Filing Status and Tax Exemptions

Generally speaking, filing status refers to the current state of the individual taxpayer in terms of their marital status and whether or not they support at least one other individual in their household.

Filing status can include people who are married and filing separate return or married people who file a joint return. Individuals who only support themselves are considered "single" and individuals that support at least one other person are "head of household".

Marital status is determined by whether or not the tax payer was legally married at the end of the tax year. Separated and divorced couples would file as "single". Additionally, there is a category for widows and widowers, for whom two years following their spouses death, would file as a Qualifying Widow or Widower, and receive the same tax benefits as a joint couple filing. After two years, the status should be either "single" or "head of household".

The filing status of an individual can have a major impact of the amount of taxes paid in any given tax year.  Those who qualify as a "head of household" are able to utilize a significantly lower tax rate than those who file as "single" for income in the same bracket. However, "heads of household" must use either the IRS Form 1040A or 1040 to claim this status – they are unable to use the 1040EZ.

How to Choose Your Classification

Choosing the status of a taxpayer is a very important process and should be carefully considered.  The differences in filing status can have a major impact on the overall tax liability of a taxpayer.

The tables below illustrate the 2009 breakdown for filing classifications for single filers, married filers and head of household:

Filing Status 2009

Standard Deduction

Personal Exemption




Head of Household







As part of the determination of you taxable income, individuals are entitled to claim certain tax exemptions.  The tax exemption allows certain amounts to be subtracted from the taxable income, and include the personal exemption, and the standard deduction.

The sum of the personal exemption and the standard deduction is not taxed at all. In 2009, the personal exemption was $3,650 and the standard deduction for a "single" was $5,700; "head of household" was $8,350 and "married" was $11,400.


Filing Status 2009

Filing Threshold

1 Child

2 Children





Head of Household









Another option is to forego the automatic exemptions and opt to itemize the applicable deductions if they will add up to a greater savings than claiming the personal exemption and standard deduction would. For more information on itemized deductions, see the How tax Deductions Work section of this guide.

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