Tax Exemptions and Dependents: Six Things to Know

Understand IRS rules for claiming dependents as exemptions on your tax return.

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Tax rules on dependents and exemptions apply to everyone who files a federal income tax return. If that's you (and it probably is), here are six important facts the IRS wants you to know about dependents and exemptions, to help you get your tax return together in time for this April's deadline.

1. Exemptions reduce your taxable income. There are two types of exemptions: personal exemptions and exemptions for dependents. For each exemption you can deduct a set amount on your tax return. You'll find this year's deduction amount on whatever IRS form you're using to file -- 1040, 1040EZ, or another form.

2. Your spouse is never considered your dependent. On a joint return, you may claim one exemption for yourself and one for your spouse. If you're filing a separate return, you may claim one exemption for your spouse only if he or she had no gross income, is not filing a joint return, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

3. Exemptions for dependents. You generally can take an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is your qualifying child or qualifying relative. You must list the Social Security number of any dependent for whom you claim an exemption.

4. If someone else claims you as a dependent, you may still be required to file your own tax return. Whether you must file a return depends on several factors, including the amount of your unearned, earned, or gross income, your marital status, any special taxes you owe, and any advance Earned Income Tax Credit payments you received.

5. If you are a dependent, you may not claim an exemption. If someone else -- such as your parent -- claims you as a dependent, you may not claim your personal exemption on your own tax return.

6. Some people cannot be claimed as your dependent. Generally, you may not claim a married person as a dependent if that person files a joint return with his or her spouse. Also, to claim someone as a dependent, that person must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or resident of Canada or Mexico for some part of the year. There is an exception to this rule for certain adopted children. See IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information (available at for additional tests to determine who can be claimed as a dependent -- and for basic tips on exemptions and dependents.

Information provided by the Internal Revenue Service.

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