Definition of a Dependent for Tax Purposes

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats dependents as exemption credits that can be claimed on an annual tax return. This is a significant exception credit that can reduce the amount of taxable income by $3,900 for each dependent claimed. There are certain rules that taxpayers must observe when claiming dependents, and the most important rule is to understand how the IRS determines if someone can be claimed.

Definition and Qualification of Dependents

The IRS defines dependents in a pragmatic fashion. First of all, a person who is claimed as dependents on a tax return cannot claim dependents of his or her own. Second, dependents must be children or relatives who meet certain criteria. Spouses are not dependents; they are subject to other exemptions that married couples can choose to take advantage of when they file joint or individual returns.

Children are the most commonly claimed dependents. To qualify as dependents, children must have received more than half of their support from the taxpayer who wishes to claim them. Dependent children must also reside in the home of the taxpayer for at least six months during the year being filed; they can be claimed until the age of 19, or 24 if attending school fulltime.

Dependent children are allowed to work and can even file their own tax returns; they cannot, however, be considered dependents if they earn more money than their own parents.

Other Dependents

Relatives, romantic partners and even roommates can also be claimed as dependents for the purpose of reducing taxable income. Relatives who are not spouses or children can be claimed by taxpayers who provide more than 50 percent of support during the tax year. Dependents who are relatives do not have to live in the same residence as the taxpayers who claim them; however, the residency requirement for non-family dependents extends to the entire year.

The IRS considers support to be the sum of all items given to dependents. Some of the items include food, clothing, tuition, school supplies, medical expenses, rent, transportation, etc.

It is important to note that dependents who are married may still qualify and be claimed; nonetheless, they cannot file a joint tax return with their spouses at the same time they are considered dependents.

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