What Does Filing Status Mean?

Filing status is a category that defines the type of tax return form a taxpayer must use when filing his or her taxes. Filing status is closely tied to marital status.

Understanding Filing Status

The filing status is important because an individual's tax bracket (and, therefore, the amount they must pay) is determined by marital status, the number of children, occupation, and several other factors. You must file your status honestly, or it will be considered fraudulent and penalties will be assessed.

For federal income tax purposes, a taxpayer falls into one of five categories: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, and qualifying widow(er) with dependent children.

Single Filer

A single filer is a taxpayer that is unmarried, divorced, a registered domestic partner, or legally separated according to state law as of the last day of the tax year.  The head of a household or a person who is widowed does not fall under the "single" category for tax purposes. Single filers have lower income limits for most exemptions.

For Tax Year 2020 (Tax Year 2021)
 

Federal Income Tax Rate 

 

Income Range for Single Taxpayer

 

10%

 

$0$9,875 ($0-$9,950)

 

12%

 

$9,876$40,125 ($9,951-$40,525)

 

22%

 

$40,126$85,525 ($40,525-$86,375)

 

24%

 

$85,526$163,300 ($86,376-$164,925)

 

32%

 

$163,301$207,350 ($164,926-$209,425)

 

35%

 

$207,351$518,400 ($209,426-$523,600)

 

37%

 

Over $518,400 (Over $523,600)

 

Standard Deduction

 

$12,400 ($12,550)

Married Person Filing Jointly or Surviving Spouse

An individual that is married by the end of the tax year can file his or her tax returns jointly with his or her spouse. When filing under married filing jointly status, couples can record their respective incomes, exemptions, and deductions on the same tax return. A joint tax return will often provide a bigger tax refund or a lower tax liability.

For Tax Year 2020 (Tax Year 2021)
 

Federal Income Tax Rate

 

Income Range for Taxpayer who is Married Filing Jointly

 

10%

 

$0$19,750 ($0-$19,900)

 

12%

 

$19,751$80,250 ($19,901-$81,050)

 

22%

 

$80,251$171,050 ($81,051-$172,750)

 

24%

 

$171,051$326,600 ($172,751-$329,850)

 

32%

 

$326,601$414,700 ($329,851-$418,850)

 

35%

 

$414,701$622,050 ($418,851-$628,300)

 

37%

 

Over $622,050 (Over $628,300)

 

Standard Deduction

 

$24,800 ($25,100)

Married filing jointly is best if only one spouse has a significant income. If both spouses work and the income and itemized deductions are large and very unequal, it may be more advantageous to file separately.

Head of Household

A head of household is a single or unmarried taxpayer who pays at least 50% of the costs of supporting their household and lives with other qualifying family members for whom they provide support for more than half of the year. This means that the taxpayer must have paid more than half of the total household bills, including rent or mortgage, utility bills, insurance, property taxes, groceries, repairs, and other common household expenses. Some examples of qualifying family members include a dependent child, grandchild, brother, sister, grandparent, or anyone else you can claim as an exemption.

Head of households benefits from a lower tax rate.

For Tax Year 2020 (Tax Year 2021)
 

Federal Income Tax Rate

 

Income Range for Taxpayer filing as the Head of Household

 

10%

 

$0$14,100 ($0-$14,200)

 

12%

 

$14,101$53,700 ($14,201-$54,200)

 

22%

 

$53,701$85,500 ($54,201-$86,350)

 

24%

 

$85,501$163,300 ($86,351-$164,900)

 

32%

 

$163,301$207,350 ($164,901-$209,400)

 

35%

 

$207,351$518,400 ($209,401-$523,600)

 

37%

 

Over $518,401 (Over $523,600)

 

Standard Deduction

 

$18,650 ($18,800)

Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child

During the year in which a spouse dies, the surviving spouse can typically use the joint filing status. For the two tax years following the year of a spouse's death, the surviving spouse can file as a qualifying widow or widower. While the surviving spouse cannot continue to claim an exemption for the deceased spouse, s/he may claim the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly.

The tax bracket and income range for widow(ers) is the same as that for married filing jointly.