Who Qualifies as a Dependent on Your Tax Return?

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Got family? Then you might have tax deductions as well. Most of us know you can claim a personal exemption for your children on your tax returns, but many people forget that they might be able to claim exemptions for elderly parents or other relatives that qualify as dependents as well.

Is it really worth it? For each dependent you can deduct $3,900 from your federal taxable income, which is likely to reduce your taxes. And if the dependent is your child, you may be able to claim the child tax credit of $1,000 as well.

Children you support

In IRS-Speak, a child you support is a “qualifying child.”

To be qualifying, the child doesn’t have to be your biological child, but must be related to you, such as a stepchild, adopted child, brother, sister, niece, nephew – you get the idea.

The child has to be under age 19 unless permanently and totally disabled. An exception to this rule lets you claim an exemption if the child has been a full-time student for at least five months of the year and is under the age of 24.

The child must be dependent and not-self supporting, must live with you unless living with the other parent in the case of divorce or separation or temporarily absent, such as being away at school.

The child must be a US citizen, US national or a resident of the United States, Canada or Mexico during the year.

And finally, you have to list the child’s social security number on your tax return.

Relatives you support

If you support your parents or your great-uncle Harry, you might be able to claim a dependency exemption for them, if they pass three tests.

1. The person must either be a relative or a member of your household. The category of relatives is broad, and includes:

  • your child, adopted child, step child, foster child, or their descendents, such as your grandchild descendant of any of them (for example, your grandchild) if they are not considered your “qualifying child”
  • your brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, or stepsister, or their descendents
  • your father, mother, stepfather, stepmother, grandparent, or other ancestor
  • a brother or sister of your father or mother, or
  • your son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law, but only while the marriage exists, not after it ends in death or divorce.

2. The person’s taxable income must be less than $3,900 (this goes up every year).

3. You must pay for more than half the person’s support during the year, unless the person is supported by several people who all agree in a multiple support agreement that you can claim the exemption.

You don’t need to worry about figuring this all out. TurboTax makes it easy. After asking you a few simple questions about your family, TurboTax will determine for you who qualifies as a dependent on your tax return. That way, you’ll get the biggest tax refund possible with the least amount of hassle.

Comments (699) Leave your comment

  1. I have a question for you I’d like answered. There is a woman who is married and her husband has a child with a disability and they lived together all year. The son ( child of 23 yrs.old), works one to two days a week. The wife files their taxes herself and she claims the stepson on her taxes. The refund is to be deposited in “her” own personal debit account which the husband isn’t included on. She says sh’e not sharing any of the tax refund and is keeping it all to herself. This lady barely worked at all if any last year due to not having a vehicle to drive. Question: Since she had little income at all last year,and the husband had the most income for the house hold, Is she legally able to claim this disabled, adult, stepchild on her taxes? Also, does the child of 23, need to file his separate income taxes? If he did, he’d get all he paid in back, if he doesn’t file his on income taxes,is it legal for him not to file and have her claim him? I understand his dad can claim him because he pays over 1/2 of her support and his son’s., yet all the monies from the refund they’re getting is going into her account and not as a check which her husband preferred. He just found out she had it all put in just her private account and he want get any monies as she was suppose to give him 1/2 of the money. Anything wrong with the way she filed and claiming his son and him and they won’t get a dime for their taxes? She has her bills and he pays all the family bills every month. Your answer is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  2. Can i claim my unemployed live in gf who is living in my house along with her 8 yr old grandchild.
    Both parents are incarcerated and my gf had to take care of her granddaughters one full time other part time
    Thank you

  3. I have filed my taxes and did not received the $2,000 per child? I only received $1,500 per child? Is this correct? I claimed both of my dependents who are a 5 year old and a 9 year old under the new Child Tax Credit which is worth up to $2,000.

