Head of Household Filing Status in Detail

Many taxpayers are unsure of the full scope of the when it comes time to file a tax return. Knowing about all the details of this status can benefit you greatly, because those who qualify to file receive savings and tax benefits. Many single parents love this filing status, provided they are eligible to use it.

Status Defined

According to the IRS, Head of Household status is available to either single or unmarried taxpayers who maintain a household for a “Qualifying Person.” Compared to the Single filing status, Head of Household has lower tax rates, along with an increased standard deduction, making it a preferred filing status for those who qualify. It’s important to note that one who is a Head of Household must have a greater income than Single filers prior to owing income tax.


If you want to determine whether you can file as Head of Household this tax season, you’ll need to review the following requirements and see if they apply to you:

  • You were not married (single, divorced, or legally separated), or are considered unmarried by the IRS on the final day of the tax year.
  • You were responsible for over 50% of the household expenses throughout the year.
  • You housed a “Qualifying Person” in your residence for over half the year, not including temporary absences. Dependent parents are exempt from this requirement.

The IRS considers taxpayers to be UNMARRIED in certain situations. This happens when a legally married person lives entirely independent of their spouse, in a separate residence. In order to file Head of Household in these cases, all five of the following requirements must be met:

  1. You do not file a joint return.
  2. You paid over half of the household expenses for the year
  3. Your spouse did not live with you for the final six months of the year. Temporary absences do not count toward this requirement.
  4. You have a qualifying person who is your child, stepchild, or foster child and who lived with you for over half of the year, excluding temporary absences.
  5. You are eligible to claim an exemption for your child or dependent, unless the noncustodial parent qualifies for the exemption instead.

There are special circumstances which may arise in the case of taxpayers who are considered unmarried. Two such examples are in the case of temporary absences and when your spouse is a nonresident alien. A temporary absence does not grant you the consideration of being unmarried in the eyes of the IRS. Temporary absences include living separately from your spouse for business, school, medical treatment, military service, or vacation, provided there is an expectation of returning to the main residence after the absence.

If your spouse is a nonresident alien, and you treat them as such consistently on your tax forms, then you may be considered single or unmarried. However, if you list your spouse as a resident alien on your tax return, then you are married.

Additionally, your spouse cannot be your “qualifying person”, so to be eligible to file Head of Household, you’ll need an additional dependent.

Household Expenses

One of the biggest requirements centers around maintaining a house for a qualifying person. These means you have to have paid over 50% of the household expenses. To determine if you meet this requirement, consider your share of the following common costs of keeping up a home in relation to the total operational costs for the year:

  • Rent
  • Mortgage interest
  • Insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Utilities
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Food/grocery consumption
  • Other household expenses

Once you determine the total cost of these expenses, divide the amount in half and see if your share is greater than the result.

If multiple people pay for the upkeep of the home, you must have paid the most out of the group, even if the actual amount you paid was less than half of the total cost. Additionally, if you receive any form of public assistance, such as TANF, the amount of the aid cannot be included in the calculation of expenses you paid. These expenses do get counted in the total household costs, just not in any person’s share of the costs.

Qualifying Person

To file as Head of Household you must have a qualifying person living with you for more than 50% of the year, excluding temporary absences as described above. Your parent may be a qualifying person, and in that case, they are not required to live with you. While most dependents will be a qualifying person, there are some situations in which a dependent won’t qualify. Additionally, a qualifying person isn’t required to be a dependent.

For purposes of filing Head of Household, a qualifying person is:

  • An unmarried, single child
  • A married child, provided you are eligible to claim a tax exemption for them. If you can’t claim an exemption because you yourself can be claimed as another person’s dependent, you may still be able to claim the child as your qualifying person.
  • A parent, if you are eligible to claim a tax exemption for them.
  • A relative can qualify, if they live with you for over half of the year, and you are eligible to claim a tax deduction for them. Qualifying relatives may be a child, stepchild, grandchild or other descendant of one of your children (or stepchildren or foster children), son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, parent, stepfather, stepmother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandparent, great-grandparent, and, if related by blood, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew.

Some examples of qualifying persons include your 18-year-old daughter who lives at home all year and has zero income, as well as your unmarried, 20-year-old son who is a full-time student living on campus. Since his permanent residence is with you, he’s considered to have lived there for the year, and despite paying some expenses, he did not pay more than half his support.

On the other hand, your single 25-year-old son with an income of $10,000 for the tax year will not be your qualifying person, as he is too old to be a and has too high an income to be a , and you are not able to claim an exemption on your tax return.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend, or their children reside with you for the year and have no income, you can claim the child or the significant other as a dependent, and likely get an exemption because they are a qualifying relative. However, neither your boyfriend/girlfriend or their children (who are not yours as well) are a qualifying person in relation to the Head of Household status, as they are not actually related to you.

There are some special cases, such as temporary absences or life changes that can affect your ability to claim Head of Household. Whether you or your qualifying person experience a temporary leave from the main residence, for purposes of school, military service, business, vacation or medical reasons, you are still considered to have lived in the same residence, as long as return to the residence is anticipated after the absence, and you have maintained the home during the period of leave.

If a qualifying person is either born or died during the tax year, they are considered to have lived in the home with you for the whole year, provided you paid the expenses greater than half the total costs of maintaining the home for the time the person was alive.

Parents whom you support but do not actually reside with you may be classified as a qualifying person if you can claim them as your dependent and receive an exemption for them. You must also have paid more than half of the expenses of the home in which they lived during the tax year. If they live in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you’re considered to have paid their support if you cover half the expense of them living in the facility.

If multiple people provide support for an individual, through a multiple support agreement, they do not count as your Qualifying Person, even if you are able to claim an exemption for them, and cannot use them to file Head of Household status.