10 Most Common Questions About Taxes

Whom Can I Claim as a Dependent?
Under certain circumstances, you could claim your roommate as a dependent. sjenner13/iStock/Thinkstock

Thanks to the baffling logic of the IRS, this question is surprisingly difficult to answer. (To experience the confusion for yourself, go to IRS Publication 501 and click on the link for Exemptions for Dependents.)

Here's the short answer: a dependent is anyone who lives with you — other than your spouse — for whom you provide more than half of their financial support. Children are the most common dependents, but elderly parents and other relatives can qualify, and even unemployed friends crashing on your couch.

The IRS has two different sets of requirements for claiming dependents: qualifying child and qualifying relative.

Requirements for qualifying child:

  • U.S. citizen or legal alien
  • Younger than you and younger than 19 (or 24 if full-time student)
  • A blood relative: son, daughter, niece, brother, etc. or adopted/foster child
  • Lived with you for at least half the year
  • You provide more than half of the child's financial support

Requirements for qualifying relative

  • U.S. citizen or legal alien
  • Not your qualifying child
  • Either be related to you or live with you for the whole year (unemployed friend clause)
  • Can't earn more than $3,900
  • You must provide more than half of the "relative's" financial support

Some additional rules: Two people cannot claim the same dependent on two different tax returns, and you cannot claim someone as a dependent if that person is married and filing jointly with his or her spouse.