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How A Taxpayer’s Filing Status Affects Their Tax Return

The IRS reminds us using Tax Tip 2022-13 that our filing status is determinate on December 31 of each tax year, and a description of each filing status!

A taxpayer’s filing status tells the IRS about them and their tax situation. This is just one reason taxpayers should familiarize themselves with each option and know their correct filing status. The IRS Interactive Tax Assistant can help them determine their filing status.

A taxpayer’s filing status typically depends on whether they are considered unmarried or married on Dec. 31, which determines their filing status for that entire year.

More than one filing status may apply in certain situations. If this is the case, taxpayers can usually choose the filing status that allows them to owe the least amount of tax.

When preparing and filing a tax return, filing status determines:

  • If the taxpayer is required to file a federal tax return
  • If they should file a return to receive a refund
  • Their standard deduction amount
  • If they can claim certain tax credits
  • The amount of tax they owe

Here are the five filing statuses:

  • Single. Normally, this status is for taxpayers who are unmarried, divorced or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree governed by state law.  
  • Married filing jointly. If a taxpayer is married, they can file a joint tax return with their spouse. If one spouse died in 2021, the surviving spouse can use married filing jointly as their filing status for 2021 if they otherwise qualify to use that status. 
  • Married filing separately. Married couples can choose to file separate tax returns. This may benefit taxpayers who want to be responsible only for their own tax or if it results in less tax than filing a joint return. 
  • Head of household. Unmarried taxpayers may be able to file using this status, but special rules apply. For example, the taxpayer must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for themselves and a qualifying person living in the home for half the year.
  • Qualifying widow or widower with dependent child. This status may apply to a taxpayer filing a 2021 tax return if their spouse died in 2019 or 2020, and they didn’t remarry before the end of 2021 and have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.

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