What Is a Single Filer?

Single filers are taxpayers who file their federal income tax return with the IRS under the status “single.” This filing status is used by a taxpayer who is unmarried and does not qualify for any other filing status.

Key Takeaways

  • Single filer status is for people who are unmarried and do not qualify for any other filing status.
  • Even if you are still married, you are considered unmarried by the IRS if you did not live with your spouse for the last six months of the tax year.
  • Single people who can claim qualifying widow(er) or head of household status will probably find it advantageous to file under that status rather than as a single filer.

Understanding Single Filer

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

Single filers include people who on the last day of the year are unmarried or are legally separated from a spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree and do not qualify for another filing status. And though you may still be married, you are also considered unmarried by the IRS if you did not live with your spouse for the last six months of the tax year.

There are people who qualify to file single but 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 either of those statuses will result 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

Though many single people live alone and would consider themselves to be the head of their own household, the IRS distinguishes between a single filer and a person considered the head of a household. Head of household status generally only applies to unmarried persons who, for the given tax year, have paid more than half of the cost of maintaining a home for themselves and a qualifying person, such as a dependent.

According to the IRS, the costs of maintaining a home may include rent or mortgage payments, utility costs, repairs, property taxes, and food eaten at home.

$12,400

The amount of the standard deduction single filers can claim for 2020, which rises to $12,550 for the 2021 tax year. Heads of households qualify for a standard deduction of $18,650 in 2020 ($18,800 in 2021).

Generally speaking, the qualifying person with whom a head of household lives must be their child, parent, or another type of relative. The person may be a domestic partner as long as that partner does not earn any income, which would qualify them as a dependent.

People who file as head of household pay a lower tax rate than people filing as single. They also must reach a higher income level before being obligated to pay income tax.