Tax Breaks for Single Parents

The IRS offers a few breaks for single-parent heads of household

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Being armed with the right knowledge can take some of the stress and guesswork out of filing your tax return as a single parent, and it could save you some money. Several tax law provisions are designed to give a bit of a financial boost to those who are raising kids on their own, but you have to know what they are and how they work if you're going to take advantage of them. 

Key Takeaways

  • Most single parents can qualify for the head of household filing status, which provides a larger standard deduction and more favorable tax brackets.
  • The Child Tax Credit is available to custodial parents and is worth up to $2,000 per child, but income limits apply.
  • The Child and Dependent Care Credit is a percentage of what you pay someone to care for your child so you can work or look for work, up to certain limits.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit is designed for low-income parents and increases based on the number of children you have.

You Can File as Head of Household

Filing your tax return as head of household provides two benefits for single parents: You’ll be able to claim a higher standard deduction, and you can earn more than single filers before you move into the next highest tax bracket.

The standard deduction for the head of household filing status is $19,400 for the 2022 tax year. It increases to and $20,800 for the 2023 tax year. 

You’ll qualify for head of household status if you're unmarried or “considered unmarried” on the last day of the year, Dec. 31. You must have paid for more than 50% of your household’s expenses, and your child must have lived with you for more than half the year. You’re "considered unmarried" for head of household status if you file a separate return, your spouse didn't live in your home at any point during the last six months of the tax year, and you can claim your child as a dependent

You can still qualify as "considered unmarried" if you can't claim your child as a dependent, but only because their other parent is claiming them due to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) "tiebreaker" rules. Confer with a tax professional if you think this might be the case for you. 


The rules for the head of household filing status are complicated and the benefits are significant, so speak with a tax professional if you think you might qualify. 

Claim the Child Tax Credit

A tax credit is different and more beneficial than a tax deduction. It's an amount of money that's subtracted directly from the tax bill you owe the IRS, so this can save you cash out of pocket that can be put toward other things.

The child tax credit is a tax break awarded simply for having a child or children. Your child must meet certain requirements set forth by the IRS to qualify for the child tax credit. They must be younger than age 18 on the last day of the year. They must also have lived with you for more than half the year, and they can’t have contributed or paid for more than 50% of their own support needs.

The child tax credit for tax year 2022 (the return you'll file in 2023) is worth $2,000 per child. The qualifying income limit for a single parent filing as head of household is $200,000. The credit begins phasing out or decreasing if your income is more than this.


The Child Tax Credit was significantly expanded for tax year 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, these changes were for one year only and they expired in 2022.

Claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit

You might be eligible for the child and dependent care tax credit if you paid someone to care for your child while you went to work or looked for work during the tax year.

Your child must be younger than age 13 to qualify, or disabled if they’re age 13 or older and physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves. The person responsible for taking care of your child can’t be their other parent or anyone you can claim as a dependent. The credit is a percentage of $2,100 in expenses, and income limits apply. This credit was also enhanced for tax year 2021, but those changes expired in 2022 as well.

Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit

The earned income tax credit (EITC) is designed to help families with lower incomes. You might be eligible for a tax refund even if you didn’t earn enough to file a tax return or you don't owe the IRS anything when you complete your tax return because this credit is fully refundable. First it erases your tax debt, then the IRS will send you any money that's left over.

The EITC is worth different amounts based on the number of qualifying children you have. The table below shows the maximum amounts for tax year 2022. The actual amount of the EITC for which you qualify will be based on your income. There are income limits and phaseouts. These values are the most you might expect to receive if your income falls below these limits.

Number of Children  Maximum Value of EITC in 2022 
1 $3,733
3+  $6,935

Additionally, investment income cannot exceed $10,300 for the 2022 tax year.

By law, the IRS must hold your refund until mid-February if you claim the earned income tax credit. This gives the government time to make sure that everyone who claims the credit is legitimately entitled to do so. 

The Bottom Line

The federal government has some relief to offer if you’re raising children on your own. You might be able to earn more before moving into a higher tax bracket or be eligible for cash refunds for each of your children. Be sure to explore all of the tax credits and deductions on the IRS website.

Tax preparation software can guide you through this entire process as well. You can use the IRS Free File software if your adjusted gross income was $73,000 or less in 2022, or you might want to consider enlisting the help of a tax professional.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the tax brackets for a single parent?

A single parent who files taxes as head of household for the 2022 tax year (the return you'll file in 2023) will pay 10% income taxes on income up to $14,650. The rate then increases to 12% up to $55,900, then 22% up to $89,050, then 24% up to $170,050, then 32% up to $215,950, then 35% up to $539,900. The top tax bracket rate of 37% applies to all head of household income beyond $539,900 or more.

What should a single parent claim on their Form W-4?

A single parent can claim each child they care for as a dependent on their Form W-4. A single parent who has two children can claim two dependents. It's up to the parent as to how they want to file their tax return. You may want to claim as many dependents as possible on your W-4 to maximize your take-home pay throughout the year if you're living paycheck to paycheck. Claiming more dependents means less tax is withheld. But you can claim fewer dependents on your W-4 and decrease your take-home pay if you'd rather receive a large tax refund at year's end.

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