Difference Between Filing Single & Head of Household

Your filing status affects your tax liability.

Your filing status affects your tax liability.

The filing status you choose when filing your federal income tax return determines how much money you have to pay Uncle Sam at tax time. If you aren’t married and you don’t have any kids, you have no choice but to file as single. However, if you’re single and have a child who lives with you, you won’t have to pay as much tax if you can file as head of household.

Determining Filing Status

You can choose to file as a single taxpayer if you are unmarried or legally separated from your spouse on the last day of the tax year. The IRS considers you unmarried for the entire year as long as your divorce became final by Dec. 31. If you and your spouse didn't live together in the same household for the last six months of the year, you may meet the criteria to file as head of household. Filing as head of household not only lowers your tax rate, but also may qualify you for more tax credits and deductions. In addition, you may be able to file as head of household if your spouse died and you are no longer eligible to file as a qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.

Standard Deduction

The amount of the standard deduction you claim is based on your filing status. While filing as head of household doesn’t give you as much of a standard deduction as married filing jointly, the deduction is more than if you file as a single taxpayer. Whether you file as single or head of household, itemizing your deductions may lower your taxable income. If the amount of your itemized deductions is more than your standard deduction, the payoff is a lower tax bill.

Disadvantages of Filing Single

Although the single filing status often makes completing your tax return easier, it has its disadvantages. For one thing, you can find yourself in a higher tax bracket sooner than if you file using another status. Also, the standard deduction you claim is less than any of the other filing statuses. However, just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean you can file as head of household. You have to meet certain requirements to qualify. Unlike other taxpayers who may be able to choose from more than one filing status, you might not fit into a filing status other than single under IRS guidelines.

Filing as HOH

While filing as head household gives you a higher standard deduction and usually a lower tax rate than if you choose to file as single, you need to qualify first. Otherwise, it will cost you money in interest and penalties besides having to pay more taxes. To qualify, you must be able to claim a qualifying child or qualifying relative on your tax return. In addition, you must pay at least half the cost for the upkeep of the home in which you and your qualifying dependent live during the year. You must pay more than half of your qualifying child’s support and she must live with you for more than half of the year.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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