What Is Filing Status?

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 Years 2020 and 2021
 

Federal Income Tax Rate 

 

Income Range for Single Taxpayer for 2020


Income Range for Single Taxpayer for 2021
 

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 Years 2020 and 2021
 

Federal Income Tax Rate

 

Income Range for Taxpayer who is Married Filing Jointly in 2020


Income Range for Taxpayer who is Married Filing Jointly in 2021
 

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.

A head of households benefits from a lower tax rate.

For Tax Years 2020 and 2021
 

Federal Income Tax Rate

 

Income Range for Taxpayer filing as the Head of Household for 2020


Income Range for Taxpayer filing as the Head of Household for 2021
 

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.