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Determining Tax Filing Status

The first step in filing your taxes is determining your tax filing status. Generally, your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. If you're unmarried, or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree and you don't qualify for another status, your filing status is single.

However, your status isn't just limited to whether you're married. The IRS allows the following five statuses:

  1. Single
  2. Married filing jointly
  3. Married filing separately
  4. Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
  5. Head of household

Depending on which status you qualify for, you could be eligible for certain deductions and credits to reduce your tax exposure. Below is an overview of information to help in determining your tax filing status.

Marriage Filing Statuses

If you're married by the last day of the year, you and your spouse may file joint or separate returns. For example, if you got married on December 31, 2021, then for tax year 2021, you would be considered married, for tax purposes.

If you're legally separated or divorced from your spouse on the last day of the year, even though married for the rest of the year, you're still considered single for tax purposes.

If you experienced the unfortunate death of your spouse in the current tax year, you can still file a joint return with that spouse, so long as you haven't remarried before the end of the year. However, the current year would be the last year for which you may file a joint return with that spouse.

When it comes to determining your marriage status, the IRS relies on the laws of your state governing marriage and separation or divorce.

Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child

If your spouse died during the previous two years, you may be able to file as a qualifying widow or widower. To do this, you must meet all 5 of the following requirements:

  1. You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse in the year they died (it doesn't matter whether you actually filed a joint return);
  2. You didn't remarry before the end of the current tax year;
  3. You have a child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child for whom you can claim a dependency exemption;
  4. The child lives in the home all year, except for temporary absences; and
  5. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the whole year.

More detailed information on each filing status can be found in IRS Publication 501Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.

Head of Household Status

To qualify for head of household status, you typically must be unmarried by the end of the tax year and not entitled to file as a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child. You must also have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home and had the qualifying person live in the home for more than half the year.

Head of Household and Married

You may also qualify for head of household status if married where you qualify as "considered unmarried." You are considered unmarried if:

  • You file a separate return;
  • Your spouse has not lived in your home during the last 6 months of the tax year;
  • You provided more than half the cost of maintaining your home;
  • Your home was the main home of the qualifying person for more than half the year; and
  • You are able to claim the child as a dependent or you can't claim the child as a dependent only because the noncustodial parent can claim the child.

Need Help Determining Your Tax Filing Status? Consider Calling an Attorney

There are certain advantages and disadvantages when it comes to different tax filing statuses. Which one works best for you is a decision best made with a tax professional. Just leaving it up to guesswork can end up costing you more in taxes. Sit down with an experienced tax attorney today to learn more about your options.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified tax attorney to help you navigate your federal and/or state tax issues.

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