How to Choose the Correct Filing Status

Not only can using the right filing status affect how much you owe, but it can also affect which credits you are eligible to receive. In fact, the filing status you choose can even determine whether you have to file a tax return at all.

For IRS purposes, anyone who is on or before December 31st, is considered for the entire tax year. Special rules apply to same-sex married couples. Regardless of your current residence, if you and your spouse were married in a state or country that legally recognizes same-sex marriage, you must file under a married status. It doesn’t matter if your current residence recognizes same-sex marriage or not.

If multiple filing statuses apply, you should choose the one with the lowest tax obligation. The five different filing statuses for tax returns are:

Single. If you aren’t legally married, or you are divorced or separated in accordance with state law, this is the status that applies to you.

Filing Jointly. One tax return is filed together for the couple. A spouse who passed away during the tax year (2014) is still eligible for a joint return. After the initial year, the surviving spouse can file under the Widow(er) status for the next two years.

Filing Separately. Instead of filing one return together, a couple can file separately. In some cases, this lowers the tax liability for the couple, however it’s also used for those who only want to hold accountability for their own taxes.

Head of Household. If you aren’t married, this status may apply if you’ve paid more than 50% of the living expenses for yourself and an eligible dependent. This status is often misused, so it’s important to be extra careful when selecting this status.

Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. Along with other conditions, this status can apply to anyone whose spouse died within the previous two tax years. For this year, anyone whose spouse died in 2012 or 2013 may be eligible, if they meet the additional requirements.