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Tax Questions About Dependents

The number of dependents you can legally claim on your federal tax return reduces your income tax liability. For 2009, the amount of exemption per dependent is $3,650. However, this amount is reduced for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeds a certain amount. This amount varies, depending on filing status, but ranges from $125,100 for those who are married but file separately to $250,200 for joint filers and qualifying widows or widowers.

What are the tests for a qualifying child?

The dependent child must be your natural, adopted or foster child, your stepchild, or their descendant. Your sibling or step-sibling also meets the qualifications for relationship. The child must be 18 years of age or younger. You (or, if you file a joint return, your spouse) must be older than the child. If the child is in school full time, they must be younger than 24 at year's end. Children who are totally and permanently disabled are not subject to any age limitations.

The child must have resided in your home for more than half the year and cannot have furnished more than fifty percent of his own support. The child cannot file a joint return for the same year unless filed merely to claim a refund.

What are the tests for a qualifying relative?

A qualifying relative is not a qualifying child for you or another taxpayer. The dependent must have earned less than $3,650. You must have furnished more than fifty percent of the total amount of that person's support.

The relative must have resided in your home all year or meet the tests for relatives you can claim who reside elsewhere. Such a dependent must be related to you in the same manner as a qualifying child or be your parent or direct ancestor, such as a grandparent, a stepparent, your niece, nephew, parent's sibling, or your son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister-in-law. For taxpayers filing jointly, the relationship can exist for either taxpayer.

Can a non-citizen be claimed as a dependent?

In addition to U.S. citizens, resident aliens, residents of Canada and Mexico, and U.S. nationals may be claimed as a dependent if the other tests are satisfied. An adopted child who does not meet the citizenship test qualifies if he resided in your household the entire year.

Can my qualifying child file his own tax return?

Yes, he can file a return if he has income he must report or if he wishes to claim a refund for taxes withheld. However, he cannot claim himself as an exemption on his return if you are claiming him.

What if my dependent does not have a Social Security number?

If your dependent is entitled to receive a Social Security number, he or she must obtain one. If your exemption is for a child who was born and deceased during the year, a copy of his birth and death certificates or hospital records may be substituted instead. For those dependents who are not eligible for a Social Security number, the individual taxpayer identification number or adoption taxpayer identification number should be provided instead.

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