What Is Head of Household (HOH)?

Taxpayers may file tax returns as head of household (HOH) if they 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 tax filing status, you must file a separate individual tax return, be considered unmarried, and be entitled to an exemption for a qualifying person.
  • The qualifying person must generally be either a child or parent of the head of household.
  • The head of household must pay for more than one-half of the qualifying person’s support and housing costs.

Understanding Head of Household

HOH is a filing status available to taxpayers who meet certain qualifying thresholds. They must file separate individual tax returns, be considered unmarried, and be entitled to an exemption for a qualifying person, 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.

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 is further reliant on the HOH meeting 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.

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. 

Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), the personal exemption has been suspended 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.

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

Examples of Filing as Head of Household

Filing as an HOH can provide significant savings for taxpayers. The 2019 and 2020 tax rate for individuals earning $50,000 and filing as an HOH is 12%. Compare the tax burden shown below for an individual earning $50,000 using the different filing statuses.

Filing as an HOH, the individual will pay 10% of $14,100, or $1,410, plus 12% of the amount over $14,100 ($35,900 × 12% = $4,308), for a total tax of $5,718.

A taxpayer filing single or married filing separately will pay 10% of the first $9,875, or $987.50, plus 12% of $40,125 - $9,875, or $3,630, plus 22% of $50,000 - $40,125, or $2,172.50. This brings the total tax to $987.50 + $3,630 + $2,172.50 = $6,790.

Thus, filing as an HOH saved this hypothetical taxpayer $1,072.