Who Can & Can't Be Claimed As a Dependent on Income Tax Returns?

by W D Adkins
A qualified dependent can bring you some big tax breaks.

Claiming someone as a dependent can reduce your tax bill. At the very least, you’ll get a dependent exemption that cuts your taxable income. You might be eligible for the Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, a bigger Earned Income Credit and other tax breaks. With all these possibilities, just one dependent may save you thousands on taxes. Before you can claim a dependent, however, the person has to meet Internal Revenue Service tests as a qualifying relative or child.

Qualifying Children

A child has to be related to you in some way to be qualified as a dependent. Biological children count, of course. So do stepchildren and adopted children. If you take a foster child into your home, you can claim her as a dependent. Your brothers and sisters may be qualified children if they meet other IRS tests. Descendents of anybody who falls into one of these categories can also be a dependent. For example, a grandchild or nephew may be a qualifying child.

Qualifying Test

Normally, a child must be age 18 or younger at the end of the year to be a qualified child, although there are two exceptions. The age limit is 23 or younger when the child is a full-time student and there is no age restriction for children with permanent disabilities. A child may furnish no more than 50 percent of his own support. As a rule, a child must live with you for more than half the year. This residency requirement may be waived when parents are divorced or separated and doesn’t apply to infants born during the year. Also, a temporary absence like attending school doesn’t count against the residency requirement.

Qualifying Relatives

Some relatives who are not qualifying children may be claimed as dependents. In general, this means a parent or other direct ancestor such as a grandparent. Aunts or uncles and their offspring may be eligible as dependents under the qualifying relative test. In addition, someone who lives with you for the entire year as a member of your family might be qualified. For anybody to be claimed as a qualifying relative, her own income has to be less than $3,800 and you have to provide more than half of her income.

Who Isn't Eligible

You can’t claim anyone as a dependent when someone claims you as a dependent. Also, you can’t claim someone as a defendant who is claimed by someone else. You can’t claim someone as a dependent who is not a United States citizen, U.S. national, resident alien or a resident of Mexico or Canada. Finally, someone who is married and files a joint return can’t be claimed as a dependent. This restriction is waived if the return is filed only to get a refund from the IRS.

About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, W D Adkins has been writing professionally since 2008. He writes about business, personal finance and careers. Adkins holds master's degrees in history and sociology from Georgia State University. He became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2009.

Photo Credits

  • Dynamic Graphics Group/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images