Who Can I Claim As a Dependent?


This post can be found en Español here.

The article below is accurate for your 2017 taxes, the one that you file this year by the April 2018 deadline. Tax information below will change next year for your 2018 taxes since the personal and dependent exemption has been eliminated under the new tax law effective on your 2018 taxes, but won’t impact you this year. Learn more about tax reform here.

The 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.

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 scratch their heads about 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. The 5 tests that will qualify a child as a dependent are:

  • 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.

The 4 tests that will qualify a relative as a dependent are:

  • Qualifying Child: They are not the “qualifying child” of another taxpayer or your “qualifying child.”
  • Gross Income: The dependent being claimed earns less than $4,050 in 2017 ($4,050 in 2016).
  • Total Support: You provide more than half of the total support for the year.
  • Member of Household or Relationship: The person (a friend, girlfriend, non-blood relative) must live with you all year as a member of your household.

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, for example, you can not still be married to someone else. (Also, check your individual state law, as 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 we have answered for you here:

Question: My 26-year-old is living with me. He works and has made more than $4,050. 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 $4,050 in 2017.

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 my boyfriend pays 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, you lived with him the entire year, and you did not earn more than $4,050, 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 $4,050 for each of you.

Now that you are armed with more knowledge about dependent tax laws, you may find that your friend crashing on your couch may help you get a larger tax refund.

Don’t worry about remembering these rules come tax time. TurboTax will ask you simple questions and give you the tax deductions and credits you are eligible for based on your answers. If you still have questions, you can connect live via one-way video to a TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent to get your tax questions answered. The TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent can even review, sign, and file your tax return.

Comments (834) Leave your comment

  1. My daughter is 38 lives at home. She has applied for ssd. Because she can’t work because of her disability. She hasn’t been approved yet. Is she eligible for disability credit

      1. Hi Sherri,

        You can claim her as dependent if she meets either the qualifying child or qualifying relative test, is a US citizen or resident, you are the only person claiming her as a dependent, and she is not married and files a joint tax return. TurboTax will ask you simple questions about your family and will determine for you who qualifies as a dependent on your tax return. Here is more information relating to dependents: https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tips/family/rules-for-claiming-a-dependent-on-your-tax-return/L8LODbx94.

        Thank you
        TurboTax Brittany

  2. Lisa, my 26 year old son who is full time student, I will claim him as a dependent, can he file a tax return for tax he paid for 3,873. Dollars he earned

  3. My 19 year old daughter was a full time college student in 2017 living at school for 9mo of the year. She earned $8000 at a job, but we paid more than half her support. Can we claim her as a dependent?

    1. Hi Tami,
      Yes, since she is a full time student under 24 and you provide more than half of her support then you would be able to claim her as a dependent regardless of whether she made $8,000. TurboTax will ask you simple questions and help you claim her as a dependent if you are eligible.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  4. Hi i have two kids me and brother live together I have been out of work for the past 2 years with an illness my brother has covered all the bills can my brother claim the kids as dependents what all should we bring with us

    1. Hi Cassandra,
      If your brother has been providing over half of the support for your kids he may be able to claim them. If he uses TurboTax it will ask simple questions and give them the dependent exemptions if he is eligible.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

    1. Hi Ashley,
      If your ex husband claimed EITC that means he also claimed your son as a dependent. Only one of you can claim him as a dependent. IRS will not allow two people to claim a dependent.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  5. I have a few questions about the support test for my parents:
    1) Do I include my parents SSA money as part of their income?
    2) Do I also take out their payment to life insurance from their income? The support test worksheet does not list this as part of an expense.
    3) I own the house my parents live in but can I include a rent portion, base on rental cost around the area, in their expense for the year?

    1. Hi Jenna,
      Regarding the support test:
      1) If their social security income is not taxable income then you don’t include it. Typically social security income is not taxable unless you have other sources of income like retirement income that make it taxable.
      2) If the life insurance payment is paid by them that would be an other expense
      3) Regarding rent, you should include it as an expense if they actually pay the rent.

      If you use TurboTax it will help claim your parents if you are eligible based on your entries.

      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  6. My child did not have healtcare, and we did know our healthcare had droped her and could not re-enroll untill Nov 16. Will i pay a penalty fee.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Christine,
      For 2016 the penalty for not having health insurance is $347.50 for kids, but you may be eligible for tax deductions and
      Credits that help offset the tax penalty. Turbo will help you easily report your health insurance status and will ask you simple questions and give you the tax deductions and credits you’re eligible for.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

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