Head of Household (HOH)

What Is Head of Household (HOH)?

Taxpayers may file tax returns as head of household (HOH) if they are unmarried and pay more than half the cost of supporting and housing a qualifying person. Taxpayers eligible to classify themselves as an HOH get higher standard deductions and lower tax rates than taxpayers who file as single or married filing separately. 

Key Takeaways

  • To qualify for head of household (HOH) tax filing status, you must file a separate individual tax return, be considered unmarried, and have a qualifying child or dependent.
  • The qualifying person must generally be either a child or parent of the HOH.
  • The HOH must pay for more than one-half of the qualifying person’s support and housing costs.

Understanding Head of Household (HOH)

Head of household is a filing status available to taxpayers who meet certain qualifying thresholds. They must file separate individual tax returns, be considered unmarried, and have a qualifying dependent, such as a child or parent. Further, the HOH must pay more than one-half the cost of supporting the qualifying person and more than one-half the cost of maintaining that qualifying person’s primary home.

The IRS provides a breakdown of what constitutes a qualified person in Table 4 of Publication 501.

Unmarried

To be considered unmarried, the HOH must be single, divorced, or regarded as unmarried. For example, married taxpayers would be regarded as unmarried if they did not live with their spouse during the last six months of the tax year. The status further requires that the HOH meet either of these two requirements:

  • The HOH is married to a nonresident alien whom they elect not to treat as a resident alien.
  • The HOH is legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree by the last day of the tax year.

Married taxpayers are considered unmarried if they have not lived with their spouse for the last six months of the tax year.

Financially support a qualifying person

An HOH must pay for more than one-half of the cost of a qualifying person’s support and housing costs. The HOH must also pay more than one-half of the rent or mortgage, utilities, repairs, insurance, taxes, and other costs of maintaining the home where the qualifying person lives for more than half of the year. The home must be the taxpayer’s own home unless the qualifying person is the taxpayer’s parent and the home is the property of that parent. 

If the qualifying person is a parent who lives at another address, it's still possible to file as head of household—provided they are dependent on you and you cover more than half the cost of keeping up their home.

Personal exemption suspended

The enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) resulted in the suspension of the personal exemption through 2025. Back when there was one, HOH filers had to be able to claim an exemption for their qualifying person. Taxpayers could release their exemption to a noncustodial parent in a divorce proceeding or a legal separation agreement and remain eligible to file as an HOH.

Examples of Filing as Head of Household (HOH)

Filing as an HOH can provide significant savings for taxpayers. Below we compare the tax burden for an individual earning $70,000 using the different filing statuses.

HOH vs. single or married filing separately

For 2021 tax returns, which are due April 2022, the HOH has a standard deduction of $18,800, reducing their $70,000 taxable income to $51,200. From that amount, $14,200 will be taxed at 10%, and $37,000 at 12%, bringing the total tax bill to $1,420 + $4,440 = $5,860.

In comparison, a taxpayer filing as single or married filing separately qualifies for a standard deduction of $12,550, reducing their taxable income from $70,000 to $57,450. Of that $57,450, $9,950 will be taxed at 10%, $30,574 at 12%, and the remaining $16,926 at 22%, resulting in a total tax bill of $995 + $3,668.88 + $3,723.72 = $8,387.60.

Thus, filing as an HOH saved this hypothetical taxpayer $2,527.60.

For the 2022 tax year, these savings will increase even more as income limits are adjusted for inflation, and the standard deduction rises $600 for HOH to $19,400, versus $400 to $12,950 for single filers.

2022 Tax Brackets for Single Filers, Married Couples Filing Jointly, and Heads of Households
2022 Tax Rate For Single Filers For Married Individuals Filing Joint Returns For Heads of Households
 10% $0 to $10,275 $0 to $20,550 $0 to $14,650
 12% $10,276 to $41,775 $20,551 to $83,550 $14,651 to $55,900
 22% $41,776 to $89,075 $83,551 to $178,150 $55,901 to $89,050
 24% $89,076 to $170,050 $178,151 to $340,100 $89,051 to $170,050
 32% $170,051 to $215,950 $340,101 to $431,900 $170,051 to $215,950
 35% $215,951 to $539,900 $431,901 to $647,850 $215,951 to $539,900
 37% $539,901 or more $647,851 or more $539,901 or more
Source: Internal Revenue Service

Who Qualifies as Head of Household?

To file taxes as head of household, you must be considered unmarried, pay at least half of the household expenses, and have either a qualified dependent living with you more than half the year or a parent for whom you cover half of housing costs.

Is It Better to File as Single or Head of Household?

For tax purposes, it is better to be head of household. Head of household filers have a lower tax rate and higher standard deductions than single filers.

What Is the Standard Deduction for Head of Household?

In the 2021 tax year, the portion of income not subject to tax for heads of households is $18,800. In the 2022 tax year, that threshold increases to $19,400.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals,” Page 23. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501 (2020), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals,” Pages 21 and 23. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals,” Page 24. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 5307: Tax Reform Basics for Individuals and Families," Page 7. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  6. Tax Foundation. "2021 Tax Brackets." Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  7. Tax Foundation. "2022 Tax Brackets." Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

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