The article below is accurate for your 2018 taxes, the one that you file this year by the April 2019 deadline.
Under tax reform, you can no longer claim the dependent exemption, which was $4,050 for tax year 2017, but you still need to know who qualifies as your dependent for other tax benefits like the Child Tax Credit up to $2,000 or the new $500 tax credit for dependents who aren’t your children.
The question “Who can I claim as my dependent?” has remained a confusing topic for many taxpayers and an area where tax deductions are often missed or misstated on tax returns.
Did you know you may be able to claim your couch potato friend as a dependent? Did you realize that support of your struggling aunt who didn’t live with you may qualify you for the dependency deduction? Don’t feel bad, you would be surprised how many people scratch their heads about dependency tax laws.
The bottom line is a dependent must be your “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative” and meet specific tests in order for you to claim them. The 5 tests that will qualify a child as a dependent are:
- Relationship: Must be your child, adopted child, foster-child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these (grand or nephew).
- Residence: Must have the same residence for more than half the year.
- Age: Must be under age 19 or under 24 and a full-time student for at least 5 months. They can be any age if they are totally and permanently disabled.
- Support: Must not have provided more than half of their own support during the year.
- Joint Support: The child cannot file a joint return for the year.
The 4 tests that will qualify a relative as a dependent are:
- Qualifying Child: They are not the “qualifying child” of another taxpayer or your “qualifying child.”
- Gross Income: The dependent being claimed earns less than $4,150 in 2018.
- Total Support: You provide more than half of the total support for the year.
- Member of Household or Relationship: The person (a friend, girlfriend, non-blood relative) must live with you all year as a member of your household or be related to you.
Many taxpayers are surprised to find they may be able to claim a boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner, or friend as a qualifying relative if:
- They are a member of your household the entire year.
- The relationship between you and the dependent does not violate the law, for example, you can not still be married to someone else. (Also, check your individual state law, as some states do not allow you to claim a boyfriend or girlfriend as a dependent even if your relationship doesn’t violate the law).
- You meet all the other criteria for “qualifying relatives” (gross income and support).
Here are some common questions from our users we have answered for you here:
Question: My 26-year-old is living with me. He works and has made more than $4,150. Can I claim him as a dependent?
Answer: No, because your child would not meet the age test, which says your “qualifying child” must be under age 19 or 24 if a full-time student for a least 5 months out of the year. To be considered a “qualifying relative”, his income must be less than $4,150 in 2018.
Question: I start work in September of this year and had my baby in March. Can I claim my baby as a dependent on my taxes?
Answer: Yes, even if you have a baby on December 31, you can claim them as a dependent on your taxes.
Question: My boyfriend fully supports me. We live with his mother, but my boyfriend pays our full support including rent. His mother wants to claim us as dependents. Who can claim the deduction?
Answer: As long as your boyfriend is not married (be sure to check your individual state law regarding claiming a boyfriend or girlfriend some states don’t comply with the federal law), supplies over half of your support, you lived with him the entire year, and you did not earn more than $4,150, you would qualify as his dependent. His mother could not claim you since she did not provide more than half of the support.
Question: My spouse has not worked all year except for a month, can I claim him as a dependent?
Answer: You cannot claim a spouse as a dependent. However, if you file married filing jointly, you may have more tax benefits.
Now that you are armed with more knowledge about dependent tax laws, you may find that your friend crashing on your couch may help you get a larger tax refund.
Don’t worry about remembering these rules come tax time. TurboTax will ask you simple questions and give you the tax deductions and credits you are eligible for based on your answers. If you still have questions, you can connect live via one-way video to a TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent to get your tax questions answered. The TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent can even review, sign, and file your tax return.
Lisa Lewis is a CPA and the TurboTax Blog Editor. Lisa has 15 years of experience in tax preparation. Her success is attributed to being able to interpret tax laws and help clients better understand them. Lisa also has been a TurboTax product user for many years and understands how the software program works. In addition to extensive tax experience, Lisa also has a very well-rounded professional background. She has held positions as a public auditor, controller, and operations manager. Prior to becoming the TurboTax Blog Editor, she was a Technical Writer for the TurboTax Consumer Group and worked on a project to write new FAQs to help customers better understand tax laws. She could also be seen helping TurboTax customers with tax questions during Lifeline. For Lisa, getting timely and accurate information out to customers to help them is paramount.