When preparing your federal income tax return, you have to choose a filing status that you are eligible to use. Of the five filing statuses you can choose from, two are only available to married taxpayers. However, all five statuses allow you to claim at least one personal tax exemption on your return, though it's always possible to claim more.
Single Filing Status
The only requirement you must satisfy to use the single filing status, other than the requirement that applies to all filing statuses that you not be a dependent to another taxpayer, is that you be unmarried on the last day of the tax year. If you are eligible for the single filing status, the IRS allows you to claim one personal exemption, which as of the time of publication reduces your taxable income by $3,700. Additionally, single filers are eligible to claim additional exemptions for each dependent they claim on their tax return.
Provided you enter into a federally-recognized marriage with someone of the opposite sex by the last day of the tax year, you and your spouse are eligible to file a joint income tax return. When you file jointly, the IRS allows you to claim two personal exemptions on the joint return, which as of the time of publication can reduce your taxable income by $7,400. However, the IRS doesn't require that you file a joint return with your spouse; you have the option of filing a separate return using the married filing separately status and claim one personal exemption instead. And if you have children with your spouse, only one of you can claim their dependency exemptions.
Head of Household
The head of household filing status is only available if you are unmarried at the end of the tax year, pay more than half the necessary costs to maintain your home and have an individual who is eligible to be your dependent residing with you for more than half the tax year. However, for purposes of filing as head of household, it's not necessary that you actually claim an additional dependent exemption for the individual. Using the head of household status doesn't allow you to claim any more exemptions than a single filer; however, your taxable income is subject to more favorable tax brackets.
Widows and Widowers
In the event your spouse dies and you claim your child or stepchild as a dependent on your return, the IRS allows you to file your return in the year of your spouse's death, and for an additional two tax years, as a joint filer. This allows you to claim a personal exemption for yourself, one for your deceased spouse and one dependency exemption for each child or stepchild you claim. To qualify, however, at least one dependent must reside with you for more than half of the tax year and you must be financially responsible for more than half the cost of maintaining your home. If you remarry during any of the three years you file as a widow or widower, you are then subject to the same rules as all other married taxpayers.
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