Guide to Claiming Dependents

A useful guide to understanding the basics of claiming dependents.

Updated over a week ago

This article was updated for Tax Year 2023, last edited on January 22nd, 2024.


  • Per the IRS, a taxpayer cannot claim a dependent if they are either a dependent themself or if that dependent has already been claimed on another tax return.

  • Qualifying children as well as qualifying relatives may be able to be claimed as dependents if they meet certain criteria such as not providing more than half their own support.

What is a dependent?

According to the IRS, dependents are either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative of the taxpayer who is eligible to be claimed by the taxpayer on their tax return. Basically, a dependent is someone who relies on another person for financial support, such as for housing, food, clothing, etc.

There are a few exceptions and considerations to keep in mind. For example, a spouse cannot be claimed as a dependent on a married filing joint return. It’s also worth noting that to claim an individual as a dependent, you (and your spouse if you are filing jointly) cannot be claimed yourselves as a dependent for another taxpayer.

Why would you want to claim a dependent?

While everyone's tax situation is different, you may want to claim a dependent to either reduce your tax liability and/or increase your potential refund through a deduction, exemption, or credit.

Can I claim a child as a dependent?

You may be able to claim a child as a dependent and qualify for the Child Tax Credit. All of the following will need to be true for you to claim the credit:

  • Dependent Taxpayer: You cannot claim any dependents if you or your spouse filing jointly can be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer.

  • Joint Return: You cannot claim a married person that files a joint tax return unless the joint return is only a claim for refund and there would be no tax liability for either spouse on separate returns.

  • Citizen or Resident: Needs to be a US citizen, US resident alien, US national, or resident of Canada.

  • Relationship: The dependent can be your son, daughter, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, adopted child or an offspring of any of them.

  • Age: Must be under age 19 at the end of the year and younger than you. Or under age 24 and a full-time student in school for at least 5 months out of the year. Or there's no age limit if your child is permanently and totally disabled.

  • Residency: Must live with you for more than half the year; however, several exceptions apply.

  • Support: The child may have a job, but they cannot provide more than half of their own support.

  • Tiebreaker Rules: If the qualifying child could be claimed as a dependent for more than one taxpayer, please refer to the tiebreaker rules.

What are the tiebreaker rules?

The tiebreaker rules come into effect when more than one taxpayer wants to claim a qualifying dependent.

  • Relationship: If only one of the taxpayers is the parent of the qualifying child, they will be the one to claim them.

    • Note: Per the IRS, for purposes of these rules, the term “parent” means a biological or adoptive parent of an individual. It does not include a stepparent or foster parent unless that person has adopted the individual.

  • Split Parents: If the taxpayers do not file a joint return, the IRS will grant the qualifying child based on the following:

    • Greater Residency: The taxpayer who the child lived with for a greater amount of time during the year.

    • Equal Residency: If the qualifying child lived with the taxpayers an equal amount of time, the taxpayer who has the larger AGI (adjusted gross income) will be eligible to claim them.

  • Income: If neither parent is eligible to claim the qualifying child, they will go to the nonparent taxpayer with the larger AGI.

Examples of this rule per the IRS can be found here.

Can I claim someone else as a dependent?

You may be able to claim someone as a dependent if they are considered a qualifying relative and don’t meet the criteria for the Child Tax Credit. Instead, they may qualify for the Credit for Other Dependents. All of the following will need to be true for you to claim the credit:

  • Eligibility: Cannot be a qualifying child of any taxpayer.

  • Residency: They must live at your residence all year or be on the list of “relatives who do not live with you” in Publication 501.

  • Income: They can't have a gross income of more than $4,700.00 in 2023.

  • Support: You must provide more than half of your relative’s total support each year.

You can view more information about the Credit for Other Dependents here. You can also refer to the Does My Child/Dependent Qualify for the Child Tax Credit or the Credit for Other Dependents? IRS tool for more information.

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