What Filing Status Do I Use?
Your filing status is determined by a number of factors, including your marital status (determined under your state's laws) at December 31 of the tax year, if you support dependents living in your home, and their relation to you.
Married - Joint or Separately. Most married couples elect to file Married Filing Jointly. However, there may be circumstances in which it may be advisable to file Married Filing Separately, such in cases where one spouse has very high medical bills. You may want to try preparing the returns both ways and see which way is better. However, be aware that there are some limitations imposed on separate returns, and some legal implications to filing jointly (i.e., you are each singularly liable for your combined tax liability). Also, if you live in a community property state, you may need to apportion your community income evenly between the two returns, eliminating potential advantages of filing separately.
Head of Household. In order to file your return under Head of Household status, you generally must be unmarried (but see exception below for separated individuals) AND pay over half the cost of keeping up the home in which: (1) your parent, whom you claim as a dependent, lived for more than half of the year (The parent does not have to live with you, as long as you provide more than half of the costs of their home), OR (2) you lived along with - for at least half of the year - your unmarried son, daughter
grandchild or great-grandchild (whether or not you can claim them as a dependent), or - for the entire year - any other relative whom you can claim as a dependent. You cannot file as Head of Household
if your dependent is not related to you.
Special Rule for Separated Individuals: If you are married at the end of the year, your usual filing status would be Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. However, if you (1) lived apart from your spouse for the last 6 months of the tax year, (2) do not file jointly with your spouse, (3) paid over half the cost of maintaining your home for the entire year, (4) your home was the home of your child for more than half of the year AND (5) you claim this child as your dependent (EXCEPTION: You qualify as the custodial parent, and satisfy requirement #4, but have relinquished the dependency exemption to your spouse on Form 8332. You would still be deemed to satisfy #5).
In determining whether a dependent lives with you for more than half of the year, discount periods of time spent away at school, on vacation, or receiving medical care.
Qualified Widow(er) With Dependent Child. If your spouse died in either of the two years previous to this tax year, you did (or could have) filed a joint return with your spouse in the year of death, AND you have a dependent child living with you all year in your home, you can elect to file as Qualified Widow(er). This allows you the use of the lowest tax rates, for married individuals filing jointly. It is only available for two years following the year of death of your spouse, and not if you remarry.
Single.Generally, this is the "default" status if you are unmarried at the end of the year and you do not qualify for either Head of Household or Qualified Widow(er) status.