  Yes, even if you have a baby on December 31, you can claim them as a dependent on your taxes.

Question:  My boyfriend fully supports me.  We live with his mother, but we pay for our full support including rent.  His mother wants to claim us as dependents.  Who can claim the deduction?

Answer:  As long as your boyfriend is not married (be sure to check your individual state law regarding claiming a boyfriend or girlfriend some states don’t comply with the federal law), supplies over half of your support, and you lived with him the entire year, you did not earn more than $3,650 TY 2010 and $3,700 TY 2011, you would qualify as his dependent.  His mother could not claim you since she did not provide more than half of the support.

Question:  My spouse has not worked all year except for a month, can I claim him as a dependent?

Answer:  You cannot claim a spouse as a dependent.  If you file married filing jointly, you will get a personal exemption of $3,650 for TY 2010 and $3,700 for TY 2011 for each of you.

Now that you are armed with more knowledge about dependent tax laws, you may want to reconsider kicking out your free-loading friend.  They may help you get a larger refund.

For more information see our Who Counts as Your Dependent or Can I Claim My Girlfriend As a Dependent blogs.

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