Rules for Single Filing Status on a Tax Return

What You Need To Know About Claiming Single Status on Your Tax Return

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Key Takeaways

  • The single filing status is the default filing status and you're considered unmarried and don't qualify for head of household.
  • You are considered married for the entire tax year if you are married on December 31. Similarly, you are considered single (or separated from your spouse) for the entire tax year if you are unmarried or legally separated on December 31.
  • People in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships are not considered married by the IRS and must file as single or head of household, if they qualify.

The single filing status for tax returns is your default filing status if you're considered unmarried and you don't qualify for any other filing status.

Your filing status determines which standard deduction amount and which tax rates are used when calculating your federal income tax for the year. Single is just one of five filing status options available. Learn how to choose the right one for your situation.

Single Filing When You're Considered Unmarried

Your marital status is defined by your status on the last day of the tax year—December 31. You would claim the single filing status on your tax return if you're unmarried. This includes:

  • Those who've never married
  • Those who have become legally divorced by December 31
  • Those who are legally separated from a spouse under the terms of a court order by December 31

You are not considered unmarried due to legal separation if you and your spouse only move into separate homes or reach a separation agreement between yourselves. The separation must be made formal by a court order.


Married individuals who file separate returns are subject to the single-filer tax rates and use the standard deduction, but some tax credits and deductions are unavailable to them when they don't file joint returns.

Common-law spouses in the states that recognize this status are considered married for federal tax purposes. They must choose between married-filing-jointly and married-filing-separately tax status.

You can't file a single tax return if you're considered married, even if you and your spouse live in separate households. You might qualify for the head-of-household status, however. 

Single Filing When You're in a Registered Domestic Partnership or Civil Unions 

Some partnerships are recognized as such but are not marriages. These include:

  • Registered domestic partnerships
  • Civil unions
  • Other formal relationships that are recognized by the state in which you reside

If you are in one of these relationships, you are considered unmarried and must file with the IRS as single if you don't qualify for head-of-household status.

Some states require that registered domestic partners and those in civil unions file state tax returns as if they were married. Domestic partners and those in civil unions who reside in community property states may have to allocate income and deductions between each partner.

At the federal level, people in domestic partnerships or civil unions must file their federal tax returns using either the single or head-of-household filing status.

Single Filing and Head-of-Household Filing Status

You might qualify for head-of-household filing status if:

  • You are unmarried
  • You are married, but your spouse has not lived in your home for the final six months of the tax year
  • You can claim a qualifying dependent
  • You pay more than half the expenses of maintaining your household
  • Your dependent has lived in your home more than half the year
  • Your dependent has not paid for more than half their own support during the tax year


If you are in a registered domestic partnership, you cannot claim your partner as a dependent.

Head-of-household status provides for a larger standard deduction and wider tax brackets, at least at low and moderate incomes. The standard deduction for head-of-household taxpayers is $19,400 in 2022, and $20,800 in 2023. That's $6,250 more than the single standard deduction. That's at least $6,000 higher than the single filer's standard deduction in both years.

Single Filing and Qualifying Widow or Widower Filing Status

Individuals who are widows or widowers and who can claim a dependent child might qualify for the qualifying widow/widower filing status as well. This is a special filing status for surviving spouses, and the tax rates and standard deduction are the same as for those who are married filing jointly.

This status is limited to the first two years following the death of a spouse as long as the person does not remarry within the tax year. If you meet the criteria for being a widow or widower, choosing qualifying widow(er) status provides a bigger tax break than filing single.

Tax Rates for Single Filers 

The table below shows the tax rates in effect for the 2022 tax year for single filers.

2022 Tax Rates for Single Filers
Tax Rate Income of Up to
10% $0 $10,275
12% $10,276  $41,755
22% $41,756 $89,075
24% $89,076 $170,050
32% $1170,051 $215,950
35% $215,951 $539,900
37 % $539,901 Any higher amount

Income is taxed at these rates to the upper limit, and the balance graduates to the next percentage.

For example, if you earn $10,775:

  • The first $10,275 is taxed at 10%
  • The remaining $500 is taxed at 12%

If you earn $80,000:

  • The first $10,275 is taxed at 10%
  • The next chunk of income up to $41,755 is taxed at 12%
  • The remaining balance over $41,755 is taxed at 22%

The standard deduction for a single filer is $12,950 for tax year 2022 and $13,850 in 2023.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the best filing status for a single person?

In terms of standard deductions, head-of-household status is the best filing status for a single person because it offers the biggest standard deduction. However, the criteria for head of household are more complex than single filing status.

What happens if I'm married but I file single?

You cannot file single if you're married. It's highly likely that the IRS will view the filing status as an error and ask you to correct the error. If that's the case, your tax liability is likely to change.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. IRS. "Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," See "Filing Status".

  2. IRS. "Rev. Rul. 2013-17," Page 2-3.

  3. IRS. "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Registered Domestic Partners and Individuals in Civil Unions."

  4. IRS. "Tax Form 8958: General Instructions," Page 3-4.

  5. IRS. "Rev. Rul. 2013-17," Page 12-13.

  6. IRS. "Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information."

  7. IRS. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2023."

  8. IRS. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022."

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