Can a Person Who Is Married Filing Separate File as a Head of Household for Federal Taxes?

Individual taxpayers file their income taxes using IRS Form 1040.

Individual taxpayers file their income taxes using IRS Form 1040.

Internal Revenue Service regulations and federal tax law requires taxpayers to file their federal income tax returns by the end of April 15 of each year, with an extension to the next business day during years when the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday. Marital status is an important factor in determining whether the taxpayer can file as married filing separately or as head of household. A person who is considered married may not file as head of household.

Filing as Head of Household

There are several head of household qualifications. You must be unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year to file your federal income taxes under the head of household. IRS Publication 501 states that you may qualify to file as head of household if you have a qualifying child who you can claim as an exemption. You must have paid more than 50 percent of the upkeep on your home for the tax year and your spouse must not not live in the home for the final six months of the tax year.

An individual who is unmarried on the last day of the tax year is considered unmarried for the entire tax year. You are considered unmarried if you have never been married, if your spouse has died in a previous tax year, if you have received a final divorce decree, if you are legally separated or if the court issues a decree of annulment. Unmarried taxpayers who do not have a qualifying child may only file their taxes under the single filing status. Unmarried taxpayers who have a qualifying child may file as head of household or as a qualifying widow or widower with dependent child.

Exceptions to Head of Household Qualifications

There are five filing statuses the Internal Revenue Service recognizes for individual taxpayers. You may file as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Your status as of the last day of the tax year determines your filing status for the entire tax year on your federal taxes. It is important to get your filing status right, because filing status is used to determine your standard deduction, which is the amount of money you can earn without incurring an income tax liability.

Married taxpayers have the option of using the married filing jointly or married filing separately filing status, but both spouses must use the same filing status. For federal income tax purposes you are considered married for the entire tax year if you were married on the last day of the tax year. You are considered to be married for federal income tax purposes if you are legally married or are living together in a common law marriage according to the laws of the state in which you live. You are considered married even if you are not living together but there is no legal separation, final divorce decree or decree of separate maintenance. You are considered to be married for the entire year if your spouse dies during the tax year.

If you fall under a married filing status, you can’t file as head of household on your federal income taxes. Some states may have different rules for head of household status, though. In California, for example, you can be considered the head of household if you were married during the tax year if you did not live with your spouse for the last six months of the tax year and you have a qualifying child as a dependent.

Filing as Head of Household for 2018 Federal Income Taxes

If you qualify as a head of household for your 2018 taxes, which are filed in 2019, you can earn more income and stay in a lower tax bracket than if you were filing as single. For example, if you file as single, you owe 10 percent of your income to federal taxes if you earn up to $9,525. If you file as head of household, you owe 10 percent if you earn up to $13,600.

Your standard deduction is also higher. The standard deduction for filing as single is $12,000, while the head of household deduction is $18,000.

Filing as Head of Household for 2017 Federal Income Taxes

For your 2017 federal income taxes, which are filed in 2018, filing as head of household allows you to earn more income while staying in a lower tax bracket. If you earn between $13,350 and $50,800, for example, you fall into the 15 percent tax bracket if you file as head of household. Single taxpayers can only earn up to $37,950 to stay in the 15 percent tax bracket.

The standard deduction if you file as head of household is $9,350, which is higher than the $6,350 standard deduction for filing as single.

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About the Author

After attending Hardin Simmons University, Kay Dean finished her formal education with the Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1995, Dean has written for such publications as "PB&J," Disney’s "Family Fun," "ParentLife," "Living With Teenagers" and Thomas Nelson’s NY Times bestselling "Resolve." An avid gardener for 25 years, her experience includes organic food gardening, ornamental plants, shrubs and trees, with a special love for roses.

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