Whom can I claim as a dependent on my tax return?

In the search for opportunities to reduce the amount we have to pay each year for income tax, a popular question is whom a taxpayer can claim as a dependent. This is a great question to re-evaluate each year, because having dependents is one of the easiest ways for taxpayers to reduce their taxable income.

For the 2014 tax year, each dependent exemption will reduce a taxpayer’s taxable income by $3,950. Therefore, every taxpayer needs to identify and claim every dependent exemption he or she can.

If you want to know whom you can claim as a dependent, read on to learn how the IRS identifies dependent exemptions.

Three Tests for Identifying a Dependent

The IRS allows a taxpayer one exemption for each individual the taxpayer can claim as a dependent. A dependent is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative of the taxpayer.

A child must meet five tests to be considered a qualifying child:

–          Relationship – child is a son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendent of any of them

  • Age – child under the age of 19 at the end of the year or under the age of 24 at the end of the year if a full-time student
  • Residency – child lived with the taxpayer for more than half the year
  • Support – child provided less than half his or her support for the year
  • Joint return – child did not provide a joint return for the year

A person must meet four tests to be considered a qualifying relative:

  • Not a qualifying child – person is not a qualifying relative if person is the taxpayer’s qualifying child or the qualifying child of someone else
  • Member of household – person lives with taxpayer all year
  • Gross income – person’s gross income less than $3,900
  • Support – taxpayer provides more than half the person’s support during the calendar year

If the individual is a qualifying child or qualifying relative, the IRS requires the qualifying child or qualifying relative to pass three tests in order for a taxpayer to claim the individual as a dependent.

Dependent Taxpayer Test

If the taxpayer can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, the taxpayer cannot claim anyone as a dependent. This applies even if the taxpayer has a qualifying child or a qualifying relative who the taxpayer could otherwise claim as a dependent.

Likewise, if the taxpayer is filing a joint tax return and the taxpayer’s spouse can be claimed on someone else’s tax return as a dependent, the taxpayer cannot claim anyone as a dependent.

Joint Return Test

A taxpayer typically cannot claim a married person as a dependent if that married person files a joint tax return. The one exception to this test is if the married person files a joint return only for the purchase of obtaining a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid.

Citizen or Resident Test

A taxpayer cannot claim an individual as a dependent unless the individual is a citizen, resident alien, or national of the United States, or the individual is a citizen of Canada or Mexico. In addition, this test is met if a citizen or national of the United States adopts a child who is not a citizen, resident alien, or national of the United States and that child lives with the taxpayer for the entire year.

Who should I speak with if I have questions about who I can claim as a dependent?

If you have questions about who qualifies as a dependent for income tax purposes, you should speak with a tax attorney. Only a tax attorney can answer your question about dependents, help you prepare your income tax return, and provide you confidentiality about your tax matters as protected by attorney-client privilege.

You can speak with a tax attorney by calling the phone number located at the top of this web site or by completing the following form. The first conversation with the attorney is free, so you have every reason to get help today.

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by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.