Sammy Nickalls
April 06, 2016 11:55 am
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OK, real talk: Is there anything more confusing than doing your taxes? It’s something we’ve all gotta deal with, but the forms, the numbers, the terms — it can feel pretty overwhelming. Tax Day is on April 18th, and it’s coming faster than we’d like. . . which is exactly why HelloGiggles compiled our thorniest tax questions and reached out to experts to find out what’s what. With our eight-part tax series, you’ll be *totally* prepared for Tax Day! First, we tackled the basics of doing your taxes; then, we went over what we needed to know about deductionsNow, let’s go over a few questions we’ve got about dependents:

What is a dependent? Is my cat a dependent? 

Deductions, dependents — so many “de-” words that it can be hard to keep ’em all straight when your brain has been deep-fried by taxes. So what exactly is a dependent?

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“A dependent is an individual who can be claimed on your tax return,” said Dr. Monica Hubler, DBA, Faculty, Kaplan University’s College of Business and Information TechnologyOK, sounds simple enough — but keep in mind that there are different guidelines for different types of dependents, such as children or relatives.

“Dependents can be categorized into two types,” Andrew Oswalt, CPA and TaxAct tax analyst, told HelloGiggles. “In order to claim a qualifying child, they must be related to you; this includes a half brother/sister, stepbrother/sister, and/or [an] adopted child.” On top of this, the child must live with you, be under the age of 19 (or, if a full-time student, 24), and be financially supported by you, Oswalt added — and you must be the only person claiming this child as a dependent.

The second category for dependents is a relative who must live at your home all year — although there are certain relatives set by the IRS that don’t have to live with you and can still qualify, explained Stephanie Gruenhagen, Tax Attorney at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP. “That person’s gross income [must be] less than $4,000 per year, and you [must] provide more than half of that person’s support for that year,” she told us.

But what about your cat, or your dog? They totally depend on you, right? So can you claim your pets as dependents? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, said Hubler. “No, the IRS only feels that individuals qualify for a dependent deduction,” she said. “It really is a stretch since we American love our pets.”

Come on, IRS, get with the program.

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Does having a kid mean I don’t have to give the government as much money? 

Parents know firsthand that having kids can be very pricy indeed, but do they get a tax break when April rolls around? Turns out being a parent pays off. Well, sort of.

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“The government realizes that having children is expensive, so when it comes to taxes, you get a benefit for having children,” Eileen Sherr, CPA, CGMA, M.T. Senior Technical Manager at the AICPA Tax Policy & Advocacy, told HelloGiggles. “First of all, you get a $4,000 extra exemption for each child who is a dependent on your return. You also may qualify for the $1,000 per child tax credit, as well as the child and dependent care credit of between 20 and 35% of expenses up to $6,000 for two or more children. You also may qualify for the beneficial filing status of head of household instead of single if you are unmarried and pay more than half the cost of keeping the child’s home. Those are a few of the tax benefits from having children.” Obviously, you should check with your tax professional about other benefits.

So, make sure to give your kids a heartfelt “thank you” for giving you a tax break — oh, and also, for making your life more enriching and all that good stuff. Don’t forget about that.

Does getting married mean I don’t have to give the government as much money? If so, why are taxes better if you’re married?

Sure, having kids is expensive, but why are taxes better when you’re married? Well, it turns out that tying the knot doesn’t always mean a tax break — it’s a big fat “depends,” according to Richard Gartland, senior tax professional at H&R Block.

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“A couple is likely to benefit from marriage when one partner earns most of the household income,” Gartland explained to us. “By filing jointly, their overall tax bracket may decrease. However, a couple with two high earners may find they face higher taxes after getting married. Their joint income may push them into a higher tax bracket than when they were able to file individually.”

So for some, getting hitched may mean a much happier tax season. For others, not so much — but at least they’ll have a very happy life together. Nothing says “romance” like tax season, right?

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