Dependent Vs. Independent Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service collects taxes on the income workers earn in the U.S., but tax rules vary from one individual to another depending upon factors like marital status, age and living situation. Dependents are individuals that receive care from others, such as the children whose expenses are covered by parents. Individuals that qualify as dependents face different tax rules than independent taxpayers.

What is a Dependent?

To be considered a dependent in the eyes of the IRS, you must be either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative of another person. The IRS states that a qualifying child is a son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them that lived with you at least half the year and did not provide at least half of his own support. The child must be under age 19 or under age 24 if a full time student. Qualifying relatives are people that are not qualifying children but have at least half of their support paid for by someone else that is related to them. A person that has income in excess of $3,650 is not a qualifying relative.

Tax Filing Rules for Dependents

Dependents face different income tax filing requirements than do other taxpayers. The IRS says that dependents are required to file tax returns if earned income is more than $5,700 and if unearned income is more than $950. Since a relative that is not a qualifying child must have an income less than $3,650 to qualify as a dependent, the $5,700 earned income filing requirement will only affect dependents that are qualifying children. Earned income is income earned from employment that is subject to tax withholding while unearned income is money earned from passive activities that don't require active work such as interest paid on savings accounts or dividends. In contrast, single taxpayers that are not dependents do not have to file tax returns unless income is at least $9,350.

Parental Responsibility

Parents have a responsibility to assist dependents with filing income tax returns if they cannot file themselves for some reason. For example, a young child might not be old enough file his own return, so it falls to the parent to file a return on his behalf.


Taxpayers who can be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return cannot claim dependents on their own tax returns. For example, if you live with your parents and they can claim you as a qualifying child you cannot take a dependent tax exemption for your own child. The IRS says that married couples filing joint returns cannot claim dependents if either partner can be claimed as a dependent.