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Head of Household: Requirements and dependent factors

8 min read

8 min read

If you’ve filed taxes in the past, you might be familiar with filing statuses. While terms like “Single,” “Married Filing Jointly,” and “Married Filing Separately” seem fairly clear, “Head of Household (HoH)” may have you scratching your head.

Read on to get a handle on the nuances of who can file the HoH status, including Head of Household requirements, and other important details for filing your tax return.

What is Head of Household?

Head of Household filing status

First, let’s start with a quick definition to cover who/what qualifies a person as Head of Household. Head of Household (HOH) is a filing status you can use if you’re unmarried and maintain a home for a qualifying person, such as a child or relative.

 For this reason, the Head of Household filing status is commonly compared to the Single filing status. But when comparing, Head of Household vs. Single statuses, there are clear differences. For example, it provides a larger standard deduction and more generous tax rates for calculating federal income tax. We’ll explore the details below!

Head of Household requirements

You know you are the heart of your household, but would the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider you the Head of Household? Certain Head of Household qualifications must be met to use this tax filing status:

1. You must be unmarried on the last day of the tax year or “considered unmarried.”

Marital status is always determined on the last day of the tax year. So, if you weren’t married during the year or are divorced or legally separated as of midnight on December 31, you are considered unmarried in the IRS’ eyes.

To file as HoH and be “considered unmarried,” you need to:

  • File a separate return from your spouse
  • Live apart from your spouse at all times during the last six months out of the tax year (temporary absences such as a job assignment, military deployment, or temporary incarceration usually still count as living together)

2. You must have paid more than half of the cost of maintaining a household for the year.

To file as Head of Household, you must have also paid more than half the cost of maintaining a household for the year.

The costs within a taxable year used to make this determination include:

  • Rent
  • Mortgage interest
  • Real estate taxes
  • Insurance on the home
  • Property taxes
  • Repairs
  • Utilities
  • Grocery expenses

Unfortunately, you can’t count the following expenses:

  • Clothing
  • Education
  • Medical treatment or medical insurance premiums
  • Vacations
  • Life insurance
  • Restaurant expenses
  • Mortgage principal
  • Transportation
  • Rental value of a home
  • Services provided by you or other members of the household

If the total amount paid is more than the amount others paid, including government assistance programs or child support, then you meet the requirement of paying more than half the cost of maintaining a household for the year.

3. You must have maintained a household for a qualifying person:

Your home must have been the principal residence for you and your qualifying person (who meets the qualifying child or relative test). Relationships include:

  • Your qualifying child (such as your son, daughter, grandchild, adopted child, eligible foster child, or stepchild) who lives with you for more than half the year and meets other requirements.
  • Your qualifying relative who is your father or mother and meets other requirements.
  • A qualifying relative other than your parent (such as a grandparent, brother, or sister) who meets other requirements, including living with you for more than half the year.

There’s one exception to the qualifying relationships rule: If you plan to file your tax return as Head of Household because you think you meet the criteria to be considered unmarried for tax purposes, the qualifying person is limited to your child (including adopted child), stepchild, or eligible foster child.

If you plan to file as Head of Household with your parent as a qualifying person, the parent doesn’t have to live with you for more than half the year.

Benefits of filing Head of Household

With the rules related to Head of Household filing eligibility, you might wonder why you bother with it all. But there’s a good reason to see if you qualify. In fact, filing as Head of Household comes with some financial benefits.

1. Lower tax rates:

Filing as Head of Household often benefits you from more favorable tax rates than other filing statuses. When you’re in a lower tax bracket, it can reduce your overall tax liability — and maybe even the amount of taxes you owe.

2. Higher standard deduction rates:

The standard deduction is a fixed amount that reduces your taxable income, so taking a higher standard deduction can lower your taxable income and ultimately reduce your tax liability. Your filing status impacts your standard deduction amounts.

Check out the table below that compares the standard deduction amounts for Head of Household vs. Single filers.

Filing status

Standard deduction for 2023



Head of household


Can two people use the Head of Household filing status?

A commonly asked question is, “Can there be two Heads of Households at an address?” The answer is “yes,” but the devil is in the details.

  • There can’t be two Head of Households per household. This is because of the requirement that the Head of Household paid more than 50% of the total household expenses. Two people in one household can’t both pay more than 50%.
  • There can be two households per home. This scenario works if both taxpayers paid more than 50% of the qualifying expenses in their respective households for different qualifying people.

Consider this example showing how the second situation can work: Ned moves in with a friend named Freddy, and each has children. Ned and Freddy have their own bedrooms and bathrooms, don’t share groceries, or cover each other on insurance, and each pays rent and utilities. This is an instance of two separate households under one roof: Ned and Freddy may potentially both be eligible to file using the HoH filing statuses if they meet the IRS requirements.

Can you claim Head of Household without a dependent?

As you get into the nitty-gritty of filing as Head of Household, the questions “What is a qualifying dependent for Head of Household?” and “Can you claim Head of Household filing status without a dependent?” could arise. (Technically, the IRS refers to this as filing Head of Household status. While some taxpayers may think of it as claiming, your tax software or tax pro will refer to filing as Head of Household.)

Generally, to qualify for the Head of Household filing status, you must be able to claim a qualifying child or qualifying relative as a dependent and pay more than half the cost of maintaining a home for them.

There is one exception to filing HoH and claiming a qualifying child or relative. A custodial parent (a parent with whom the child lived for a longer total period of time during the tax year) can use this filing status if they release the dependent child’s exemption to the non-custodial parent. This rule applies if the parents are divorced, legally separated, or live apart at all times during the last six months of the year.

One common scenario involves divorced parents. Let’s take Carlos and Kiki, a divorced couple with a seven-year-old daughter Clara, for example. Carlos has primary custody and is the custodial parent of Clara and claims the Head of Household status. Carlos releases Clara’s exemption to Kiki every other year, so Kiki can claim the exemption and Child Tax Credit, as explained below. (Kiki can’t file as HoH, however.) Carlos continues to file as HoH and claim other credits, also explained below.

What about claiming tax credits as Head of Household?

If you’re wondering if you can file as Head of Household without a dependent and still claim tax credits, the answer is ”yes.” Generally, tax benefits for dependents can’t be split among taxpayers. For more than one taxpayer to claim child-related benefits for the same child, both of the following must happen:

  • The custodial parent completes Form 8332 to release the exemption to the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent claims both:
    • The dependency exemption
      • Note: For tax years 2018 to 2025, the exemption amount is $0.
    • The Child Tax Credit (CTC)
  • The custodial parent files as Head of Household and claims both tax credits if eligible:

When a custodial parent releases the dependent’s exemption, the custodial parent, or another person for whom the child is a qualifying child claims the remaining tax benefits. For example, if Clara in the example above also lives with her grandmother, Carol, then Carol (instead of Carlos) could potentially claim the remaining benefits instead of Carlos, the custodial parent.

Get help filing your taxes as Head of Household

Tax laws can be tricky and tax preparation can get complicated, so it’s essential to get expert guidance to ensure you understand the specific benefits available to you when filing as Head of Household. Lean on H&R Block for tax tips and more.

Whether you choose to file with a tax pro or file with H&R Block Online, you can rest assured that we’ll help you get your maximum refund.

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