Difference Between Married & Head of Household

Learn the difference between claiming married and head of household.

Learn the difference between claiming married and head of household.

The Internal Revenue Service provides several filing status options to you when preparing your income taxes. These filing statuses, which include single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household and qualified widower, determine the amount of your standard deduction. In addition to several other deductions and credits, your standard deduction reduces the amount of your adjusted gross income, which reduces the tax you owe the IRS. Although some taxpayers might fall into two status categories, it is always best to use the status that allows you the biggest tax deduction.

Head of Household

Head of household is generally available to you if you are unmarried and maintain a home for another person, such as your child, another relative or a friend. In special circumstances, the IRS allows married taxpayers to claim head of household if the couple maintains a separate home for the final six months of the year. In addition, taxpayers who are married to a nonresident alien for any time during the tax year and do not decide to treat the partner as a resident alien, can also claim head of household. To claim the head of household status in either special circumstance, you must follow the same rules as a single taxpayer -- you must maintain a home for a qualifying person. For the 2012 tax year, the standard deduction for a taxpayer claiming the head of household status is $8,700.

Qualifying Child

For an individual to be considered a qualifying person on your income taxes, the person must be either a qualifying relative or qualifying child. A qualifying child is one that must be your child, foster child, stepchild, grandchild, sibling, or any other descendant of a family member. The child must also be under 19, under 24 and a full-time student or totally and permanently disabled and any age. The child must reside in your residence for over half the year, with the exception to temporary absences, such as illness, joint-custody agreements, business, vacation, or education. You must supply more than half of the child's support to meet the requirements of a qualifying child.

Qualifying Relative

If you maintain a home for someone that does not meet the requirements of a qualifying child, the individual might qualify as a qualifying relative. Although there are no age restrictions on a qualifying relative, the IRS does impose other requirements. To be considered a qualifying relative, the person must be a blood relative, a relative through marriage, or live in your home as a member of your household for the entire year. You must provide at least half of the individual's support and the person cannot have income that exceeds $3,700 to be considered a qualifying relative.

Married Filing Jointly

Married couples have the right to file taxes together or separately. The married filing jointly status is available to married couples who wish to receive a larger standard deduction, which significantly decreases tax that a couple owes on income. As of 2012, the standard deduction for couples filing jointly is $11,900. When filing jointly, the couple combines income, deductions and credits to produce a more favorable tax situation than filing separately. Filing jointly not only allows the couple a larger deduction, the status also grants the right to claim additional credits and deductions.

Married Filing Separately

When a couple files separately, each spouse is responsible for paying their own tax. Generally, couples who owe government debts, have a high amount of income, and have no children, can benefit financially claiming married filing separately. The IRS does restrict certain credits and deductions that couples filing separately can claim. For example, couples that file separately cannot claim the child tax credit or earned income credit. When a couple files separately, each partner is allowed to take the standard deduction at the single rate, which is $5,800 for 2012 tax year. The IRS suggests that couples calculate taxes jointly and separately to determine which status is best before making a final decision.


About the Author

Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.

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