Am I a Dependent or Not?

We’re all dependent on someone at sometime. But when it comes to taxes, how do you know whether you are considered a dependent or not? Here are some important facts you should know about dependents and exemptions before you file your next federal tax return.

  • Dependents may be required to file their own tax return. Being claimed as a dependent does not mean you are exempt from filing your own tax return. Several factors determine if you should file a federal tax return, including the amount of your unearned, earned, or gross income, your marital status, your age, any special taxes you owe, and any advance Earned Income Tax Credit payments you may have received.
  • Exemptions reduce your taxable income. There are two different types of exemptions: personal exemptions and dependent exemptions. Exemptions reduce the taxpayer’s taxable income. Exemption amounts are reduced for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is above certain levels, depending on your filing status. These amounts can be located in Publication 501 on the IRS website.
  • If you are a dependent, you may not claim an exemption. You can take one exemption for yourself unless you can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer – such as your parents. If another taxpayer is entitled to claim you as a dependent, you cannot take an exemption for yourself even if the other taxpayer does not actually claim you as a dependent on their tax return.
  • Your spouse is never considered your dependent. On a joint return, you may claim one personal exemption for yourself and one for your spouse. If you are filing a separate return, you may claim a personal exemption for your spouse only if your spouse had no gross income, is not filing a return, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer.
  • Some people cannot be claimed as your dependent. Generally, you are not allowed to claim a married person as a dependent if they file a joint return with their spouse. You cannot claim any dependents if you could be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer. You cannot claim a person as a dependent unless that person is your qualifying child or qualifying relative. Also, in order to claim someone as a dependent, that person must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or resident of Canada or Mexico. There are exceptions for this rule regarding adopted children which can be found in Publication 501 on the IRS website.

For additional information on who can be claimed as dependent, exemptions, and whether or not you need to file a tax return, see IRS Publication 501 located on IRS website.