Tax Filing Status Single vs. Head of Household

by Michael Keenan
Single parents often qualify to file taxes as head of household.

If you're not married, you're not automatically considered single for tax filing purposes. The head of household status offers more favorable tax treatment. You have to meet several additional criteria to file your taxes that way, but the benefits can make it well worth your while to jump through a few extra hoops.


"Single" is the default filing status for anyone not married at the end of the year who doesn't qualify for a different status. However, if you want to qualify as head of household, you must meet two requirements besides being unmarried as of Dec. 31. You must have paid more than half the costs of maintaining your home for the year. In addition, a qualifying person, such as your unmarried child or a parent for whom you claim an exemption on your taxes, must live with you for more than half the year.

Tax Break Qualifications

One big advantage to qualifying for the head of household filing status is the larger standard deduction over single filers. In 2013, heads of household were entitled to an $8,950 standard deduction, $1,850 more than the $6,100 standard deduction for singles. In addition, other deductions and credits have higher income limits for heads of household than for singles. For example, you can claim the retirement savings credit with a modified adjusted gross income as high as $44,250 if you're a head of household. For singles, the credit disappears once your modified adjusted gross income exceeds $29,500.

Larger Tax Brackets

The tax rates applied to calculate your tax bill are lower if you file using the head of household filing status rather than the single filing status. For example, in 2013, the first $8,925 of taxable income is taxed at the 10 percent tax rate, then income up to $36,250 is taxed at 15 percent. If you use the head of household status instead, the first $12,750 is taxed at 10 percent, then income up to $48,600 is taxed at 15 percent. If your taxable income for the year is $30,000, using the head of household filing status would save you more than $190.

Filing Options

The single filing status doesn't restrict you from using any of the three income tax return forms -- Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ. If, however, you want to file as head of household, you can't use Form 1040EZ -- the shortest of the tax forms. However, the extra tax savings should make you feel better about spending a little extra time doing your taxes.

About the Author

Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."

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