What are the Basics of the Head of Household Tax Filing Status

John Asked:

What are the tax brackets for heads of household and what are the qualifications for this bracket? What is needed?

The Head of Household filing status is a special status which offers preferential tax brackets for some single individuals. The brackets are between the Single filing brackets and the Married Filing Jointly brackets, which allow qualifying individuals to pay less taxes than if they used a Single Filing Status.

Head of Household Tax Brackets

Qualifying for Head of Household

Head of household is primarily designed for single parents, although there are circumstances when other people might qualify. In order to claim the filing status you must meet three criteria. You can read more details in IRS Publication 501.

Criteria One: Be Unmarried

There are two ways to meet this qualification. The first is pretty obvious, either you are currently legally married or you aren’t. For those who are legally married, however, you can be considered unmarried if you meet the following tests on the last day of the tax year. Each of test has specific language and requirements for having met it, so you should seek the advice of a tax professional such as a CPA or you should carefully review the IRS guidelines.

  1. You file a separate return from your spouse.

  2. You paid over 50% of the costs of your household during the year.

  3. During the last 6 months of the year your spouse did not live with you.

  4. You have a child, stepchild, or foster child living in the home as their main residence for at least half of the year.

  5. The child also qualifies as a dependent

Criteria Two: Pay Over 50% of Household Costs

Similar to rule two of being considered unmarried, you must pay for over 50% of the costs of maintaining your home during the year, even if you are legally unmarried. In the case of an audit, you should be prepared to justify this with documentation such as receipts or payment records for bills like rent, utilities, food, and other household expenses.

Criteria Three: Have a Qualifying Person Live With You

The final criteria is that there is someone who lives with you for more than half the year who is dependent upon you for their care. Being dependent is defined in the tax code, so simply supporting a person does not mean they are dependent on you. The qualifying person does not have to be a child and could be a relative who qualifies as a dependent. Dependent parents also have special rules, and may not need to live in your house to qualify for dependent status.

Get Professional Help

Realize, the answer may not apply to your exact circumstances, and you should seek the advice of a qualified tax adviser who can review your exact situation. I am not a CPA and the information here is not tax advice because there is not enough known about your personal situation.

While a CPA might cost a few hundred dollars, qualifying for Head of Household status can save thousands of dollars in taxes. As with most things in personal finance, the advice of professionals often pays for their fees many times over.


Joshua Escalante Troesh is a tenured professor of Business at El Camino College and the founder of Purposeful Finance. He is also the owner of Purposeful Strategic Partners, a fiduciary and fee-only financial planning firm and a Registered Investment Advisor. He can be reached for comment at info@purposefulfinance.org