It’s Tax Season: What You Should Know about Claiming Head of Household Filing Status

Tax season is here. Do you know the requirements you need to meet when filing with head of household status? RJS Law recently outlined what information you need if you plan to file as head of household, and shared some common mistakes:

According to the IRS Publication 501, in order to claim Head of Household you must meet the following requirements:

1. Unmarried.
2. Have paid for over half the cost of keeping up your home for a year (rent, utilities etc.) for yourself and your qualifying dependent.
3. A qualifying dependent lived with you for more than 6 months of the tax year that you are filing for.

But what does this really mean for you?

The intent of the Head of Household filing status, primarily, is for single parents. This means an unmarried parent, living with their child or children and being the primary support for them.

It does not mean a parent who pays child support and gets to claim the child on taxes as a dependent.

The difference between filing single and head of household can be the difference between owing taxes and getting a rather large refund. For this reason, it is also one of the areas many filers are tempted purposefully to mark incorrectly in order to reap the benefits of a large refund.

To understand how big the issue has become, in 2007 California audited 150,000 state returns where people had claimed head of household status. It turned out that 20% of those claiming head of household did not have the right to do so. That equals out to around 30,000 people.

The Head of Household filing status is specifically designed to help reduce poverty and provides a real boost to those that truly qualify for the status and is good for the person filing, but it is also ripe for abuse.

Where Filers Make Mistakes

Tax attorneys commonly counsel parents who mistakenly believe that since they pay child support and they can claim the child as a dependent every other year, that it makes them eligible for Head of Household status. While this entitles them to claim the deduction and tax credit, it does not allow them to claim the head of household status if the child lived primarily with one parent throughout the tax year.

In fact, the mother can allow the father to claim the child as a dependent and still herself claim head of household for the same child if the child lived primarily with her.

While many simply do not understand the rules, many more know that they shouldn’t claim head of household but file under that status anyway. If someone claims head of household when they understand they are not entitled to, they could be charged with tax fraud.

RJS Law shared further relevant information on their blog at

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal counsel or serve as legal advice. If you have a legal matter, it is best to consult the advice of an attorney. You can get referred to an attorney for a free 30 minute consultation through the San Diego County Bar’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service at or by calling 1 (800) 464-1529.

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