Who Can I Claim as a Tax Dependent?

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 top question for many taxpayers and an area where tax deductions and credits 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 the support of your struggling aunt who didn’t live with you may qualify your aunt as your dependent? 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 $4,300 in 2020 ($4,200 in 2019).
  • 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:

Question: My 26-year-old is living with me. He works and made more than $4,300 in 2020. 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 at least 5 months out of the year. To be considered a “qualifying relative”, his income must be less than $4,300 in 2020 ($4,200 in 2019).

Question: I started 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 as some states don’t comply with the federal law), supplies over half of your support, and you lived with him the entire year and did not earn more than $4,300, 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 about you 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 tax expert with an average 12 years experience to get your tax questions answered. TurboTax Live CPAs and tax experts are available in English and Spanish, year round and can even review, sign, and file your tax return.

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