Most of the IRS designations for tax filing are pretty straightforward. Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately: There isn't a lot of mystery around who does what. But when it comes to the head of household title, it leaves more to the imagination. Could the head of household just be the person who makes the most money in the house? The person who's in charge of making sure everyone makes it to school and does their homework?
The IRS has a fairly strict definition of who can be the head of the household, not surprisingly. (No petitioning, for instance, that your stubborn 5-year-old is really running things.) The head of household status isn't designed to give someone a nice title; it's made so that single folks who are supporting dependents can get tax breaks similar to those that married couples receive. Keep in mind that if you are married and file jointly, you do get a significant standard deduction -- $12,400 in 2014 [source: Phillips Erb]. As a single person? You're only getting a $6,200 deduction.
The head of household deduction offers $9,100 in 2014, which makes a lot more sense for, say, a single parent with kids. And that's exactly the kind of criteria you have to meet to file as a head of household. Briefly, you have to be unmarried (or at least unmarried on the last day of the year), have a qualifying child, parent or relative who lives with you, and you also must have paid more than half the cost of keeping your home in the past year.
As with many of the IRS rules, there are exceptions. For instance, if you have a dependent elderly parent in a residence that you pay for, you still might be able to qualify as head of household, even if the parent doesn't live with you. And don't think the cost of "keeping your home" means that you have to own. Rent counts, too, and you can also include things like the cost of food, utilities, property taxes and so on. So if your mom or dad is helping you with rent money, you could still qualify if you're paying half the cost of other expenses [source: IRS].
It gets a bit tricky if you share custody of your child. They have to live with you more than half the year for you to qualify as head of household. But if you do qualify, it can be a terrific way to earn a little back on your taxes.