Taxpayers need to know their correct filing status and be familiar with each option.
Generally, the taxpayer's filing status depends on whether they are single or married on Dec. 31 and that determines their status for the whole year. However, more than one filing status may apply in certain situations. If this is the case, taxpayers can usually choose the filing status that allows them to pay the least amount of tax.
When preparing and filing a tax return, the filing status affects:
If the taxpayer is required to file a federal tax return
If they should file a return in order to receive a refund
Their standard deduction amount
If they can claim certain credits
The amount of tax they should pay
Here's the five filing statuses:
Single. Normally this status is for taxpayers who are unmarried, divorced or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree governed by state law.
Married filing jointly. If a taxpayer is married, they can file a joint tax return with their spouse. When a spouse passes away, the widowed spouse can usually file a joint return for that year.
Married filing separately. Married couples can choose to file separate tax returns. When doing so it may result in less tax owed than filing a joint tax return.
Head of household. Unmarried taxpayers may be able to file using this status, but special rules apply. For example, the taxpayer must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for themselves and a qualifying person living in the home for half the year.
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. This status may apply to a taxpayer if their spouse died during one of the previous two years and they have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.
More Information: Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filling Information