Who Can I Claim as a Dependent?

Who is a dependent?

One of the most reliable tax breaks is claiming a dependent. Most people with children or an elderly parent can do so, but there are some scenarios you may be unsure about. Keep reading for answers to common questions about claiming dependents. 

Who qualifies as a dependent? 

There are two main types of dependents – qualifying relatives and qualifying children.  Both types must meet the following requirements:  

  • They must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident, U.S. national, or a resident of Mexico or Canada. 
  • You must be the only taxpayer claiming them. 
  • They must be filing single or married filing separately. 

What is a qualifying child? 

A qualifying child is a person who meets the following requirements as well as those listed above. 

  • They must be related to you, by blood, marriage, or adoption. Some foster children are also included. 
  • They must either be under 19 or a full-time student under 24. 
  • You must financially support them. 
  • They must live with you for at least half of the year. 

What if my child is in college? 

If the child is a full-time student, you may claim them until they are 24. Fortunately, temporary absences, like being away at school, are acceptable (despite the rule about the student having to live with you for at least half the year). Learn more about claiming a college student here.  

What if two people want to claim the child? 

Children can only be claimed by one taxpayer. If both parents want to claim the child, whether they are divorced, separated, or filing separately, the parent who lives with the child the majority of the year gets priority. If the child splits their time equally, the parent with the highest adjusted gross income (AGI) gets priority. 

If a parent and another relative like a grandparent are trying to claim the child, the parent gets priority. If the parent rejects this right, a grandparent or other relative can claim the child as long as their AGI is higher than the parent’s income.  

If neither person is a direct parent, the right to claim the child goes to whoever has the highest AGI.   

What is a qualifying relative? 

A qualifying relative is a person who meets the following requirements: 

  • They must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident, U.S. national, or a resident of Mexico or Canada. 
  • They can’t be a qualifying child.  
  • You must provide more than half of their financial support for the year. 
  • They can’t have a gross income of more than $4,300 per year. 
  • They must either be related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption OR they must have lived with you for the entire year.  

Can I be a dependent if I’m married?

You may still be claimed as a dependent on another return if your tax status is married filing separately and you pass the other requirements. Otherwise, if you are filing a joint return with your spouse, you cannot be claimed as a dependent. Note that spouses generally cannot claim each other as dependents.  

Read also: 5 Real Tax Questions from Stay at Home Parents and What do I do if either I or my spouse is claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return? 

This article is up to date for tax year 2021 (taxes filed in 2022).

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