The question of when children can be claimed as dependents by their parents is not limited to the college set. According to a 2011 poll by ForbesWoman and the National Endowment for Financial Education, 59 percent of parents provide financial support for their adult children who are not attending college. The IRS provides two different standards for when children can be claimed as dependents. Minors and college age students are subject to one standard; other adult children are subject to another.
One type of dependent is the qualifying child. This includes children who are under age 19 -- or under age 24 and still attending school full time. Children who are permanently and totally disabled are also included. Other criteria must be met. The child must live with his parents for at least half of the year. Living away for school counts as a temporary absence, so college students residing away during the school year still qualify. The child must not be able to file a joint return with anyone else.
The Percentage Earnings for a Qualifying Child
The qualifying child may provide no more than 50 percent of his own support during the year. So if a child earns $4,000 and his parents kick in $5,000, he qualifies to be claimed as a dependent. The IRS provides worksheets for parents to sort out how much they contribute, including things like an estimated value for the housing that they share with the child.
A person who does not fit the definition of a qualifying child may be a qualifying relative. There is no age limit for a qualifying relative. Usually a qualifying relative must live with the taxpayer claiming her as a dependent, but children of the filer are exempt from this requirement.
The Percentage Earnings For a Qualifying Relative
There are two financial cut-offs for a qualifying relative. First, the child must earn less than the amount allowed for an exemption, which in 2011 was $3,700. Second, the parents must provide more than 50 percent of the child's support. If, for example, in 2011 you contributed $5,000 in support for a child who earned $4,000, he is not a qualifying relative and may not be claimed as a dependent.
Kelly Mroz has more than 12 years of experience as an attorney in family, business and estate matters. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where she served as an associate editor for the "Journal of Law and Commerce." Mroz's work has also been published in the "Pennsylvania Family Law Quarterly."