  4. Hi, myself and my 17 year old daughter live with my fiancé’ in his home. I make a little over 40k and he makes more. I give him money every month to help out with the mortgage and bills. Can he claim both of us on his taxes? We are not married yet and he is not a relative to my child. I am seeing mixed responses on this question. Thanks

  5. My wife was in high school for less than 5 months in 2018 and wasn’t a full time student. She didn’t live at home in the 5 months when she was at school. Me and my wife got married the 1st of July in 2018 she moved in with me the first of may. Can her mom claim her as a defendant since she was in high school? Can I claim her as married filling jointly if her mom has already claimed her as a dependent? What are my options? What can I do?

  6. My mother lived with me. She has for years an I have claimed her on my taxes. She past away in August this year. Am I able to claim her for this year?

  7. Hi
    I was wondering about exemptions. My ex husband who is deceased now had been able to claim our 2 sons,but he died may 2017 and I was lone support of my boys so can I now claim them as exemptions on my tax return

  8. We have a client who is a grandparent and I’m trying to find information for her.

    The father and mother of her grandchildren have never married and never went to court to do a Shared Parenting Agreement. The father did not sign an Affidavit of Paternity, required of unmarried parents in Colorado but may have signed the birth certificate (we are unsure how he could without also signing the Affidavit of Paternity but they may have lied and said they were married.) He holds the children out, publically, to be his own. The children legally have lived at the grandmother’s home since age 3 1/2 and she has provided 90-95% of their financial support. The mother-our client’s daughter-contributes nothing and has not since the two girls were age 3 1/2. The girls spend no time with her and she does not have a home. Due to drug use, incarceration and mental illness the mother stays with friends and moves frequently. The father has them spend some evenings at his house and contributes 5-10% to their support.

    The mother of the girls filed for Medicaid during her pregnancy and added the girls to her application for benefits after birth. She has renewed this every year, never claiming any income other than her own. She lived with the f girl’s father for 2 1/2 years, and did not claim him as a part of the household, or name his as the father, and then lived with her own brother for a year, and did not claim him as a household member or add his income. She has also had food stamps for herself and for her daughters.. Her application made it look as if she lived as a renter with the two girls, at my home, but she does not and never has. She claimed “father unknown” for 10 years. She gives the food stamps card to the father of the children but the grandmother actually provides the girls’ food.

    DHS notified our client about all of this recently and told her to “file amended tax returns, claiming them as dependents and to file for legal guardianship.” They then corrected the record which means she need to find health insurance just for them, as her household income is too high for Medicaid. Yet their parents will not be court-ordered to pay anything unless I file for custody.

    I am trying to find out what the law is regarding naming the father when applying for Medicaid. The attorney for the State says that if a mother does not name the father when he is claiming them as dependents on taxes and socially claiming them as his daughters she is committing fraud, but he knew they were on Medicaid and used their food stamps to buy food, so he also committed fraud. I just can’t find anything in writing about this.

    I have told the parents since the day the girls were born 9 1/2 years ago to go to court and do a Shared Parenting Agreement and support their children. They refused. I don’t want tax payers paying for parents who fail to step up, work hard and provide for their children responsibly. That is not what Medicaid and food stamps are for. But I can’t find the statute or rule that defines what a parent must do regarding completion of these applications honestly.

  9. If I paid for all of my daughters expenses, she was in college the whole year of 2016, she was 24 yrs old until April 28, 2016. Would I be allowed to claim her on my tax return?

    1. Hi Diane,
      If your daughter was not under 24 she cannot be considered a “qualifying child” in college under the age test, but she could be a “qualifying relative”. As a qualifying relative, you may be able to claim her if she did not make more than $4,050 in 2016, you provided over half of her support, and she meets the citizenship test.
      TurboTax will ask you simple questions about your daughter and help you claim her if you are eligible based on your answers.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  10. I want know can I claim my live in girlfriend 15 year old daughter on my taxes, although my girlfriend has been claiming her on her taxes in the past.

    1. Hi Bryant,
      If your live in girlfriend’s daughter meets the citizenship tests, lived with you the entire year, does not make over $4,050, your girlfriend can not claim her, and you provided over half of her support you may be able to claim her. TurboTax https://turbotax.intuit.com/ will ask you simple questions and give you the dependent exemption you are eligible for based on your answers.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  11. My daughter was 23 going to college full time for first half of last year (2015). She turned 24 in August and had finished college in June. She was and still is living at home.
    Can I claim her as a dependent?

