Head of household is one of the most common tax-filing statuses. But unlike single status, which is for taxpayers with no dependents, or joint filing, which is for married couples who share their finances, head of household status allows deductions for people who are unmarried but still need to be able to claim a dependent.
Although it doesn't offer as big a tax benefit as a joint filing for married couples, claiming head of household does mean a big reduction in the tax burden for single parents and those taking care of elderly relatives or family members who can't care for themselves.
In order to qualify for head of household, you must meet a few conditions. First, the head of household must be unmarried, or at least unmarried for tax purposes (e.g., your spouse lived apart from you for the last half of the tax period). Second, a head of household needs at least one qualified dependent. This is usually a child living in the home, but it can be any person for whom you are responsible financially and who meets qualifications for dependency [source: IRS].
Finally, the head of household needs to be able to prove that he or she was responsible for more than half of the cost of keeping up a home for the year. That's for the house itself — things like property taxes, rent, utilities and food count as contributions, but other family costs aren't necessarily factored in.
Because of the requirement that a head of household contribute more than 50 percent of the household's upkeep, two parents cannot both claim head of household status. This means that head of household and its benefits are available only for whoever is contributing more than 50 percent to the upkeep of the home, and your home was your child's main home for more than half the year [source: IRS].
However, that only means that two parents can't claim head of household for the same dependents. If one of the parents has dependents in a different domicile, two parents could conceivably both claim the status.
For example, if you are unmarried but are caring for your elderly parents who live in another city, you could potentially claim head of household with your mother and father as dependents, provided you are not claiming it in your own home [source: IRS].
Originally Published: Nov 26, 2014