Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which took effect in 2018, the standard dependency exemption was eliminated through 2025. Even under this law, though, having a dependent can allow you to receive several types of tax credits. Rather than reducing a taxpayer’s amount of taxable income, a tax credit reduces the amount of tax that they are required to pay. Some of these tax credits include the child tax credit, the child or dependent care tax credit, and the earned income tax credit. Other tax credits involve educational expenses. Each of these credits can be worth thousands of dollars.
An unmarried taxpayer with dependents may be able to receive a higher standard deduction if they can claim head of household filing status. This is another reason to investigate whether you may have dependents who may not be obvious. Dependents are not limited to children but may include certain adults if a taxpayer contributes over half of their support in a year.
A child qualifies as a dependent if they are a U.S. citizen or resident under age 19, they are related to the taxpayer, they live with the taxpayer, and they are not self-supporting. A relative of the taxpayer could be any biological child, adopted child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, or stepsibling of the taxpayer, or a descendant of anyone in one of those categories. The age limit increases to 24 if the child is a full-time student for at least five months in the year. There is no age limit if the child suffers from a permanent and total disability at any point in the year.
A child is considered to live with the taxpayer if they spend more than half of the year with the taxpayer or if they meet requirements for children of divorced or separated parents. A child is self-supporting if they pay for more than half of their own support. Children who are residents of Canada or Mexico may qualify as dependent children in some cases if they meet the other requirements.
A taxpayer needs to list the Social Security number of any child whom they are claiming as a dependent on their return. If they have not received the number from the Social Security Administration by the time that they need to file their tax return, they can ask the IRS for an automatic extension of time by filing Form 4868.
Many taxpayers are unaware that they may be able to claim dependents who are not children. This can give them head of household filing status if they are unmarried, and they can also receive a family care credit of $500. The taxpayer must pay for over half of the dependent’s support unless an agreement provides otherwise, and the dependent’s taxable income must fall within a certain threshold. (This threshold was set at just over $4,000 in 2018.)
Adults who qualify as dependents may be virtually any type of child or stepchild, sibling or stepsibling, parent or stepparent (except a foster parent), grandparent, niece or nephew, uncle or aunt, or in-law. However, people who are related to you by marriage will no longer meet the definition of a dependent if the marriage that forms the basis of the relationship ends.