The Terms for Claiming a Dependent on Taxes

Claiming qualified dependents can increase your income tax refund.

Claiming qualified dependents can increase your income tax refund.

You can lower your taxes by claiming the maximum number of dependents on your federal income tax return. The Internal Revenue Service has a list of terms that sets out who qualifies as your dependent. You can compare each person to the IRS terms to see if you can take the deduction. For tax year 2013, each dependency exemption lowers your taxable income by $3,900. However, your potential dependent must have a valid Social Security number. He must also be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, resident alien or a resident of Mexico or Canada in order to qualify.

Qualifying Child

The IRS has a broad definition of who is considered your child. Your natural son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child or a foster child placed in your home by court order are all qualified children. If your child is a student and 24 years or younger, you can claim her as a dependent. In addition, your child must live with you for at least half of the tax year and not provide over half of her own support. Your disabled child of any age always qualifies as your dependent.

Qualifying Relative

A qualified relative includes your father, mother, grandparents, natural or adopted sibling, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother or stepsister. Likewise, your niece, nephew, aunt and uncle qualify as your dependents. Other qualified relatives are your son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather and stepmother. Your qualified relative does not have to live with you if you provide more than half of his support. At the time of publication, a qualified relative cannot have more than $3,900 of income for the tax year.

Unrelated Household Member

You can claim a dependency exemption for an unrelated person that lives with you for the entire tax year. To qualify, you must provide at least 50 percent of her support and she cannot have more than $3,900 of income for the tax year. However, if she files a joint tax return with another person, you cannot claim her as a dependent on your tax return.

Extra Dependency Exemption

For tax year 2013, both you and your spouse can each take a personal exemption worth $3,900. However, neither one of you can claim an additional dependency exemption even if you would otherwise qualify. For example, if your spouse is a full-time student and you provide more than half of his support, you cannot claim the student dependency exemption. However, you may be able to deduct his tuition and related costs on your tax return.


About the Author

Based in St. Petersburg, Fla., Karen Rogers covers the financial markets for several online publications. She received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of South Florida.

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