Who Qualifies as a Dependent?

Once you begin preparing your taxes, it won’t be long before you begin to question who you can claim as a dependent. It’s important to know who qualifies, because each dependent can save you a little extra by way of an exemption – a set amount deducted directly from your taxable interest. The dependent exemption is in addition to your own personal exemption.

According to the IRS, a dependent is someone who relies on you for support. Support is defined as having provided at least 50% of that person’s sustainability for the year – including food, shelter and clothing. Just residing in your home is not enough to claim the person as your dependent, necessarily.

General Rules for Dependents

Typically, dependents tend to be a child or other relative, though it’s not required. While children and relative each have their own rules, it’s imperative that any dependent meet these basic general rules:

  • Can be married and file a tax return, however must not have filed a joint return with their spouse, unless for the sole purpose of claiming a refund.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen, national or resident alien
  • Must have a taxpayer identification number which is usually just their social security number. In some cases, the dependent may have an Individual Taxpayer Identification number or an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number.

Rules for Child Dependents

In addition to the general rules above, taxpayers who wish to claim a child as a dependent must follow these rules:

  • The child lived with you for over half of the year
  • The child is related to you, as either a son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of those.
  • The child is under 18 years old by the end of the year, unless they are a student, in which the age limit is 24. Students must be enrolled full time for at least five months of the year, though they don’t have to be consecutive.
  • The child is younger than you or your spouse if you file jointly, unless the child is permanently disabled.

Rules for Relative Dependents

In order to claim another relative other than a child as a dependent there are three more requirements that must be met:

  • The person’s gross annual income is greater than $4,000 (the rate for 2015 returns)
  • The person isn’t a child dependent of you or another taxpayer, or isn’t claimed by anyone else.
  • The person is either related to you or lived with you for the full year as a member of your home.