Rules for Claiming Dependents on Taxes (2024)

Rules for Claiming Dependents on Taxes (1)

Key Takeaways

  • The Child Tax Credit is up to $2,000. The Credit for Other Dependents is worth up to $500.
  • The IRS defines a dependent as a qualifying child (under age 19 or under 24 if a full-time student, or any age if permanently and totally disabled) or a qualifying relative.
  • A qualifying dependent cannot provide more than half of their own annual support.
  • To qualify, a dependent cannot file a joint tax return with a spouse (except in certain cases). Also, the dependent cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return.

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What is a dependent?

For tax purposes, a dependent is someone “other than the taxpayer or spouse” who qualifies to be claimed by someone else on a tax return. A dependent is someone who relies on another person for financial support. Typically, this includes your children or other relatives. It can also include people who aren't directly related to you, such as a domestic partner.

Once you identify someone as a dependent on your tax return, you're informing the IRS that you meet the requirements to claim them as a dependent.

Why claim someone as a dependent?

If you have a family, you need to know how the IRS defines “dependents” for income tax purposes. Why? Because it could save you thousands of dollars on your taxes.

For tax years prior to 2018, every qualified dependent you claimed could reduce your taxable income by up to the exemption amount, equal to $4,050 in 2017. In 2023, exemption deductions are replaced by:

  • An increased standard deduction
  • A larger Child Tax Credit (worth up to $2,000 per qualifying child)
  • A bigger Additional Child Tax Credit (up to $1,600 per qualifying child)
  • A new Credit for Other Dependents, worth up to $500 per qualifying dependent (not to be confused with the Child and Dependent Care Credit)

Dependent rules also apply to other benefits such as:

  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit for daycare expenses
  • Medical expense deductions, various other itemized deductions and most tax credits that involve children or family issues

Qualifying for these benefits can make the difference between owing money and receiving a refund.

The basic rules aren't complicated but it can be difficult to apply those rules to certain family situations. That's especially true if you have a son off at college, a cousin who stays with you during the summer, or a daughter with a part-time job. The questions below will help you decide which relatives you can claim as dependents.

What qualifies someone as a dependent?

The IRS rules for qualifying dependents cover many situations.

Fortunately, most of us live simple lives. The basic rules will cover almost everyone. Here's how it all breaks down.

There are two types of dependents, each subject to different rules:

  • A qualifying child
  • A qualifying relative

For both types of dependents, you'll need to answer the following questions to determine if you can claim them.

  • Are they a citizen or resident? The person must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, U.S. resident, or a resident of Canada or Mexico. Many people wonder if they can claim a foreign-exchange student who temporarily lives with them. The answer is maybe, but only if they meet this requirement. There are certain exceptions for adopted children.
  • Are you the only person claiming them as a dependent? You can't claim someone who is claimed as a dependent on another tax return. You also can't claim a person who states that they are not able to be claimed as a dependent on their own tax return (takes a personal exemption for himself). Finally, a dependent cannot claim another person as a dependent on their own tax form. These requirements commonly apply to children of divorced parents. There are certain “tie breaker rules,” which are found in IRS Publication 501. These rules establish income, parentage, and residency requirements for claiming a child.
  • Are they filing a joint return? You can't claim someone who's married and files a joint tax return. Say you support your married teenage son. If he files a joint return with his spouse, you can't claim him as a dependent. (This rule doesn't apply if the dependent files a joint return only to claim a refund of income tax withheld or any estimated tax paid.).

TurboTax Tip:

Including qualified dependents on your tax return is one of the best tax benefits available. It can open the door to many tax credits and deductions that can lower your tax bill.

Qualifying child

In addition to the qualifications above, to claim a qualifying child, you must be able to answer "yes" to all of the following questions.

  • Are they related to you? The child can be your son, daughter, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, adopted child or an offspring of any of them.
  • Do they meet the age requirement? Your child must be under age 19 or, if a full-time student, under age 24. There's no age limit if your child is permanently and totally disabled.
  • Do they live with you? Your child must live with you for more than half the year, but several exceptions apply.
  • Do you financially support them? Your child may have a job, but they cannot provide more than half of their own support.

Qualifying relative

Many people provide support to their aging parents. But providing some support doesn't mean you can claim a parent as a dependent. Here's a checklist for determining whether your parent (or other relative) qualifies.

