Today TaxMama hears from Vera in the Tax Quips Forum with a question that affects many families. “I am a single parent claiming HOH. My son went off to college for September 1st, 2011. Until then he lived here with me, worked and also attended college here. We always filed separately with me being HOH. How do I file this coming tax time? Can I claim him 8 months and he claims himself 4? He did work while he was living at home and of course now that he is on his own, has his own rent and tuition that he pays on his own, he wants to claim it all.

 Dear Vera,

Essentially, the law says that a full-time student under the age of 24 is a dependent of the parent, whether he wants to be or not. So, since you supported him for more than half the year, you should be claiming him as your dependent for 2011.

However, there is an exception to the law, which will come into play next year. If he supports himself, for the most part, next year – then in 2012, even though he is under age 24, he can claim himself.

IRS Publication 501 – Support Test – To meet this test, the child cannot have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year.

Only one of you gets to claim him, it’s all or nothing.  

Now, there is one more thing to consider. For 2011, who gets the better tax benefit from claiming your son’s exemption? You probably do – because you can be head of household, get tax credits for his education, etc.

Here’s what I’d like to suggest. Figure the taxes both ways – with you claiming him, and with him claiming himself. Then, you go ahead and claim the exemption. Share some of the tax break with your son to make up for the some of the tax benefits he loses by not fighting you on this.

Next year, change your withholding to make up for the higher taxes you will be paying. Alas.

And remember, you can find answers to all kinds of questions about students as dependents, and other tax issues, free. Where? Where else? At www.TaxMama.com.

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