Last week, we looked at different filing statuses for married tax filers. But what if you aren’t married? As Part I of this series mentions, you can use Single Filer (SF) or Head of Household (HOH) status.

What’s the main difference? Well, head of household means you have a dependent to care for. Sorry, single filers, but that pet doesn’t count. At least not to the IRS.

Fido aside, there are a lot of caveats to the HOH status. Let’s look at who qualifies and some pros and cons of this status.

HOH status qualifications

To qualify for HOH status, you must be considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year. More on that in a bit.

You must also pay more than half the household expenses and have a qualifying dependent.

But there are caveats to these three guidelines. Lots of them. Let’s start with marriage.

What does “considered unmarried” mean?

Even if you are still married, the IRS might consider you not to be. If you file a separate return from your spouse, paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home during the tax year, and your home was the primary residence of a qualifying dependent, the IRS might consider you single.

Also, your absent spouse cannot have lived in the home for the last six months of the year. This must be because of marital issues. If a spouse was gone because of military service, school, business, or medical treatment, Uncle Sam says the knot is still tied.

Household expenses

These are essentials like rent, utilities, groceries, and mortgage payments. Putting in a pool and calling it half the household expenses probably won’t impress the IRS.

Qualifying Dependents for HOH Status

This part starts simply enough. Your dependent must be a relative and have lived with you for over half a year. Without a qualifying dependent, you can’t apply for HOH status.

But who qualifies as a relative is the part that is a bit shakier. Children, stepchildren, adopted children, foster children, and grandchildren can be dependents, even if you are not the custodial parent in some cases. But if they are married, you must be able to claim them as a dependent.

You can claim them as a dependent if they are younger than 19 or a student younger than 24. Permanently and totally disabled children are exempt from age requirements.

Siblings and descendants, such as a brother, sister, stepsibling, or nieces and nephews, may also qualify as dependents for HOH status. Other potential qualifying dependents are aunts, uncles, and in-laws.

You can claim your mother or father, but only if they qualify as a dependent. Also, they may not have to live with you for purposes of HOH status. If they live in another home or in a retirement facility, but you pay for more than half their living expenses there, then you may be able to file as HOH.

Of course, many of these dependent qualifications come with a host of rules and tests, as laid out in IRS Publication 501.

All of this can get terribly complicated and may require the help of a tax professional, but some benefits can make the effort worthwhile.

Benefits of Filing as Head of Household

Often, your only alternative to HOH status is SF status, but you’d potentially miss out on lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction that can positively impact your overall taxes.

HOH filers also get tax credits that may not be available to single filers.

The Bottom Line

You may qualify for HOH status if you are an unmarried tax filer with a dependent.

Determining HOH status isn’t always straightforward. But by consulting IRS Publication 501 and a tax professional, you might access benefits unavailable to single filers.

It’s worth a look.