  • Do they live with you? Your relative must live with you all year as a member of your household or be on the list of “relatives who do not live with you” in Publication 501. About 30 types of relatives are on this list.
  • Do they make less than $4,700 in 2023 ($5,050 for 2024)? Your relative can't have a gross income of more than $4,700 in 2023 and be claimed by you as a dependent. This threshold increases to $5,050 for 2024. Certain income is excluded from this requirement such as all or part of Social Security benefits.
  • Do you financially support them? You must provide more than half of your relative's total support for the year.

In all cases, to claim someone as a dependent on your tax return, you can't be claimed as a dependent on someone else's return.

Examples of Claiming Dependents

Married filers with two minor children

Let's say you file jointly with your spouse. You have two minor children who don't earn income and live with you for more than half the year (though some exceptions apply). In this case, you can likely claim them as qualifying children dependents on your tax return.

Divorced filers with two minor children

Consider this case. You are divorced and have a custody agreement in place between you and your ex-spouse for your two children. The person who can claim these children on their tax return will come down to which person can satisfy the criteria provided by the IRS for claiming a dependent child. Typically, the person with whom the children live over half the year will be able to claim the dependents on their tax return. But there may be a separate legal agreement stipulating the other parent may claim the children as dependents.

Multiple siblings supporting an elderly parent through a multiple support agreement

Sometimes multiple adult children are supporting an elderly parent. Generally the child who provides more than 50% of their support can claim them as a dependent. However, you can also use a multiple support agreement to determine which sibling can claim the elderly parent on a tax return. Even in this situation, you'll need to contribute a minimum of 10% to their support, but this falls considerably below the standard 50%.

Claiming a domestic partner

You can claim your domestic partner as a dependent if they meet the requirements set forth in the qualifying relative dependent category. Claiming a domestic partner can be a challenge. This is because of the low amount of income the partner can earn before becoming ineligible.

Deductions and credits available when claiming dependents

  • Earned Income Tax Credit: The Earned Income Tax Credit is the largest financial support program for working people with low to moderate income. This credit is refundable. That means it can reduce income tax and often increase tax refunds for low to moderate income taxpayers. The credit can amount to as much as $7,430 for a family with three or more children for the 2023 tax year. This amount increases to $7,830 for 2024. To receive the credit you don't necessarily need to have children. However, the credit amount is typically higher for those taxpayers who have qualifying children.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit: This is also a refundable tax credit. It helps parents pay for daycare for a qualified dependent while working, going to school, or if a parent is unable to care for themselves. The credit amounts to between 20% and 50% of up to $6,000 of expenses.
  • Child Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit: The child tax credit is up to $2,000 per qualifying child under age 17. For 2023, the Child Tax Credit is $3,600 for each qualifying child under the age of 6 and up to $3,000 for qualifying children ages 6 through 17. These new changes came from the American Rescue Plan and are allowed for single and separate married filers earning up to $75,000 per year, or up to $150,000 for joint filers. If you earn more than these thresholds, you're still eligible for the additional child tax credit amounting to $2,000 per-child credit using the original Child Tax Credit income and phase-out amounts. Additionally, the entire credit is fully refundable for 2021.
  • Credit for Other Dependents: If you have a qualifying relative as a dependent on your return, you're entitled to claim a nonrefundable credit of up to $500. You can claim this for each qualifying relative you have on your tax return.
  • Adoption credit: The 2023 adoption tax credit is a nonrefundable tax credit worth up to $15,950 of expenses you've paid for the adoption of a child who isn't your stepchild. This credit increases to $16,810 for 2024. The credit is nonrefundable. However, you may carry over any remaining, unused credit value for up to five years. The amount of adoption credit you can claim relates to how much you spend on your adoption. For example, if you have $7,000 of qualified adoption expenses in 2023, you can't claim the full $15,950 credit. Likewise, if you had $20,000 in adoption expenses, you can only claim up to the $15,950 credit limit.
  • Medical expenses: If you paid for medical expenses for your qualifying child or relative dependent, you may be able to claim those as a deduction. You must meet the rules around medical expenses deduction. Generally, you can deduct qualified unreimbursed medical care expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Claiming this deduction also requires you to itemize your deductions on Schedule A. As a result, you are not able to claim the standard deduction.
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit: These two tax credits are meant to cover part of the cost related to qualified education expenses. This can be for yourself, spouse or dependents while enrolled in college, vocational school or certain work-related training.

