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How to Claim Dependent Tax Exemptions

Note: this article deals primarily with tax exemptions for dependent children. For individual tax exemptions for yourself and/or your spouse, see here

Individuals who rely on you for support and reside in your house generally qualify for dependent tax exemptions. However, there are situations when a child's exemption status is more complicated. The IRS has special rules for these situations.

This page:

  • Briefly explains income tax exemptions

  • Lists five qualifying requirements of dependent exemptions

  • Describes each requirement in full detail.

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Qualifying for federal income tax exemptions

Identifying the individuals who qualify for your dependent exemptions is usually pretty simple.

In most cases, children for whom you provide support and a home qualify as dependent exemptions.

Often, dependents do not fall into this exact description, so the IRS has designed five tests to determine whether a child or dependent can be considered an exemption.

These five requirements are:

  • citizenship
  • support
  • gross income
  • joint return
  • relationship

Although your own children most likely will pass all of these tests, you should make sure they do qualify by completing the series of questions in your online tax filing interview.

Based on your answers, the program will determine each dependent's eligibility. We suggest you complete this simple process for each dependent so you do not make any costly errors on your tax return.

A closer look at the five requirements

In order for you to claim an exemption for a dependent there are five requirements that must be met by each individual:

To qualify for an exemption your dependent must either be:

  • a US citizen,
  • a resident of the US, Canada, or Mexico for part of the year,
  • a legally adopted foreign child who now resides in the US, or
  • an adopted child living w/you the entire year in a foreign country.

To qualify for an exemption your dependent must either be:

  • a relative or
  • a member of your household for the entire year.

Note: Relatives do not need to live in your house to qualify as a dependent exemption. Non-relatives can be claimed as dependent exemptions only if they also live in your house.

Joint Return
To qualify for an exemption your dependent can NOT:

  • file a joint return with a spouse.

Note: This means that a taxpayer is allowed to claim a married dependent as an exemption if all other four tests are met and the dependent uses the married filing separately status.

Gross Income
To qualify for an exemption your dependent can NOT:

  • have a gross income of more than $3,950.

Note There are exceptions to this rule, which are discussed below.

To qualify for an exemption your dependent must:

  • receive more than one-half of his/her total support from you.

You should disregard the support test in any of the following cases. If the dependent is:

  • your child, and is under age 19 on Dec 31, 2017.
  • your child, under 24 on Dec 31, 2017, and a full time student for at least five months during 2017.
  • a permanently and totally disabled person and receives an income for services preformed for a tax-exempt organization.

Related IRS Publications

You can get more information about federal income tax exemptions directly from the IRS, in the form of Publication 501.

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