This article was last updated on September 25
Selecting your tax filing status is one of the first key steps in filing your federal tax return. Choosing the right status is extremely important because it can affect your filing requirements, standard deduction and eligibility for certain tax credits/deductions. In certain situations picking an incorrect filing status can make the difference between paying taxes or receiving a refund. There are five filing statuses: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household and Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. Each filing status has its own tax brackets, so knowing which category you are in will directly impact how much you pay in taxes.
Here are eight steps from the IRS that can help you determine your right filing status. This is particularly helpful if you qualify for more than one filing status during the tax year.
1. Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year. Factor this in to your wedding plans!
2. If more than one filing status applies to you, choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation. This is easy to do with any good tax software, that allows you to estimate your tax refund under different filing status’.
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 2011, usually you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death.
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 2009 or 2010, you have a dependent child, have not remarried and you meet certain other conditions.
There’s much more information about determining your filing status in IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant on the IRS website to determine your filing status.