How different would our tax returns look if we could claim someone as a dependent if they were an obnoxiously needy friend or a partner who fretted about a hypothetical abandonment? Maybe we could claim ourselves, if we realized we were starting to engage in patterns of behavior that sought care-giving and constant reassurance.
Too bad for us that the Internal Revenue Service has a far different idea of how one must qualify as a dependent on a tax return. Predictably, it deals more with finances than with feelings. And don't think that being called a dependent means you're free from paying your own bills to Uncle Sam. As you'll see, "dependency" has a strict definition in the IRS, and it doesn't mean that your money is protected.
There are two ways that someone can claim you as a dependent. The first is to be a qualifying child. You can't just be any kid under the age of 18, mind you. You have to be a biological, adopted, foster or stepchild, or a sibling or half-sibling of the filer. A dependent must be under the age of 19, or up to 24 if you're a full-time student. You have to live with the filer half the year, and nobody else can claim you as his or her dependent. You also must depend on the filer for at least half your financial support.
If you're trying to qualify as a dependent as a relative of the filer, things are a little trickier. You can't make more than $3,950 a year in gross income, and you also need to rely on the filer for more than half your financial support. More significantly, you probably have to live with your relative year-round, unless you meet some specific requirements.
In each case, don't think you're going to do your brother, your neighbor and your postal carrier a favor by inviting them to call you a dependent on their tax returns. One strict clause in the tax law says that you can only be claimed as a dependent on one tax return. This is even true in the case of children of divorced parents.
It's important to remember that just because someone claims you as a dependent doesn't mean that you don't have to file taxes yourself if you're making money. Even children need to file returns for earned and unearned income over a certain limit. And it might be a good thing -- you could even find yourself getting a refund.