Whether or not it's legal to claim yourself on federal taxes has nothing to do with your age. What it comes down to is the type and amount of income you earn and whether your parents, or someone else, can claim you as a dependent or not. But the fact that you are under 18 years of age makes it more likely that you're someone's dependent.
What Claiming Yourself Means
When you claim yourself on a tax return, it means you're reporting one personal exemption. An exemption is a predetermined amount that reduces your taxable income -- the amount the Internal Revenue Service taxes after deductions and exemptions are subtracted from your income. The federal government increases the exemption amount each year for inflation, but as of publication, claiming a personal exemption for yourself knocks $3,900 off your taxable income. If your parents can claim you as their dependent, irrespective of whether they take the exemption or not, it deprives you of your own exemption, since they already are entitled to it. But this all irrelevant unless you earn enough income to file a federal tax return.
Do You Have to File?
Just because you're under 18, the IRS doesn't grant you any special privileges -- you still have to pay income taxes like everyone else. If you are a dependent, however, you're subject to different filing rules than those who aren't dependents. In any year your earned income is more than the standard deduction -- also a fixed amount that reduces taxable income -- that single non-dependent taxpayers can take, which as of publication is $6,100, you have to file a return. But if your unearned income is more than $1,000, it doesn't matter how much your earned income is -- you'll need to file a federal return.
Difference Between Earned and Unearned Income
The tax law makes a distinction between earned and unearned income when it comes to dependents. Earned income is more common, since it covers everything you earn at a full- or part-time job and any compensation you're paid for performing services, such as the money you earn from babysitting or mowing lawns in the summer. Unearned income mainly refers to income that's attributed to investments you may have, interest credited to your savings account and even money that comes out of a trust.
You Can Claim Standard Deduction
One day when you're too old to be claimed as your parents' dependent you'll be able to claim yourself, but until then you can at least claim the standard deduction on your taxes – though it may be smaller than what some people who are over 18 can usually take. Your standard deduction is either $1,000 or the amount of “earned income” reported on your taxes plus an additional $350. You can take whichever one gives you the biggest deduction, but the maximum you can ever take as a dependent is the standard deduction available to non-dependent single filers.
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.