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The Money Edge - Head of Household - true or false

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In common parlance, a head of a household is the one making important decisions and holding the family together. Not so when filing taxes. On a tax form, Head of Household (HOH) is just one of five filing statuses. Each filing status has its own requirements.

The HOH filing status dates back at least to 1917. In the instructions for that year, "head of family" is defined as "a person who in accordance with some moral or legal obligation actually supports and maintains one or more individuals closely related to him or her by blood, marriage, or adoption." The definition has been expanded considerably since then.

Currently there are three requirements which must be met for HOH eligibility:

1. You are unmarried or "considered unmarried" on the last day of the year.

2. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year.

3. A "qualifying person" lived with you in the home for more than half the year (except for temporary absences). However, if the "qualifying person" is your dependent parent, he or she does not have to live with you.

Each of these requirements has more specifications, especially "qualifying person." The full details are beyond the scope of this article, but can be found in IRS Publication 17.

Now, for just a few true/false statements:

A. Using the HOH filing status gives you more Earned Income Credit.

False - Given the same earned income and number of children, those with a filing status of HOH, Single, or Qualifying Widow(er) would receive the same Earned Income Credit. Those eligible for Married Filing Jointly might receive more Earned Income Credit and those using a Married Filing Separately status would be ineligible for Earned Income Credit.

B. If you are the only wage earner in the house, you are automatically eligible for HOH.

False - You may be eligible to be HOH, or you may not. Even though these benefits may be issued in your name, IRS regulations consider Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), housing supplements and food stamps to be income supplied to the household by another source. Income received by other household members, such as disability or social security, even if it is not taxable, is also reviewed when determining if you provide the majority of household support.

C. You and your boyfriend share an apartment. He's been unemployed all year and you've had to pay all his expenses, so you are the HOH.

False - Assuming you boyfriend meets all the requirements, he will qualify as your dependent. However, for HOH status, he is not considered to be a "qualifying person."

Because "Head of Household" has different meanings to different people, it is perhaps the filing status which creates the most confusion. But when used on a tax form, HOH has a very specific meaning. Tax preparers should be ready for possible confusion, and tax filers should look beyond the name to the IRS requirements and seek additional guidance when necessary.

Anne Powelson is a tax preparer for H&R Block in Bangor. Send your questions or feedback to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 207-947-0333.

Last modified on Monday, 12 December 2011 16:13

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