Puzzled? confused? Have lots of questions?

Being intimidated of filing your taxes is nothing to be ashamed of. Professionals go through years of education to become accountants and even then need to take hours of continuing education each year to keep up with it all. Below, we cover some common questions from tax payers.

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What are my filing status options?


Following are definitions of each filing status and some general rules:

Single - You were unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree on December 31st.

Married Filing a Joint Return - You were married on December 31st and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. On a joint tax return, both spouses are reporting all their income, deductions and credits on one tax return.

Married Filing Separately - You were married or legally separated on December 31st and you and your spouse wish to file separate tax returns. When filing separately:

  • Each spouse is responsible for claiming their own income, exemptions, credits, and deductions.
  • Each spouse must file using the same method of deductions. For example, if your spouse files a Schedule A for itemizing their deductions, you too will have to file using the Schedule A, even if your standard deduction would be more beneficial to you.
  • Filing separately disqualifies you from various credits and deductions such as education credits, student loan interest deductions, child care credit and earned income credit.

Head of Household - You were unmarried or "considered unmarried" on December 31st as well as having to have paid for more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year. In addition, you must having a qualifying person living with you in the home for more than half the year whom you can claim as an exemption.

Qualifying Widow(er) - If you have a dependent and your spouse has died, you may be eligible to file as a qualifying widow(er) for 2 years following the year your spouse died. In order to use this filing status, all of the following must be true.

  • The year in which your spouse died, you were eligible to file as Married Filing Jointly.
  • Your spouse died in 2014 or 2015 and you have not remarried before the end of 2016.
  • You have a child or stepchild (except for a foster child) whom you can claim as an exemption and lived with you all year.
  • You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the year.

What is a dependent & what are the dependency tests?


A dependent is a person other than the taxpayer or spouse who entitles the taxpayer to claim a dependency exemption. There are two different dependency categories. They are: qualifying child and qualifying relative. Each dependency exemption decreases income subject to tax by the exemption amount. The exemption amount for a dependent in tax year 2013 is $3,950. A taxpayer cannot claim a dependency exemption for a person who can be claimed as a dependent on another tax return.

Qualifying Child
To claim a qualifying child dependency exemption, all of the following dependency test must be met.

  • Member of household or relationship test
  • Citizen or resident test
  • Joint Return test
  • Age or Student test
  • Support test

Member of household-The person must live with the taxpayer for more than half the entire year as a member of the taxpayer's household. You do not have to own the principle of abode or pay the maintenance costs, but the child must live with you. For over half the year. The dependent must live with the taxpayer all year except for temporary absences. (Temporary absences include attending school, taking vacations, and staying in the hospital.)

Relationship- The person must be related to the taxpayer in one of the allowable ways. They are: child, brother/sister, stepchild, stepbrother/stepsister, half brother/half sister, grandchild, niece/nephew or a legally adopted child or a child lawfully placed for adoption, as well as a foster child.

Citizen or Resident Test – The child is a U.S. citizens or national, or residents of the US Canada or Mexico.

Joint Return Test - Taxpayers will meet this test for persons who are
• married but do not file a joint return, or
• married and file a joint return only to claim a refund of withheld tax; neither would have a tax liability on separate returns; neither the dependent nor spouse can claim personal exemptions on their joint return.

Age or Student Test – The child is under the age of 19 years of age at the end of the year, or under the age of 24 years of age at the end of the year and is a full-time student for at least 5 months. This test does not apply to a child who is permanently and totally disable at any time during the year..

Support Test – The child will meet this test if the taxpayer provided more than half of a person's total support for the entire year.

Total support items include
• food, clothing, shelter, education, medical and dental care, recreation, and transportation; and • welfare, food stamps, and housing provided by the state.

Qualifying Relative
To claim a qualifying relative dependency exemption, all of the following dependency test must be met. • Relationship test
• Gross Income Test
• Support test
• Citizen or resident test
• Joint Return test

Relationship- The following relatives meet this test, however, they do not have to live with the taxpayer. Unrelated or distantly related persons not listed will meet this test if they live with you. They are: children, great or grandchildren, who are not qualifying children. For example, if your child is not a qualifying child because he or she does not meet the age/student test or the principle place of abode test, the taxpayer may still be able to claim an exemption for the child as your qualifying relative, but only of he or she has gross income under the $4,000 limit and you provide over 50% of his or her support. The same rules applies for brother/sister,, stepbrother/stepsister, half brother/half sister, niece/nephew. Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, step-parents, son/daughter in-laws, father or mother in-laws, and brothers/sisters in-law. If related by blood uncles and aunts. A relative not listed above, such as a cousin, or unrelated person, meets the relationship test if he or she is a member of your household and your home is his or her principal home for the entire year, except for temporary absences due to schooling, vacationing, being away on business, serving in the military or being confined to a hospital. A person cannot meet the member of household test if the relationship violates local laws. For example, if the taxpayer lives with a person married to someone else and the relationship violates the laws of the state where they live, you cannot claim an exemption for that person. I will caution you that it is not your responsibility to tell a client whether or not they can claim a person as a dependent. You should only read them the relationship requirements and if is his decision to complete his or her return as they deem necessary.

Gross Income Test – A person meeting the above relationship test cannot be claimed as a qualifying relative if he or she had gross income for the tax year of $4,000 or more. This is true even if you provided most or all of that person’s support.

Support Test – A person cannot be a qualifying relative unless the taxpayer provides over half of his or her total support for the year.
Citizen or Resident Test – The child is a U.S. citizens or national, or residents of the US Canada or Mexico.

Joint Return Test - Taxpayers will meet this test for persons who are
• married but do not file a joint return, or
• married and file a joint return only to claim a refund of withheld tax; neither would have a tax liability on separate returns; neither the dependent nor spouse can claim personal exemptions on their joint return.