Claiming Dependents on Your Federal Tax Return

How to Save Money With Dependent Tax Credits

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Claiming dependents can save you a good bit of money at tax time. It can qualify you for the head of household filing status if you're unmarried, as well as various tax deductions and even a few tax credits. Some credits also increase with the number of dependents you claim.

The exact rules for dependents can vary depending on which credits or deductions you're claiming, but they mirror the rules for being able to claim dependents in general.

Key Takeaways

  • Claiming dependents can change your tax filing status and qualify you for credits that can reduce the tax you owe.
  • Some credits are refundable. You'll receive the money as a refund if you don't owe any tax.
  • A dependent can only be claimed on one individual's tax return, and you may need documents that will support your claim.
  • Each dependent-related tax credit and deduction has different rules and some have income limits to qualify.

Tax Credits and Deductions for Dependents

Several tax credits are based on the number of dependents you have, including:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Additional Child Credit
  • Credit for Other Dependents
  • Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Adoption Credit

The Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit was expanded under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but only for tax year 2021. It's worth $2,000 for each qualifying child in tax year 2022, the return you'll file in 2023. Individual taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGIs) up to $200,000 and married taxpayers filing jointly with MAGIs up to $400,000 are eligible for the full credit. The credit begins to phase out or reduce above these income limits until it's eliminated entirely.

The refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit is known as the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). It's worth up to $1,500 per child for tax year 2022.

The Credit for Other Dependents

The $500 Credit for Other Dependents (ODC) was introduced in 2018. It's something of an offshoot of the Child Tax Credit. It covers children and adults who don't meet the qualifying child rules. This might be due to their age (over age 16) or because they don't have a Social Security number. To qualify for the ODC, your dependent:

  • Must be claimed as a dependent on your tax return.
  • Cannot be used to claim the Child Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen, national, or resident alien.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit

The Child and Dependent Care Credit was also expanded for 2021 under ARPA, but only for one year. It's worth a maximum of $2,100 for tax year 2022.

The actual credit amount that you can receive is calculated based on your income and how much you spend on child care. The credit is for childcare expenses that allow you to work, look for work, or go to school. Depending on your personal tax situation, it might be refundable, which means you may be able to claim the credit even if you don't owe taxes.

The Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is for low- or mid-income taxpayers. The amount of the credit is based on your dependents, your income, whether you're disabled, and other criteria. There are special rules for members of the military or clergy.

The EITC is worth up to $6,935 for tax year 2022 if you have three or more qualifying dependents, but income limits apply. You must have earned income to qualify for this credit, such as income from wages, tips, commissions, salary, certain disability benefits, or self-employment.

2022 Earned Income Tax Credit Income and Credit Amounts (for filing in 2023)
Number of Dependents Maximum Income (Married Filing Jointly) Maximum Income (Other Filing Status) Max Credit Amount
 0  $22,610 $16,480  $560
 1  $49,622 $43,492 $3,733 
 2  $55,529  $49,399 $6,164 
 3 or more  $59,187 $53,057 $6,935

The Adoption Credit

You may be eligible for the Adoption Credit if you adopted a child in 2022. You might also be able to exclude any adoption benefits that your employer provides from your taxable income.

You must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien for the entire tax year to claim this credit. Your spouse must also have been a U.S. citizen or resident alien for the entire year if you're married. Other things that impact your eligibility include:

  • The year your adoption expenses were paid
  • The year the adoption became final (if it is final)
  • The age of the child
  • Whether the adoption was foreign or domestic
  • Whether the child has special needs.
  • Whether you received any adoption assistance, and in what year you received it

You may be eligible to receive an additional credit for each child if you adopted multiple children.


You can also claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit for education-related expenses for yourself and your dependents.

Qualifying Rules for Dependent Credits

A dependent can be claimed by only one taxpayer in any given year. You and your spouse, ex-spouse, or co-parent can't both claim your child as a dependent on separate returns. Your child must be claimed by one of you or the other.

The same goes for non-child dependents. For example, you and your siblings can't all claim your parent as a dependent.

You can't claim anyone as your dependent if you're someone else's dependent, and no one else can claim you as a dependent if you claim a dependent. You can't claim your child as a dependent if your parents claim you because you live with them and if you have a child.

You can't claim a dependent who is married and files a joint return with their spouse, with one exception. A married person can file a joint return and still be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer if the joint return is filed only so the couple can claim a refund. Neither spouse would have had any tax liability if they had filed separate returns.


Your dependent must be a U.S. citizen, a national, a resident alien of the U.S., or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

Qualifying Children and Qualifying Relatives

All dependents fall into one of two categories. They must be either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. Different rules apply to each.

