In order to qualify as a dependent for purposes of filing your federal tax return, a person must be what the IRS considers as either a qualifying relative or qualifying child. They must also meet some additional criteria as well. Interestingly, a qualifying relative does not have to be a relative. Additionally, someone who qualifies as a dependent does not have to live in your household.
There are criteria that apply for someone to be considered a dependent whether they are a qualifying relative or qualifying child. In both situations, the following must be true.
Support test: you must have provided more than half of the person’s financial support during the tax year.
Citizenship: the person must have been a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, U.S. resident alien or a resident of Canada or Mexico.
Filing status: the person must not file a joint return with their spouse for the year or if they are filing a joint return with their spouse for the tax year, they must be doing so solely to receive a refund of withheld taxes or estimated tax paid.
Who is a Qualifying Child
A qualifying child must meet the following criteria:
Relationship test: they must be either the son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister or a descendant of any of relation types listed previously. For example, the descendant of your half-sister, such as your half sister’s granddaughter, would qualify.
Age test: they must be under age 19 at the end of 2018 and younger than you (or your spouse, if filing jointly) or under the age of 24 at the end of 2018, a student and younger than you (or your spouse, if filing jointly) or be any age if they are permanently and totally disabled.
A student is a child who during any part of 5 calendar months of 2018 was enrolled as a full-time student at a school, or took a full-time, on-farm training course given by a school or a state, county, or local government agency. On-the-job training courses, correspondence schools and schools offering courses only through the Internet do not qualify.
To be considered permanently and totally disabled, a person, at any time in the tax year, would not have been able to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental condition. In addition, a doctor must have determined that this condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for at least a year, or can be expected to lead to death.
Household status: they must have lived in your household for more than half of the year. Temporary absences by you or the other person for special circumstances, such as school, vacation, business, medical care, military service, or detention in a juvenile facility, count as time lived in the home. If the child died during the year, the child must have lived with you for more than half the part of the year he or she was alive.
Relationship status: A qualifying relative can be any person, other than your spouse, who lived with you all year as a member of your household if your relationship didn’t violate local law. Temporary absences by you or the other person for circumstances, such as school, vacation, business, medical care, military service, or detention in a juvenile facility, count as time the person lived with you.
Gross income test: For the tax year of 2018, the person’s gross income has to be less than $4,150 in order to qualify as a qualifying relative. If the person receives Social Security income and the Social Security income is tax-exempt, the amounts aren’t included as part of the person’s gross income.
Is Social Security Income Taxable?
When a person’s only income source is Social Security income, the income is not taxable. If half of the Social Security income plus all additional income, including tax-exempt interest, is more than a base amount, which is established by the IRS, some of the benefits may be taxable.
The base amounts below are applicable for the tax year of 2018.
$25,000 – if the person is single, head of household, qualifying widow(er) or married filing separately and living apart from their spouse for all of 2018. Keep in mind, however, if the person is filing head of household, they would not qualify as someone’s dependent.
$32,000 – if they are married filing jointly
$0 – if they are married filing separately and lived with their spouse at any time during the year
“Publication 929 (2018), Tax Rules for Children and Dependents.” Internal Revenue Service, 6 Mar. 2019, www.irs.gov/publications/p929.
“Publication 915 (2018), Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.” Internal Revenue Service, 19 Jan. 2019, www.irs.gov/publications/p915.