Tax Filing Status

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One goal my husband and I have is building our finances. Something that we’ve been working on is becoming more informed with our financial options, which includes getting our taxes done effectively.

It sounds simple, but having the right tax filing status is very important. Your tax filing status is a factor in the standard tax deduction you can take and your tax rate. On your 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ, you will make your tax filing status selection on line 5.

What are the five options tax filing status?

Right now the IRS recognizes 5 options for tax filing status.

  • Single
  • Head of Household
  • Married Filing Jointly
  • Married Filing Separately
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child

I’ll describe them more in a bit. If you somehow qualify for more than one status, consider filing with the status that can give you the lowest tax rate. For example, if your status is married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child, you generally have the lowest tax rate.

What is the standard tax deductions you can take?

The IRS adjusts the amount due to factors such as inflation. For 2009, the standard tax deductions are:

  • Single: $5,700
  • Married (Filing Separately): $5,700
  • Head of Household: $8,350
  • Married (Filing Jointly): $11,400
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child: $11,400

Note: If you’re 65 or older and/or you are blind (as determined by a eye doctor), you may be entitled to a higher standard deduction.

As you can see with the different statuses, you can significantly lower the amount of your income that is taxed by choosing a filing status that fits your circumstances.

What are the qualifications for each tax filing status?

The gist of how your status is determined is based on your martial status and if you have dependents. While I’ll give some general rules, you should be aware there are exceptions. I found the information from the Publication 17 from the Internal Revenue Service.


On December 31 of the tax year you filing for, you’re considered single by the IRS if you:

  • were never married
  • were legally separated or divorced
  • widowed before January 1 and did not remarry during the tax year

Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be able to get a lower tax if you fall under widow(er) with dependent child or head of household.

Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child

You’re considered a qualifying widow(er) if you, as of December 31 of the tax year:

  • were widowed before January 1 of the tax year
  • have a child/stepchild that you care for all year and can claim an exemption (there are some exceptions)
  • have have kept the home, paying more than half the cost (ex. rent/mortgage, utilities, food, etc)

Note: You could file as married filed jointly if your spouse died during the tax year. After that you can file the next two years as a qualifying widow(er). According to the IRS, you can file with a Form 1040 or Form 1040A.

Married (Filing Separately)

You can be married filing separately if, as of December 31 of the tax year, you:

  • are married
  • can provide spouse’s name and social security number on the tax return

This may be an option if you only want to be responsible for your individual tax liability or if you spouse won’t agree to filing a joint tax return.

With this status you only have to report your income. If your spouses itemizes their deductions, you must as well, even if it is lower than the standard deduction.

Note: You can not claim earned income credit with married filing separately. According to the IRS, you can file with a Form 1040 or Form 1040A. In some cases, you may want to file as head of household, provided you meet the qualifications.

Married (Filing Jointly)

You can be married filing jointly if you, as of December 31:

  • are married
  • include your own and your spouse’s income
  • both sign the tax tax return

Even if you have only one income, you can still file a joint return. Please know that both spouses are responsible for taxes due.

Head of Household

You can be considered head of household if you on December 31 of the tax year if you:

  • are unmarried or consider unmarried, such as spending last 6 months apart from your spouse
  • have have kept the home, paying more than half the cost (ex. rent/mortgage, utilities, food, etc)
  • had a qualifying person living with you for more than half the year

The IRS has very specific guidelines on who is considered a qualifying person for tax purposes. You can get an earned income credit with the status.


As you can see there are factors you need consider when choosing your filing status. Make sure you choose a status that is applicable and advantageous to you and your family.

Please be aware, I’ve done my best to ensure that the above listed amounts are current for tax year 2009, but you should always double-check to make sure that you’re working with valid information.

25 responses to “Tax Filing Status”

  1. Both of my parents are on Social Security, and my dad also draws his retirement. He also works part time. Can he file Head of Household and not file on her since she is over 65. Or, would they benefit from filing jointly.

