Tax Basics

married filing status

Choosing the Right Tax Filing Status is as Simple As Answering a Few Questions

December 29, 2015 : H&R Block

Click play above to watch a short video guiding you through how to choose a tax filing status.

Video text:
There are five different filing statuses that you can use when completing your return. Choosing the right tax filing status is incredibly important. It determines your standard deduction as well as your eligibility for other deductions and credits. Here are a few simple questions to answer that will help determine your correct filing status.

1. Are you married on the last day of the year?

OK, you could be married or considered married.

Let’s start easy. If the answer is yes, you are married, then the question is whether you should file jointly or separately. Typically it’s most advantageous to file jointly, because of an increased standard deduction and different marginal income tax brackets, among other things. But talk with a tax professional if you think filing separately might be the way to go.

You may be “considered married” if you have met your state’s common law marriage requirements.

Additionally, in most cases, if you are married but separated or living apart, you are still considered married until you have a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance.

However, if you and your spouse lived apart for the last six months of the year and you paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home of a dependent that lived with you more than half the year, you may be considered unmarried.’

So, if you aren’t married or are considered unmarried, you normally have two choices in a filing status: Single or Head of Household. Which leads us to the next question.

2. Do you have kids?

If the answer is yes, and you claim those children on your tax return, you will likely use the Head of Household status.

If the answer is no, you will likely use the Single filing status. However, there is an exception if you maintain a household for a qualifying child or qualifying relative. Figuring out who is a qualifying relative and whether you meet the support test is a little tricky, so check this out for more help. The support test includes things like how long the person lived with you and how much you paid in basic living expenses for them. Bottom line is that if you do support a qualifying individual, you will also want to use the Head of Household status.

3. Did your spouse pass away within the last three years?

If your spouse died in 2015, and you did not remarry, you may use one of the married filing statuses on your tax return for this year. For up to two years following the death of your spouse, if you do not remarry and have a dependent child, you can use the Qualifying Widow or Widower filing status. This allows you to use the married filing joint tax brackets and standard deduction.

Hopefully that clears it up for you! If you’re still a bit stumped about which filing status is best to use, you can always make an appointment to talk with one of our tax pros.

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