Who Can I Claim as a Dependent on My Taxes?

Who can I claim as a dependent? In order to claim someone as a dependent they have to meet certain criteria and qualifications. Find out who you can claim.

Filing tax returns each year can be a complicated process, especially when you start involving things like dependents to your tax form. You may be wondering, who can I claim as a dependent and how do I know who to claim and who not to claim? We hope to answer some of these questions today as we go over who you can and can't claim as a dependent on your taxes. 

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Who Can I Claim as a Dependent?

Let's go over the question, who can I claim as a dependent on your taxes. Dependents have to meet certain criteria in order to count as dependents to the IRS. And you don't want to claim someone as a dependent who doesn't qualify. So how do you know who can I claim as a dependent? Here's what you need to know. 

What is a Dependent? 

The simple definition of what is a dependent is someone who is not the taxpayer who can be put on the taxpayer's tax return instead of their own. Usually, this is also someone who relies on the taxpayer financially. When you have dependent to take care of and claim, this could reduce the amount of tax liability on your income. 

Financial support can include things like housing, food, clothing, medical expenses, health insurance, and other necessities of life. Usually this involves someone who might be related to you and probably lives under the same roof as you. Most often, someone who qualifies as a dependent will be referred to as a qualifying child or a qualifying relative if they are adult dependents. 

Dependent Qualifications

The above dependent definition gives us a better idea about who a dependent is, but how do you figure out who qualifies as a dependent? When you have someone that financially depends on you in any way, go through the following qualifications for a dependent: 

  • The taxpayer needs to be a US citizen or resident alien.
  • The dependent needs to be either a US citizen, a US national, a US resident, or a Canada or Mexico resident. 
  • The taxpayer needs to be the only one claiming the dependent as a dependent. 
  • The taxpayer can't claim a dependent who is married and filing a joint tax return with a spouse. 
  • The taxpayer needs to provide more than half of the dependent's financial support. 

These are the basic qualifications for dependents to consider. There are more requirements when trying to claim a qualifying child or a qualifying relative, however. 

Requirements for Claiming a Qualifying Child

When claiming a child, the dependent will need to meet the following criteria. 

  • The dependent child needs to be related to you. This includes direct offspring, stepchildren, foster children, siblings, halfsiblings, stepsiblings, and adopted children. 
  • The dependent child needs to be under 19 years old, a full-time student under 24 years old, or permanently and totally disabled. 
  • The dependent child needs to live with the taxpayer for more than half the year. There are some exceptions to this rule. 
  • The taxpayer needs to provide more than half of the dependent child's financial support. If the child is old enough to earn income, this need to be considered in these calculations. 
Mom and child against a purple background

Requirements for Claiming a Qualifying Relative 

When claiming a relative, the dependent will need to meet the following criteria. 

  • The dependent relative needs to live with the taxpayer all year round. There are some exceptions to this rule that you can find in Publication 501. 
  • The dependent relative needs to have a gross income less than $4,300, otherwise they make too much money to be considered a dependent. 
  • The taxpayer needs to provide more than half of the dependent relative's financial support. 

Common Tax Dependent Questions Answered

Below are a few commonly asked questions about who can I claim as a dependent on my tax return. Everyone's life situation is unique and consulting with a tax professional can help answer any questions about your own financial and tax situation. 

Can You Claim Yourself as a Dependent?

There was a time when you could claim yourself as a dependent so long as you met the above requirements. But you wouldn't have been able to claim any other dependents under you if you claimed yourself as a dependent. So, if you had a qualifying child or relative living under your roof as a dependent, this option wouldn't have worked for you. This was often called a "personal exemption."

Now, you can no longer claim this personal exemption and claim yourself as a dependent on your tax return. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) did away with these personal tax exemptions in 2017. 

Can I Claim My Wife as a Dependent (or Spouse)?

If you are the primary financial provider in your relationship, you might think that you can claim your spouse as a dependent. But unfortunately, you cannot claim a spouse as a dependent. Instead, the best you can do is claim a tax exemption for your spouse. 

There was a time when a loophole existed that allowed some taxpayers to claim their spouses as a personal exemption, but this was also repealed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). 

Can I Claim My Girlfriend as a Dependent (or Boyfriend)?

You actually can claim a girlfriend or boyfriend as a dependent so long as they meet certain requirements. Basically, they're going to be considered a qualifying relative, even though they aren't a relative. They just need to meet the following criteria: 

  • They are an official resident of your household, living with you all year round. 
  • They can't make more than $4,300 in gross income for the year. This amount varies from year to year. 
  • You must have paid for more than half of their financial support for the year. If they receive financial support from someone else as well, like a parent, you need to take this into account as well. 
  • You need to be the only one claiming them as a dependent. So if they have a parent still claiming them as a dependent, then you cannot also claim them. 
Woman in front of store

Can I Claim My Adult Child as a Dependent?

To claim a child as a dependent, you and the child will need to meet the requirements already listed above. You can claim your adult child as a dependent if they are a full-time student and under 24 years old. After they are older than 24 years old, you will no longer be able to claim them as a dependent. If you claim your child who is a full-time student, you also still need to be providing more than half of their financial support. If they are a full-time student, under the age of 24, and you don't provide more than half of their financial support, then you cannot claim your adult child as a dependent on your tax return. 

You can claim an adult child as a dependent indefinitely if they are permanently disabled in some way. 

How Long Can I Claim My Child as a Dependent?

When should I stop claiming my child as a dependent? You should stop claiming your child as a dependent when they are older than 19 years old. If your child is a full-time student then you can claim them up until they are 24 years old so long as you are also providing more than half of their financial support as well.

When your children are still living at home, you can also claim the child tax credit

In Conclusion,

Hopefully, this clears up some of the big questions around who can I claim as a dependent on my tax return so you can file your taxes as accurately as possible while still maximizing your tax refunds.