Single Filer

What Is a Single Filer?

Single filers are taxpayers who file their federal income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under the status “single.” This filing status is used by unmarried taxpayers who don't qualify for any other filing status.

Key Takeaways

  • Single filer status is for unmarried people who do not qualify for another filing status.
  • Even if you are still married, the IRS may consider you unmarried if you lived separately from your spouse for the last six months of the tax year and paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for yourself and a qualifying dependent or child.
  • Most single people who can claim qualifying widow(er) or head of household status will find it advantageous to file under that status rather than as a single filer.
  • The filing status you claim on your federal tax return must also be claimed on your state income tax return.
  • Many tax benefits can only be claimed when an individual files a joint return with a spouse as opposed to filing single, though there are tax advantages to being a single filer such as high out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Understanding Single Filer

Everyone who is required to file a federal income tax return with the IRS must choose a filing status. Individual taxpayers can file under the following five groups: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household (HOH), or qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child. Tax rates and standard deductions differ among the various filing statuses.

Single filers include people who are unmarried or legally separated from a spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree on the last day of the year and who do not qualify for another filing status. While you may still be married, the IRS considers you an unmarried head of household if you did not live with your spouse for the last six months of the tax year and paid more than half the costs of keeping a home for yourself and a qualifying dependent.

Some people who qualify to file as single may be better off claiming another filing status. If you meet the conditions for qualifying widow(er) or head of household, you will likely find that filing under one of those statuses results in a lower tax bill.

If you qualify for more than one filing status, you are allowed to choose the one that results in the lowest tax bill.

Single Filer vs. Head of Household (HOH)

Single people who live alone might consider themselves the head of their own household. Still, the IRS has specific rules that differentiate single filers from head of household filers.

Qualifications for HOH

HOH status generally applies only to unmarried people who have paid more than half the costs of maintaining a home for themselves and a qualifying dependent for the given tax year. According to the IRS, these costs may include rent or mortgage payments, mortgage interest, utilities, repairs, property taxes, home insurance, and food eaten at home.

To qualify for HOH status, you must pay more than half the cost of maintaining a home for the year. When determining how much you spent, don't include the cost of clothing, education, medical treatment, vacations, life insurance, or transportation—or the value of your services.

Just having a dependent is not enough to file head of household status. Generally speaking, the qualifying person must be a child, parent, or another type of relative (e.g., a grandparent or sibling) who lives with you for at least half of the year. However, if the qualifying person is your parent, they don't have to live with you.

People who file as HOH pay a lower tax rate than single filers and must reach a higher income level before being obligated to pay income tax.

Standard Tax Deductions

A standard deduction is the portion of income not subject to tax that can be used to reduce your taxable income. The deduction amount depends on your filing status, age, and other factors.

  • 2022 Tax Year: The standard deduction for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately is $12,950. For heads of household, the deduction is $19,400, while for married couples filing jointly, it is $25,900.
  • 2023 Tax Year: The standard deduction for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately is $13,850. For heads of household, the deduction is $18,800, while for married couples filing jointly, it is $27,700.

You can also take an additional deduction if you are at least age 65 or legally blind (or both) by the end of the tax year:

  • 2022 Tax Year: Single and HOH filers can claim an additional standard deduction of $1,750 if they are 65 or older or blind, or $3,500 if they are 65 or older and blind.
  • 2023 Tax Year: Single and HOH filers can claim an additional standard deduction of $1,850 if they are 65 or older or blind, or $3,700 if they are both 65 or older and blind.

The IRS allows filers to take a standard deduction or itemize their deductions. If the value of your itemized deductions is greater than your standard deduction, it makes financial sense to itemize.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Single Filer

Advantages of Single Filer

Single filers may find themselves with less complex tax returns that require less paperwork, complications, or reporting requirements. The married filing joint standard deduction is simply double the standard deduction of a single filer. However, as most couples do not earn equal wages, one individual is often "burdened" by the income and associated tax liability of the other on their federal tax return.

In addition, single filers may find it easier to qualify for certain deductions as opposed to being disqualified due to potential higher income from a spouse. For example, single filers can deduct medical bills that are greater than 7.5% of the taxpayer's AGI; in a MFJ situation, this threshold may be more difficult to obtain.

Disadvantages of Single Filer

Couples who are married and file join returns do have several tax advantages over single filers. As married filing joint returns aggregate household income, a couple's collective tax bracket may be lower than a single filer if one individual makes more money than the other. There are also logistical benefits such as a non-working spouse qualifying to contribute to an IRA while a non-working individual is often not eligible. In general, it is considered more advantageous to take advantage of the better tax rates and credits available to joint filers.

The losses from one spouse may be used as a tax shelter to offset proceeds from the other individual. This strategy may also be used to leverage higher deductions. For example, the IRS allows a deduction of qualified cash contributions up to 50% of your AGI and 20%-30% for non-cash contributions. Should one couple have made higher income, the aggregated deduction threshold is higher for the couple.

Single Filer Status

Pros
  • Often results in an easier, less complex federal income tax filing

  • Does not burden one individual with income and the associated tax liability of another person

  • May be easier to achieve specific deductions, especially if a potential partner has much greater income

Cons
  • Are not able to aggregate income with others to potentially reduce effective tax rate

  • Is usually not eligible to make IRA contributions if they do not have income

  • Are not able to leverage a partner's losses for tax advantages

  • May not receive favorable tax treatment in the form of higher deduction thresholds when factoring total household income

How Much Does a Single Filer Have to Make to File Taxes?

For the 2022 tax year, single taxpayers under the age of 65 have a standard deduction of $12,950. For the 2023 tax year, the standard deduction for a single tax filer increased to $13,850.

If your income is below this amount, you generally do not need to file a federal income tax return. However, you will have to file if you're self-employed and received more than $400 of self-employment income or you bought a health insurance policy from a state or federal marketplace. Even if you're not required to file a tax return, you might want to so you don't miss out on any refunds to which you're entitled.

Does Filing Status Affect Taxes?

Yes, it does. Your tax filing status determines your eligibility for certain credits, the portion of income not subject to tax (i.e., your standard deduction), and your tax rate. If more than one filing status applies, you should choose the one that allows you to pay the lowest amount of tax. The IRS has an interactive tool to help you determine your filing status.

Should I Claim Single or Head of Household?

From a tax filing perspective, head of household is much more beneficial. However, you can only tick that box on your tax return if you meet specific criteria: You must be unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year, pay more than half the cost of maintaining a household, and have a qualifying child or dependent who lives with you in the home for more than half the year (a dependent parent does not have to live with you).


Who Qualifies for Single Filing Status?

Unmarried people that do not qualify as Head of Household status qualify for the single filing status. To qualify, an individual must not have been married on the last day of the tax year. In addition, the individual must not qualify for any other filing status.

Is It Better to File a Single or Joint Return?

For many taxpayers, it's better to file a joint return. Couples who file together may qualify for multiple tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, education credits, or Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. In addition, joint filers have higher income thresholds for certain taxes and deductions; this allows one individual to potentially avoid tax liability had they filed a single return.

The Bottom Line

One of the most common tax filing statuses is a single filer. Most often used by individuals not married and not qualifying for HOH status, this tax status often has a lower standard deduction and lower tax thresholds compared to other statuses. However, single filers may have less paperwork to file, might be a lower tax bracket by filing alone, and may have a more simple tax return to prepare.

Article Sources
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