If Married, Who Is the Head of Household?

Your filing status determines your tax rate and standard deduction.
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Filing your taxes can be confusing, especially if you've just tied the knot and are trying to figure out how to file together. If you've got kids, then it can be even trickier to figure out the best way to file. One option that may be available to you is for one of you to file as "Head of Household," giving the one who claims it more deductions and a lower tax rate than most other filing options. Before you file as "Head of Household," though, it's important to make sure that you qualify.

Head of Household Requirements

The "Head of Household" filing status was created with single or divorced parents in mind, though it can be used by married people as well in certain circumstances. To claim the status while married, you need to be "considered unmarried" by IRS standards and have a child or other qualifying dependent living with you for more than half the year -- unless the qualifying person is one of your parents for whom you provide care and support. You also need to pay more than half of the household expenses for the year, including bills and rent or mortgage payments.

Considered Unmarried

To be "considered unmarried" by IRS standards, you and your spouse have to have spent at least the last half of the previous year living apart and be living separately at the end of the year. This is most common when you're legally separated, but those who maintain another residence away from home for extended periods due to work may also qualify. If you live both live at a single address year-round, but one of you travels to hotels and other temporary housing for work ,then you won't qualify as being "considered unmarried" by the IRS; you need to have separate addresses as your primary residences.

Choosing a Head of Household

If you and your spouse qualify for the "Head of Household" filing status, the one who stays at home and provides the care for your children or other dependents is the person who should file as head of household. If you are separated and your child spends time at both your home and your spouse's, then the head of household will be the the person that she spent the most time with. Should you qualify for a head of household filing due to being away from home for work-related reasons, the one who doesn't travel will be the head of household.

Married Filing Jointly

If you're having trouble determining who should file as head of household, or find that there isn't much of a tax advantage to the filing then keep in mind that you don't have to file a head of household at all. You and your spouse can choose either the "Married Filing Separately" or "Married Filing Jointly" option and file your taxes together. You can still list your eligible children as dependents and can choose the filing status that gets you the best tax rates and returns based on your income.

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