    1. Yes, you can claim your daughter as your dependent even though she studies abroad – assuming that she is not providing more than half of her own support.

      There are two relevant issues here – age and residency. Under the age test, a child is considered to be a qualifying child when the child is either:
      under age 19, or
      under age 24 and a full-time student at a school that has a regular teaching staff, course of study, and a regularly enrolled student body

      There is no requirement that the school be located in the U.S., so all you would have to show is that the overseas institution meets the above requirements and that your daughter met the institution’s requirements (class hours taken, etc.) to be considered full-time for at least 5 months of the year.

      Under the residency test, your child must live with you for at least half the year. Months spent living apart while the child is pursuing an education are considered by the IRS to be a temporary absence from the home – and are treated as though the child is living in the home. So even if your daughter has to live overseas for an extended period, you still count that as time spent living with you.

      Assuming we’re talking about a recognized and recognizable foreign institution, any documentation you collect from the university will be recognized by the IRS if there is any question about your daughter’s status.
      (found in another post somewhere)

  12. I am retired and get SS. My same sex partner is my support. both financial and medical. Is it legal for her to claim me on her tax return?

  13. hi,
    My taxes are complicated i have supported my son and husband for 2015 as they came in the united states in May 2015. They both are dependent on me and i have filed for their Green card in 2014 right now their case is with USCIS as i have filed their adjustment of Status, My son goes to day care as he is 2 and a half while my husband stays home as he cannot work yet. Can i claim them both as a dependent.

    1. Your husband is entitled to a EAD or what is known as Work Authorization as well as your minor child, the work authorization not necessarily means to work because your 2 years old is obvious that can not work, however the EAD instead is a change of status from entrant to authorized to be authorized legally while the I-551 green card is given, having the EAD the SSA shall expedite a social security number even with the I-94 and their stamps in the passport, certainly if you have all this surely you can claim them both and make sure to claim your legal expenses

  14. Hello. My son is 27 years old and have lived with me for all of 2015. He was unemployed for all of 2015, but is a part time student. Can I claim him on my taxes?

  15. I have been supporting a non relative minor for the last two years. I now have legal guardianship. Is he a qualifying child on my tax return?

  16. My son is now 24, he made his bday in December. He is a full time law student that lives with me. He hasn’t any income. Can I claim him on my taxes

  17. My nephew has been living with me since June 2014 while he attends trade school. His mother claimed him on her tax return and he filed his own taxes as well. Am I able to claim him as a dependent on my 2014 tax return?

  18. I just ripped an associate of mine a “new one” because he told me he had filed his personal tax return claiming as a dependent the child of his “girlfriend”. Quizzing him, he admitted he is NOT the Father, she is “just a friend” (no carnal knowledge) that he has “known for a minute”, AND THE WORST point, that it was HER IDEA. Oh and she would get half of the return expected.
    My guess is that “she” has others duplicating this scenario.
    Can you tell me what his potential penalties might be so I can SHOCK HIM into reality and send an Amended Return to UNDO this sad scenario?

  19. my wif has a son in thailand which she has toatal custody and pays all his expenses- he has green card and social security #- ca we claim him on taxes- his age is 19

  20. I have a 20yr old son and a 16yr old son who live with me, I am a single parent and recently did my taxes for 2014. I would like to know if I can claim my 20 yr old son who didn’t work at all in 2014 so I basically supported him in everything. Is it to late to claim him? Or is it possible to claim him?

  21. Hi, my son is a ft student. He already filed on turbo tax but on line 5 of 1040z he put $10,150 in that box which I think means he claimed himself. He did this in error, now when my husband and I tried to file it says we can’t claim him and was rejected due to this error. I know it says to file an amendment but when we go on turbo tax to try to change that it will not less us change it, or even find it on there to change it. Is there anything we can do ?

