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Tax Filing: Head of Household Versus Single


The choice between single and head of household tax filing status can have a sizable impact on the taxes you owe or the refund you receive. Yet many don’t realize they may qualify for the more beneficial head of household status that offers larger standard deductions and often lower tax rates. Taking the time to understand the differences could put hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars in your pocket. A financial advisor can determine if head of household, single or or another status is right for your situation.

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Filing Status Fundamentals

You must select a filing status when filing your federal income taxes each year. The IRS provides five options: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household and qualifying widow or widower with dependent child.

Your eligibility for each status hinges largely on your marital and dependents situation. Single filing status usually applies to unmarried taxpayers without dependents who live with them. Head of household is for unmarried taxpayers supporting dependents, like minor children, who live with them for most of the year.

Why Filing Status Matters 

Opting for head of household over single status triggers two key advantages: Placing the taxpayer in lower federal income tax brackets and enabling larger standard deductions. These two factors work together to reduce both your tax rate and your taxable income.

For example, in tax year 2024 the head of household 12% tax bracket is $63,100 (which is up from $59,850 in 2023) of taxable income compared with just $47,150 for single filers (which is up from $44,725 in 2023). The standard deduction also rises from $14,600 for single filers to $21,900 for heads of household (in tax year 2023 it went up from $13,850 to $20,800). Bigger deductions reduce taxable income, while lower rates mean less taxes owed on remaining income.

Filing Status Effects in Practice

A father considering whether filing as a head of household instead of single will help lower his tax bill.

Consider a single parent earning $60,000 while providing more than half the support for two dependents who live with them for most of the year. This person qualifies for head of household filing status. Opting to use this status rather than the single filing status moves the parent into more favorable tax brackets for tax year 2023 (which they will file in 2024) and boosts their standard deduction. This combination can save them hundreds on their tax bill. Here’s how it works:

If they file as single, they would be able to apply a $13,850 standard deduction to their $60,000 income, leaving taxable income of $46,150. For a single filer in tax year 2023, this taxable income puts them into the 22% bracket. In this instance, taxes owed as a single filer are $5,460.

By filing instead as head of household, they are eligible for a much larger $20,800 standard deduction. Now taxable income is reduced to $39,200. Plus, for a head of household filer this income level falls into the 12% tax bracket, significantly below the bracket that applies to single filers with this income. Accounting for lower taxable income and a lower tax bracket, total taxes owed as a head of household filer would equal just $4,390.

In this example, the difference in taxes owed based strictly on filing status is the difference between $5,460 and $4,390. That is a savings of $1,070, just for selecting head of household versus single filer.

Making the Call

You can’t select a filing status based purely on which one saves you the most. You have to be eligible for the one you select.

When deciding on filing status, first assess marital, dependent and household support status. Unmarried taxpayers supporting a qualifying child dependent and paying for over half of household costs likely should explore head of household filing. Run comparisons to see the tax bill impact of head of household vs. single filer status based on income, deductions and tax brackets.

As shown in the example, simply changing status could save several hundred dollars for some typical families. Make whether you qualify based on your situation. But if you automatically default to single status, you risk leaving money on the table. 

Bottom Line

A taxpayer considering two ways to file his taxes: Head of household vs. Single.

Selecting the right tax filing status goes beyond basic marital status. For unmarried taxpayers with dependents, qualifying for head of household over single filer status can generate major tax savings through larger standard deductions and more favorable income tax rates. Yet many eligible taxpayers simply claim single status without exploring options. Avoid overpaying by first understanding the key differences in filing single versus head of household, assessing qualification criteria for each and determining the best approach for your personal tax situation. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars potentially are at stake based on what you check on one form entry box.

Tax Planning Tips for Beginners

  • If you want to make sure you’re not paying more than necessary, talk to a financial advisor who specializes in tax planning. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Use SmartAsset’s Tax Return Calculator to get an estimate of how much you’ll owe or get as a refund.

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