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The Do's and Don’ts of Claiming Dependents

January 28, 2014 : Amber Ortega

Editor’s Note: Marriage, divorce, college, job loss and more can all affect who is living in your house and, therefore, who you can claim as a dependent on your taxes this year. Here are the most important things you need to know about claiming dependents before preparing your return.

Few things are more important than family. These are the people we share special memories with, and the people we can rely on when we hit tough spots.

However, sometimes you are the family member helping others out. Maybe your grandmother couldn’t live safely on her own anymore, so she moved in with you this year. Maybe your uncle lost his job so he’s been staying with you.

This is what family is about – helping each other, regardless of the burden. But the extra expense of additional family members can put a financial strain on you. The rising costs of food, electricity, gas and water can all add up quickly. To help you get back on track, you might be able to claim these housemates on your taxes, just like your children, if they meet certain criteria.

There are a few simple rules to help you decide who you should and shouldn’t claim as a dependent:

DO claim all children that were born within the tax year. Even if your child was born on December 31, they may be able to be claimed as a dependent on your taxes.

DON’T claim a child that has lived with you for less than six months of the year. Unless the child was born within the tax year, they must have lived with you at least six months of the tax year to fall under the qualifying child rules. If you have a child that lives with their mother and father for different portions of the year, the parent that cares for the child longer should claim them on their taxes unless the Noncustodial Parent has a signed Form 8332. There is an exception to the six month rule for claiming a qualifying relative, but only if the child can’t be claimed as a qualifying child of any other taxpayer.

DO claim certain family members (such as children, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews) as dependents if you provided more than one half of their total support. They must also meet other criteria, including: not being able to be claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s taxes; earning less than the personal exception amount (which is $3,900 for 2013); not filing a joint tax return with a spouse; and the relative must be a United States citizen or resident alien of the United States, Mexico or Canada.

DON’T attempt to claim a child for whom you have paid Child Support, but lives with you for less than half the year unless you have a Form 8332 signed by the custodial parent. Although you may have provided financial support, you may only claim the child if they lived with you for at least six months of the tax year and if you provided more than half of their living expenses for the tax year unless you have a signed Form 8332 from the noncustodial parent releasing the dependency exemption to you.

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