Head of Household is a tax filing status reserved for the qualifying taxpayer who is not married or considered not married on the last day of the year, paid half the cost of maintaining a home and had at least one qualifying dependent. The advantage of claiming HOH filing status is a tax rate lower than that for a single person or married people filing separate returns.
Tax payers who will benefit from the HOH filing status are usually divorced or widowed spouses or unmarried children who can claim parents or grandparents as dependents. A qualifying dependent must be related to the taxpayer and can even be a brother or sister, if all dependent tests are met.
In addition to getting a better tax rate, in fact, almost as good as for married people filing joint returns, the HOH status allows the taxpayer to claim a personal exemption for the qualifying dependent for HOH purposes, as well as any other qualifying dependents. The Head of Household filing status also comes with a more generous standard deduction, and HOH filers may also qualify for the Earned Income Credit. All in all its a pretty good deal for those who can take advantage of it.
The rules to qualify as Head of Household for tax filing purposes are pretty stringent, and it is an area the IRS monitors closely. One mistake that often occurs is the case of divorced spouses who try to claim the same dependent(s) for purposes of claiming the HOH status. Table 2-1 on page 25 of IRS Publication 17 provides an excellent table detailing the criterion for qualifying dependent with respect to HOH.
Of course, before the taxpayer can even consider claiming HOH status they must demonstrate that they are maintaining the cost of a household. Rent or mortgage interest payments, property taxes, utilities, groceries (food eaten in the home), insurance, repairs and maintenance, are all cost that are included in determining cost of maintaining a household. The taxpayer must keep accurate records establishing that in aggregate they are paying more than half of these costs. Financial assistance such as food stamps or a housing allowance from a federal or state agency is taken into account when establishing HOH status and cannot represent more than half of the taxpayers cost in maintaining the household.
The Head of Household status is provided to give single taxpayers who must keep up a home for their dependents a break on their taxes. When it is not abused it actually benefits all tax payers because it provides an incentive for people to take care of their own family members. This reduces dependence on social services provided by government agencies for which all tax payers pick up the tab. Maybe even more important, all Americans benefit by being part of a country where humanity and benevolence towards their fellow citizens, who by circumstance have ended up with a hard row to hoe, can be contributing members of society.
IRS Publication 17 – http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p17.pdf