Qualifying Children

A qualifying child must be related to you, but you don't have to be their biological parent. You can be their sibling, aunt, uncle, foster parent, adoptive parent, grandparent, stepparent, or halfsibling. There must be a legal or familial relationship.

A child can only qualify as your dependent until their 19th birthday unless they're a full-time student. You can continue to claim them until they reach age 24 if they're a full-time student. The child can't contribute more than half of their own support for the year if they work.


There's no age limit for children who are disabled.

A qualifying child must live with you for more than half the year. Time spent away at college doesn't count as living away because they're expected to return to your home as their primary residence at some point in time. More than half a year means six months and one day at a minimum. You may have to keep a log of where the child spends each night if you share custody with another parent or guardian.

Qualifying Relatives

You can also claim a qualifying relative as a dependent if they're too old to qualify as your dependent child. Some relatives must live with you in your home for the full year. Close relatives, such as your parent, grandparent, sibling, niece, or nephew, don't necessarily have to live with you for the full year.

Your relative's income must be less than $4,400 for the 2022 tax year. You must provide more than half of that person's support needs according to the same rules for a child dependent.

Your relationship can't violate local law if your dependent must live with you all year because they're not closely related to you. For example, you can't claim a married individual as your dependent if your state prohibits cohabitation with a married person, even if you meet all of the other criteria.


Domestic partners can be claimed as qualifying relatives, although it may be unlikely that a domestic partner would meet the gross income requirements to qualify as a dependent.

You Can Waive Your Right to a Dependent

The rule that two taxpayers can claim the same dependent is carved in stone, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does provide a couple of options that allow you to transfer your right to claim your dependent to someone else.

The Multiple Support Declaration

You can file Form 2120, the Multiple Support Declaration, with the IRS if multiple people support a single person, such as if you and your siblings collectively support your parent. It will allow just one of you to claim the supported person as a dependent, but you all have to agree in writing as to which one of you will do so.

That person must have paid for more than 10% of the dependent's total support for the year. Total support payments include lodging, groceries, clothing, education, transportation, medical and dental care, and recreation.

Release of Claim to Exemption

A non-qualifying parent can still claim their child as their dependent if the qualifying parent releases their claim. You would do this by filing Form 8332 with the IRS, the Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents. You can indicate the year or years for which you're agreeing to release your claim. You can also revoke the release if you later change your mind.

This rule doesn't apply to all tax credits and deductions, however. The right to claim the child can't be transferred in some cases, such as to claim head of household filing status. The child must actually live with you in order for you to qualify for that status.

What Happens When Two or More Taxpayers Claim the Same Dependent?

You must enter the child's or individual's Social Security number on your tax return to claim them as your dependent. This makes it easy for the IRS to flag two returns that claim the same dependent or dependents.

The IRS will step in to straighten things out in this case. Both returns will be audited to determine which of you has the best right to claim the dependent. The losing taxpayer will probably have to pay additional taxes, plus penalties and interest.


The IRS can't legally tell you who claimed your dependent. Your child or relative might have been a victim of identity theft if you can't figure out who might have done so.

The IRS uses tiebreaker rules to determine which taxpayer is eligible to claim a specific dependent. In order of priority, the taxpayer who is most eligible under the qualifying child criteria is:

  • A parent rather than another relative.
  • The parent with whom the child lived longest during the year. Chances are, the child will spend at least one day more with one parent than the other because there are usually 365 days in a year, unless the child spent some time in another home.
  • The parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI) if the child spent exactly an equal amount of time with each parent or if it can't be determined with whom they actually spent more time.
  • The taxpayer with the higher adjusted gross income if neither taxpayer is the child's parent.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the penalty for claiming false dependents?

Falsely claiming a dependent is a way to illegally reduce your tax liability, so it's a type of tax fraud if it's done. Anyone who is found guilty of tax fraud can be fined up to $100,000, imprisoned for up to three years, or both.

How do I report someone who has falsely claimed dependents?

You must file your return and claim the dependent, then provide proof that you're legally entitled to claim them if you think someone has falsely claimed your dependent. The IRS provides a list of acceptable documentation for this purpose on Form 886-H-DEP. You and the other taxpayer will receive a letter about the double claim. You'll both be audited to verify who may claim them if neither of you then files an amended return without the dependent included.

How does claiming dependents affect my paycheck?

Claiming dependents reduces your taxable income. It will reduce your tax withholdings and increase your net paycheck if you include these dependents when you fill out Form W-4 for your employer.

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