One of the first things you need to do when filing your income tax return is to determine your filing status.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has identified five different filing statuses for taxpayers. These are: Single; Married Filing Jointly; Married Filing Separately; Head of Household; and Qualifying Widower with Dependent Child.
The filing status or category you fall under determines what your standard deduction will be, what types of credits and deductions you will be eligible for, and what your tax payment or refund will be.
If you look at the deductions the IRS grants to different categories of taxpayers, you’ll notice that there is a significant difference in the standard deduction based on your filing status. So this can have a fairly big impact on your final tax outcome.
Here are the IRS’s eight important tips for picking the correct filing status on your tax return:
1- Your marital status is determined by looking at the last day of the year. Your marital status on December 31 of the year is your marital status for the entire year.
2- If you fall under more than one filing status, you need to choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.
3- The “Single” filing status applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced, or legally separated according to state law.
4- If you’re a married couple and decide to file your tax return together (jointly), your filing status would be “Married Filing Jointly”.
5- A married couple can choose to file their tax returns separately. Each person’s filing status would be “Married Filing Separately”.
6- If your spouse died during the year and you did not marry in that same year, you will most likely file a joint return with the deceased spouse for the year of death.
7- The “Head of Household” filing status usually applies to taxpayers who are unmarried. In order to qualify for this status, you also need to have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person.
8- When filing your taxes in 2012: You may be able to file as a “Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child” if your spouse died during 2009 or 2010, you have a dependent child, have not remarried since the death, and you meet some other criteria.
IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deductions, and Filing Information provides specific guidelines for determining your filing status. You can request this document by calling 800-829-3676 or downloading it here.