DEFINITION of 'Dependent'

An individual whom a taxpayer can claim for credits and/or exemptions. A dependent is an individual, such as a qualifying child, whom a taxpayer can claim on his or her federal and some state income tax returns. Taxpayers can reduce their taxable income by claiming deductions, which can result in a decrease in tax liabilities and an increase in the amount of a refund. Taxpayers are permitted one exemption for each person that can be claimed as a dependent. If the taxpayer's adjusted gross income falls above a certain amount as determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the dollar amount of the exemptions may be reduced.


In general, a taxpayer can claim a dependent if the person is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. To claim a child as a dependent, for example, the child must be the taxpayer's child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, stepsibling or a descendant of one of these individuals. In addition, the child must have the same principal residence as the taxpayer for at least half of the year for which the child will be claimed as a dependent. The child must be under age 19 at the end of the tax year (December 31) or under age 24 if he or she is a full-time student for at least five months during that year, or if the child is permanently and totally disabled at any point during the year. A dependent can be claimed on only one person's income tax return, and returns will be audited where two or more taxpayers claim the same dependent.

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