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Updated on: June 22, 2023
Knowing your IRS filing status is essential for making sure you get the maximum refund you deserve, along with all the credits and deductions to which you are entitled. Keep reading to understand more about the 5 different statuses, and which one works best for you.
So, what is my tax filing status?
There are 5 tax filing statuses the IRS recognizes.
- Married filing jointly
- Married filing separately
- Head of household
- Qualifying surviving spouse
You can fall into more than one filing status (for example, if you’re married and you’re both able to file jointly or separately), so it’s best to go with the status that could offer the maximum deductions and credits you’d qualify for.
How do I figure out my filing status?
Let’s go through the qualifying details of the 5 filing statuses, so that you can determine which one is right for you.
Single filing status is for unmarried people who do not qualify for any of the other 4 statuses. Fun fact: if you’re legally divorced on the last day of the year, the IRS sees you as unmarried for the whole year.
Married, filing jointly is the most common filing status for married couples. This status has the highest standard deduction and the lowest taxes. You file together and report combined income, along with your combined deductions and qualifying credits on the same form. This way, the IRS holds both spouses accountable for all taxes due, including penalties and interest.
Married, filing separately is another option for married people to file. Though filing jointly is best in most cases, there are some situations when filing separately works out better. For example, this status works well for those whose spouse paid a lot of medical expenses, and filing jointly means your standard deduction is too high for you to benefit from qualifying itemized deductions. This filing status holds only the taxpayer on the return responsible for any taxes due and penalties and interest. This status is also for individuals who don’t want to file a joint return, or whose spouse refuses to file a joint return. For example, you’re about to be divorced and you’re unsure your soon-to-be ex-spouse is being honest with you about their income.
Keep in mind, this filing status has the highest taxes, fewest allowed credits and deductions, and can make more of the income taxable in many circumstances, such as Social Security benefits. It also reduces your standard deduction amount to zero if the other spouse is itemizing deductions.
Head of household is the most misunderstood status, so be careful. It’s for unmarried people who provided at least half of the cost to maintain a home for the year (mortgage or lease, property taxes, repairs, food, and household expenses), while also providing more than half the support to at least one other qualifying individual for more than six months of the year. No, you cannot claim a head of household status for being the one who makes the most money in your family. To the IRS, you must be unmarried and have a dependent to qualify. A single parent with a 16-year-old dependent child living at home is a good example of a head of household status.
Certain married individuals may also qualify as head of household. These individuals are “considered unmarried” for tax purposes. They:
- Are the custodial parent of a dependent child,
- Did not live with their spouse at all during the last six months of the year, and
- Provided more than half the support of the household for them and their child.
Qualifying surviving spouse is for people who have recently lost a spouse and are supporting a dependent child at home. If your spouse passed away in the same tax year, you could still file jointly for that year, and it is generally a better option for you. There are benefits to filing jointly, as mentioned above. For the next two years after that, you can claim the “qualifying surviving spouse” status (used to be known as “the qualifying widower status”) if you have a dependent child. For example, if your spouse died in 2022 and you haven’t remarried, you should file jointly for 2022, then as a qualifying surviving spouse for years 2023 and 2024.
Keep in mind that to use the qualifying surviving spouse status, you must have a qualifying dependent child (a child under 19, or under 24 that’s a full-time student and living at home, or totally disabled) that you support living at home with you. For surviving spouses, the standard deduction, tax brackets and income limits for most credits are the same as the married filing jointly status.
How do I choose my filing status?
Your filing status is a direct result of your current marital status. Meaning, you’re either married and can file jointly or separately, or you are unmarried and able to file as single, qualifying surviving spouse, or head of household. The qualifications of the 5 statuses are broken down in the section above.
If you do have a choice, check with your Jackson Hewitt Tax Pro to figure out what’s the best option for saving you on taxes, and potentially getting you a bigger refund. This is important, as your situation in life (married, divorced, young child, widowed, etc.) can change as often as the IRS tax laws.
Why do I need to know my filing status?
Your filing status determines your standard deduction, your tax rate and the credits you are eligible for, and their phase-out ranges. It’s also important to understand your current tax filing status, so that you can properly fill out a W-4, which is the standard tax form used by employers to know how much federal tax to withhold from the employee’s paycheck.
And you need to know your filing status when it comes time to file your taxes, so that you can file a tax return complete with all your allowed deductions and credits, to maximize your refund.
Is one filing status better for getting money back than the others?
No. It’s the accuracy of your return that counts. Making an error will only delay your refund and could result in penalties and added interest. You want to make sure you’re claiming all the deductions and credits, so you can pay the lowest taxes or get the biggest refund.
Taxes can be complicated and confusing, and the IRS plays catch-up with the constantly changing tax laws. No matter your current life status, don’t tax alone. Come to the experts and let us help you file smarter, not harder