  22. If you have a court order for the noncustodial parent to claim the children every other year but that noncustodial parent provides none of their support and has them maybe 1 month out of the year (scheduled holidays only) does that parent still have the right to claim the children legally? She doesn’t pay CS and lives 3 states away so rarely gets the children

    1. Yes. Per court order he or she can still claim them and you cannot unless the noncustodial parent says you can. I would get that in writing if she or he allows you to.

  23. I have a daughter who turned 19 in November of 2014. She lived in my home for 11 months and earned about $500 in income, therefore my wife and I provided more than half of her support. I claimed her as a qualifying relative after using the question and answer tool on the IRS website to determine if I was entitled to do so. We e-filed more than 30 days ago and have not yet received our refund. Claiming our daughter as a qualifying relative was the only thing different about our return this year…in previous years, we always got our refund within 21 days…could claiming my daughter as a QR be what is holding up processing of our return this year?

  24. In 2014, I was 21/22, was a full-time student for 15 weeks and worked full time for the second half of the year (July-Dec, currently still working full time). I live at home with my mom who pays for everything but my car payment, gas, student loans and misc purchases I make. Am I a dependent?

  25. Am u able to claim my mother and brother who love in another country I send money to them all the time? They do not have a social here in the States?

  26. Hi, I had a question. Turbo tax won’t allow us any child tax credit or earned income credit. I was a stay at home mother who has all rights to both children the fathers rights are suspended. And my boyfriend has lived with me and supported both children and myself for the entire year. We do not believe in marriage. But turbo tax won’t allow him to claim them unless he is a stepparent. Do we have to be married for him to be considered a step parent? Even though their father has never paid child support and my live in boyfriend who we all see as a stepparent has provided for them for over a year

  27. Well My Turbo Tax wont let me claim my son because he made more than $3,900 working HOWEVER, he IS a full time student and we do support him – he lives at home, we pay for his food, lodging and clothes….. his money goes to pay for his car – SO WHY IS TURBO TAX Telling me he is NOT claimable? Please EXPLAIN

    1. Hi Leslie,
      If he is 19 and a full-time student you should be able to claim him as long as he did not provide over half of his own support, he lived with you more than half the year (temporary absences for school can be an exception), and he meets the citizenship test. Please go back through the questions carefully. One question off can cause you not to be able to claim him.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

      1. Same situation as Leslie Engelman with me, however my son made $5,300 in 2014, as I was preparing the taxes I saw those options and when I did his taxes there is also an option where it asks if anyone else claimed him as a dependent… so can he do his taxes too?

  28. My aunt came to live with me in June of 2014. Can I claim head of household and also claim her as a dependent since her SS benefits barely cover her additional medical expenses? She is 85 years old and we also have day attendants come in and look after her.

    1. what are considered paid support? Mom is in assisted living, dad lives with me. Paying bills from checking account that has their & my name
      What is taxable income? ( VA aide; social security , pension)..
      How do you prorate bills for parent living with you? ( mortgage payment , utilities, grociers, others?

  29. my daughter is 21 years old and is living with me and my husband we support her she has taken ged classes at a college last year 2014 she has not worked in a year can we claim her as a dependent or qualifying relative?

    1. You can as long as she has not made at least $3,900 in taxable income for the year. I had the same situation with my son, who was not in college. The year before last, he made too much income and I could not claim him. This past year, he hardly made any income (about $1,000 total), so I can claim him.

  30. My son was in another country for the entire year, with his grand parents. I worked in USA and supported him financially (school and living expenses). Can I claim him as a dependent in my tax returns?

  31. My daughter is 16 and I am going to claim her as a dependent like I do every year however, she works and I am curious to know if she needs to file a tax return as well.

  32. Hi maam my husbund is almost 4 yrs here my two son and i came here june 2014 they are 6yrs old and 4yrs old..before we go here june 2014 my husbund file his tax together with us by 2013..my question is are we consider to be his dependents when he files his tax now?did my husbund can get money for my two son and i?please reply i need your opinion maam so that my husbund knows..

  33. Hi maam liza i just want to know if we consider to be the dependents of my husbund when he files his tax now we came here june 2014..my two son and i can get a tax now?

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