Claiming Head Of House Hold fraudulently is one of the most common forms of tax fraud. 

Head of House hold is preferable over filing as single.  The difference between the two filing status’ can be hundreds, even thousands of dollars in the amount of your refund or tax bill.

Many people file as head of house hold because they honestly think they can, many others knowingly claim it when they know they shouldn’t. 

On the surface it seems very easy to claim head of house hold.  Many, if not most, tax filers today use on-line tax preparation software to file their returns and there is always a box there to be checked to file Head of Household. 

Checking that box instead of checking the single box can make the bottom line of your tax return go from red to black.  If you claim single you owe, if you claim Head of Household you get a refund. 

It’s not hard to see why so many people are tempted to claim head of house hold when they are not entitled to. 

To Qualify As The Head of Household The IRS States You Must Meet These Requirements:

 1. Unmarried.

2. Have paid for over half the cost of keeping up your home for a year (rent, utilities etc.) for yourself and your dependent.

3. A qualifying dependent lived with you for more than 6 months of the tax year you are filing for.

What Does This Mean?

If means, primarily, the Head of Household status is for single parents supporting a child in their home.

It does not mean a parent that pays child support which is a common misconception. 

If you pay child support you may, if the order stipulates, claim the child as a dependent.  This enables you to get the child credit but it still doesn’t now allow you to claim Head of Household.  To claim Head of Household the child must actually have lived with you for more than 6 months out of the year.

In fact, the custodial parent may allow you to claim the child as a dependent on your return while they can also file as Head of Household using the same child on their return.  The same child would show on one parent’s return to justify the Head of Household claim while also appearing on the other parent’s return as a dependent.  This is legitimate. 

Both parents claiming the child as a dependent or both parents filing as Head of Household is not legitimate and will raise a big red flag at the IRS.  At the very least they will ask one of you to amend your return.


A Mother and Father have one child that resides with the Mother.  The father pays child support to the mother each month.   The Divorce Decree allows the father to claim the child on his IRS return every odd year. 

This means the Father can claim the child as a dependent on his return in 2012.  He will receive the child tax credit of $1000 but should still file single on his return or married if that is the case.  He should not claim Head of Household as the child did not reside with him for more than 6 months.

What's The Difference Between Filing Single And Head Of Household?

The standard deduction in 2011 for a single filer was $5,800, in comparison the standard deduction for filing head of house hold was $8,500.  That’s a difference of $2,700 in your taxable income which can easily swing you into or out of a different tax bracket, costing or saving you hundreds of dollars on your return.

If you are entitled to the Head of Household then you would be a fool not to claim it.  However, if you aren’t entitled to claim it you run the risk of getting caught by the IRS in an audit.

Getting Caught:

The most common way filers get caught claiming the Head of Household status is when both parents claim the same child on their return. 

Do not claim the child on your return unless the custodial parent gives you permission to!

That said; if the child only appears on one filers return it should not raise a flag to the IRS.

Make sure you coordinate with the other parent before filing your taxes so you are both clear on who is claiming the child. 

This will prevent you from triggering and audit, having to amend your return and possibly from having to pay late fees, interest and penalties if you claimed head of household when you were not entitled to.