Who is not considered a dependent?

To be a qualifying child, the child must meet five tests: age, relationship, residency, support, and joint return. Failure to meet any of these means the child cannot be considered a dependent.

A child who is permanently and totally disabled at any time during the year qualifies as a dependent child, regardless of age. Otherwise, according to the IRS age test, the child:

  • Must be under age 19 at the end of the calendar year (if not a student) and
  • Be younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly)

If the child is a full-time student for at least five months of the year, the age requirement is different. The student:

  • Must be under age 24 at the end of the year and
  • Be younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly)

Age test examples:

Your son is not a student and turns 19 on December 1. Your son does not meet the age test.

Your daughter is a full time student and turns 24 on December 1. Your daughter does not meet the age test.

Your brother is a 22-year-old unmarried student who lives with you and receives more than half of their support from you. You and your spouse are both 21 and file a joint return. Your brother does not meet the age test because he isn’t younger than you or your spouse.

Your sister is a 22-year-old unmarried student who lives with you and receives more than half of their support from you. Your spouse is 23 and you file a joint return. Your sister meets the age test because she is younger than your spouse.

In addition to the age test, other tests must be met to qualify as a dependent. These include:

  • Relationship test. To qualify, a child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, or foster child, or a descendant (for example, your grandchild) of any of them; or your brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, or stepsister, or a descendant of any of them. An adopted child qualifies as your own child.

Example. Your niece or nephew lives with you and receives support from you. However, they do not qualify on the basis of relationship.

  • Residency test. Generally, the child must have lived with you for more than half the year. There are certain exceptions for children who were born or died during the year and other situations.

Example. Your son lives with you three months out of the year and doesn’t meet any of the exceptions. Your son does not qualify as a dependent.

  • Support test. The child can't have provided more than half of their own support for the year.

Example. You provided $5,000 toward your 18-year-old daughter's support for the year and your daughter provided $7,500 which totals all of her support. Your daughter is not a qualifying child, because she provided more than half of her own support.

  • Joint return test. The child can't file a joint return for the year, unless your child and the child’s spouse file a joint return only to claim a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid.

Example. Your married daughter and her spouse filed a joint return and owed taxes. Your daughter is not a qualifying child because she filed a joint return not just to receive a refund.

How can I claim a dependent on my tax forms?

You claim your dependent(s) on the first page of Form 1040. Make sure you have their full names, ages, and Social Security numbers at hand. To claim your dependent(s):

  1. Enter their full name on the first page of Form 1040.
  2. Enter their Social Security number.
  3. Indicate their relationship to you.
  4. If you have more than four dependents, check the appropriate box and list their information on a separate page.

Make sure your dependent meets the IRS requirements. Generally, the IRS requires that the child is under the age of 19 (or under 24 if a full-time student), lives with you for more than half the year, and does not provide more than half of their own financial support.

Frequently asked questions about claiming dependents

How much can a dependent child earn?

A qualifying child can earn an unlimited amount of money and still be claimed as a dependent, so long as the child doesn't also provide more than half of their own support.

If the dependent child is being claimed under the qualifying relative rules, the child's gross income must be less than $4,700 for the year in 2023. This threshold increases to $5,050 for 2024.

When should I stop claiming my child as a dependent?

There may come a time when you can no longer claim your child as a dependent. It might be because of their age (your child no longer qualifies if over the age of 18 or 23 if a full-time student unless disabled). It also might be because you no longer pay for half their financial support. It also could be that they've moved out of the house. If you can no longer claim them under the qualifying child dependent rules you might be able to claim them under the qualifying relative tests.

Can you claim adults as dependents on your taxes?

You can claim adults as dependents on your taxes if they meet the criteria for qualifying relatives. Many people can claim their elderly parents as a qualifying relative dependent. You can claim a domestic partner on your return as a dependent as long as they meet the requirements.

Generally, the biggest hurdle to overcome by claiming an adult as a dependent is the income test. Adult dependents can't have a gross income of more than $4,700 in 2023 or more than $5,050 for 2024. If you follow all the guidelines and the adult meets the criteria, you can claim them as an adult dependent. This opens up the opportunity to claim additional tax deductions and credits. These credits and deductions can lower your tax bill.

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Rules for Claiming Dependents on Taxes (2024)


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