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 considers you unmarried if you did not live with your spouse for the last six months of the tax year.
  • 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.

Understanding Single Filer

Everyone 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 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 do not qualify for another filing status. While you may still be married, the IRS considers you unmarried if you did not live with your spouse for the last six months of the tax year.

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 and head of household filers.

Qualifications for Head of Household (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.

  • For the 2021 tax year, the standard deduction for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately is $12,550. For heads of households, the deduction is $18,800, while for married couples filing jointly, it is $25,100.
  • For the 2022 tax year, the standard deduction for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately is $12,950. For heads of households, the deduction is $19,400, while for married couples filing jointly, it is $25,900.

You can take an additional deduction if you are at least age 65 or legally blind (or both) by the end of the tax year. For 2021, single and HOH filers can claim an additional standard deduction of $1,700 if they are 65 or older or blind, or $3,400 if they are 65 or older and blind. Those amounts increase to $1,750 and $3,500, respectively, for the 2022 tax year.

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.

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

Single taxpayers under age 65 have a standard deduction of $12,550 for the 2021 tax year, increasing to $12,950 for the 2022 tax year. If your income is below those thresholds, you generally don’t need to file a federal income tax return. Still, you will have to file if you're self-employed and have 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 you're entitled to.

Does Filing Status Affect Taxes?

Very much so. 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 offers 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).


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