  2. My husband I where married last year. We both have houses. His house is in his name and my house is my name. He maintains all of his bill and I maintain all of my bills. I have 1 dependant. Can I file head of household and can he file head of household? I hope I am making sense.

  3. Just want to say how much I enjoy this site. I have been a customer for 4 years and never had a problem filing my taxes keep up the good work.

  4. Turbotax decided that after 74 years of being a citizen, to make me a non-citizen. How and where do I change the settings so I am a citizen?

  5. why does turbotax allow me to enter as HOH and name of qualifying child and not force me to enter a SSN. When is SSN not needed when filing HOH?

  6. I filed my taxes direct deposit. My refund will not be in my account until may 4th. Please check the status and e-mail me at the above addh. I do not understand what would take so long as it has been over a month since i filed.

  7. Why does Turbo Tax ask for filing status for married couples up front? Shouldn’t it tell me at the end what the best filing status is for my wife and I?

    During my first software pass, I filed MFJ. I then did a quick offline check in excel. MFS total tax is very close to MFJ which makes me think I need to run both of our returns separately through the whole process. What a pain.

    Two items that are impacting total tax between MFJ and MFS.

    1. I make 110K per year and she 50K.

    2. She has significant job expenses that are only partially deductible due to our high combined AGI when choosing MFJ.

  8. Hi,

    my question is a lilttle complecated.

    Me and my husband were married on Dec 20 2009.

    I would like to file jointly, which I know I can.

    But my question is about his income. He is nonresident, he is from South Africa, I am currently filling for him to USCIS to establish his status, its still in process, therefore he doesn’t have a social security number nor work athourization, however, he opened his own LLC (lim liability corp) and invoice companies through it if he gets a job. He has done some jobs during the year 2009. So the question is do I need to add that income to our tax return, or does he not claim any income when we file together and then do a separate return for his LLC??

    Thank you

  9. last year i filed jointly, but this year jointly yielded a far lower refund than expected. when i click married filing separately the refund amount is dramatically more. my question is will i need to start over in turbotax for my spouse by preparing a separate return for my wife? if so how do i choose who to apply deductions to or assign child credit to?

    • Logical perhaps. Naive’ dentfiiely. We had no graduated income taxes up until the 20th Century. Thanks to Senator Nelson Aldrich, working on behalf of world bankers, we got both income tax and the Federal Reserve (which in spite of it’s name, is not owned by the government).Over the years, our “honorable representatives” have gone on an ever increasing irresponsible spending spree. They’ve “borrowed” from Social Security, which the government accounting office has predicted will go bust in 2014, unless taxes are raised or benefits cut.The eye-popping $9 trillion gross national debt is owed by the “General Fund.” That’s the part funded by our income taxes. Half of that goes for the military and to pay interest on the debt. Not too many bright clouds ahead there. The government is a hungry beast, which is never satiated. Each year, the amount of time you have to work just to pay your taxes (Tax Freedom Day) gets later in the year.Your question seems to derive from a concept of fairness. Nothing is fair about government. “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Frederic Bastiat

  10. I was married in New Zealand in May 2009. My husband is a non-resident alien and we have not live together the last 6 months. However I have not been paying over half the rent in my home as I have several roommates and we split the cost so I can’t file as HOH. I’m very confused as to which way I should file. As of now my husband and I have completely separate incomes and only support ourselves for the time being.

  11. I am married, and have been since April of 2009. Howeer, my wife has ever legally changed her name. Does this mean we can file single?

  12. Hi Mary,

    I am so sorry to hear about your husband. TurboTax will guide you through the tax preparation process. I would be happy to provide you with a free copy to get you started.

    I will contact you via e-mail.


  13. I am 73 years old. Up until now, my husband and I filed jointly. However, he passed away in April of 2009. How do I file taxes? I get SS and a pension from him? I have been getting payments from these sources since June/July of 2009.


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