IRS Filing Status Guidance

The IRS recently issued Tax Tip 2010-03, which provides taxpayers with guidance on determining filing status for 2009 tax returns.  For additional information, you can review IRS Publication 501.  The text of IRS Tax Tip 2010-03 follows.

Eight Facts About Filing Status

Everyone who files a federal tax return must determine which filing status applies to them. It’s important you choose your correct filing status as it determines your standard deduction, the amount of tax you owe and ultimately, any refund owed to you.

Here are eight facts about the five filing status options the IRS wants you to know in order to choose the correct filing status for your situation.

  1. Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year.
  2. If more than one filing status applies to you, choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.
  3. Single filing status generally applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to state law.
  4. A married couple may file a joint return together. The couple’s filing status would be Married Filing Jointly.
  5. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry during 2009, you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death, provided the joint return election is not revoked by a personal representative for the deceased spouse.
  6. A married couple may elect to file their returns separately. Each person’s filing status would generally be Married Filing Separately.
  7. Head of Household generally applies to taxpayers who are unmarried. You must also have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person to qualify for this filing status.
  8. You may be able to choose Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child as your filing status if your spouse died during 2007 or 2008, you have a dependent child and you meet certain other conditions.

There’s much more information about determining your filing status in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. Publication 501 is available on or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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  • I got married on January 2 2012.I have changed my name with social security.Do i use my married name on my 2011 tax return since it matches my social security # and can i still file singe.?

  • Sara,

    Yes, in those circumstances your mother could claim your brother for EIC purposes.

    Filing an amendment requires a Form 1040X – I would wait until the original return has fully processed before filing the amendment. Wait until the refund has been received (if any) and then file the 1040X with the corrections.


  • What steps do we take to amend? After filing we were told that my mom could include my brother as a non dependent for the EIC since he lives with her. And that he could still file his own taxes? Is that right? She didn’t include him in the first place because he made more than her this year.

  • Lily,

    That could pose a problem, unless there is a formal agreement between your folks to allow him to claim the 20-year-old as a dependent even though she doesn’t live with him.

    There is Form 8332 which can be used for this purpose, and it may require additional documentation on the separation.

    Hope this helps –


  • Does it matter that my sister lives away?
    My dad doesn’t have an actual address since he is always moving for his jobs. And when she does come home it’s usually to my mom’s.

  • Lily –
    As long as no one else claims the 20-year-old sister as a dependent and your father provided at least half of her support, he can claim her as a dependent and file as Head of Household.

    She would still file if she’s made enough money to pay tax and/or if she has had tax withheld in an amount greater than the tax owed, but she would not claim her own exemption since her father is claiming it.


  • My parents have been separated for almost ten years, everything is amicable. They’ve never made the separation legal or thru the court. They reside at different addresses but they use the same mailing address. My mom files as HOH with my 13yr old sister as her dependent. Now this past year my dad financially helped my 20 yr old sister who is in college. Can he claim as HOH and put her as his dependent. She also works part time. If he claims her does she still file?

  • Karen –

    The rule is that whatever your status is as of the end of the tax year (12/31 for most everyone) is how you file for the year. You could get married on New Year’s Eve and file with a status of Married Filing Jointly. You would not (in that case) be eligible to file as Single.


  • So sorry to hear of your loss.

    For your 2010 return, you (or the estate executor or personal representative) can sign the return on your late husband’s behalf. This return will just be filed as a normal return, since your husband was living at the end of 2010.

    The 2011 return can be filed with the filing status of Married Filing Jointly, and again, you or the personal representative will sign on your late husband’s behalf.

    In both cases, after your husband’s name on the front of the form, you should write “Deceased – 1/31/2011”.

    Here is a link to some additional information to help you out:

    Take care,


  • My husband expired January 3l, 2011. In preparing my tax return for 2010he ,of course, cannot sign. We previously filed jointly on 1040A. What do I use to file now and in 2011?

  • Hello, Sandi –

    The Head of Household filing status requires that you are providing the home for yourself and “one or more qualified persons”. If no one else is living with you and you are not providing a home for someone else (such as a child away at college), then you likely cannot file as Head of Household.

    Hope this clears things up –


  • I am separated and have paid all expenses in maintaining my home & property. My daughter no longer lives at home. Can I file as Head of Household even though I have no dependents?

    Thank you,

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