The Difference Between Head of Household vs Single Explained

December 27, 2022

If you are a single individual, then you might be wondering about the difference between the head of household vs single tax filing status and whether this term applies to you.

The term head of household can also sometimes be abbreviated to HOH. It is a tax term used to indicate who the primary income provider is in a household. Likewise, single filer is a tax term used to indicate a different tax status for individuals. 

But what are the differences between the single vs head of household filing statuses? 

In taxes, a household means the same thing it usually means, a group of people or family that live in the same house together as a unit.

This doesn't include roommates but rather qualifying persons like you and your partner, children, or other family members or dependents you would consider part of your household family.

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What is Head of Household?

head of household definition

What does head of household mean exactly? When it comes to taxes, "head of household" is a tax filing status for an individual.

Each household has what's considered the head of the house when it comes to income and taxes. This indicates that a person is the primary source of income for a single household.

Seems pretty simple right?

But keep reading because there are a few requirements you'll need to understand first before you know whether you qualify for this tax filing status.

Head of Household Requirements

Who can claim the head of household filing status? There are several head of household requirements you will need to meet before you can qualify for the head of household status. 

The head of household filing status is a title meant for individuals who are the primary support for their household but aren't necessarily married or filing jointly with a partner.

So being the head of a household as a married couple is different than being the "head of household" where tax returns are involved. 

Just because someone is filing an individual tax return, that doesn't mean they don't have dependents and a household that they financially take care of and support.

This is where this tax filing status comes in to help these types of individuals gain access to tax benefits as the main financial support for their own dependents.

Some of those benefits include higher tax deductions, lower tax rates, and potentially higher tax refunds

  • File a separate individual tax return
  • Be unmarried 
  • Have a qualifying dependent or child living in your house
  • Pay for more than half of the household expenses and dependent support and care.
head of household requirements

What does "considered unmarried" mean?

To qualify for the head of household status you need to be unmarried or considered unmarried. If you are "considered unmarried" that can mean a few different situations. 

To be considered unmarried by the IRS, you could be single, divorced, or you could be separated from your married spouse.

To be considered officially separated and therefore "considered unmarried" to the IRS, you'll need to have lived separately from your spouse for at least the last 6 months of that tax year.

You could also technically be "considered unmarried" when preparing taxes if you are married to someone who is not a citizen of the US.

What qualifies as a dependent? 

One of the primary differences between head of household vs single filing is having a qualifying child or dependent as part of the household.

Claiming your child as a dependent may allow those who are unmarried or considered unmarried to claim the head of household status instead of the single status.

Tax Dependent Examples

To qualify as an HOH, you can't just be single and considered unmarried, you'll also need to have a qualifying dependent that you financially support and care for in the same house with you. 

Here are a few examples of people who may qualify as a dependent if you are responsible for the dependent’s expenses. 

  • Biological child 
  • Adopted child 
  • Foster child 
  • Stepchild 
  • Brother 
  • Sister
  • Parent 

Common Dependent Expenses

Someone qualifies as a dependent in your house when you've paid over half of the household's costs and the dependent's financial support for that year.

This includes more than half of expenses like: 

  • Mortgage payments
  • Rent payments 
  • Utilities 
  • Household repairs 
  • Home insurance 
  • Health insurance
common dependent expenses

Dependents are often children that live in the home, but sometimes a dependent can be an adult with disabilities, a parent that needs to be taken care of, or another family member that requires your care and financial support. 

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The Single Filer Status

single filer tax status definition

Individual filers can also use the single filing status. Single filers also need to be unmarried or "considered unmarried" to qualify for this status.

If you are married, then you'll need to use the Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately tax statuses. 

The main requirement for using the single filer status is that you are single and don't meet the other requirements for using the head of household status.

Single filer situations could include some of the following:

  • You are single.
  • You are divorced.
  • You are married but legally separated.
  • You are married to a noncitizen.
IRS single statuses

Head of Household vs Single

head of household vs single

So if both the head of household and single filing statuses are used for single, unmarried, or considered unmarried individuals, then what's the difference between head of household vs single? How does an individual tax filer decide between head of household vs single? 

Both of these tax filing statuses are for individuals, but there are a few important differences between the head of household vs single filing statuses. 

The main difference between the single vs head of household statuses is whether you have dependents and whether you are the primary source of income in your household. 

If you are single, unmarried, or considered unmarried AND you are the primary income provider for the household and have at least 1 qualifying dependent, then you qualify for the head of household status. 

If you are single, unmarried, or considered unmarried and you aren't the primary income provider for the household and you don't have at least 1 qualifying dependent then you qualify for the single filer status. 

Benefits of Single vs Head of Household

There are pros and cons to filing single vs head of household. For example, if you are a head of household filer you can get a higher standard deduction. But this is generally because you take responsibility for the majority of household expenses. 

Head of household filers also need to make more income to be taxed at a higher tax bracket than their single filer counterparts (see the single vs head of household chart below). 

These deductions and credits provide a bit of a tax break for heads of households who take on more expenses than someone who is single without dependents. 

Single vs Head of Household Comparison Chart

single vs head of household chart