If relatives live with you, can they be tax dependents?
Awkward but honest conversation: Claiming yourself on your tax forms
Writer’s note: This post was originally published in Medium’s “We Need to Talk” blog series on December 20, 2022.
It’s year-end and people are scrambling to make sure they’ve paid all their state and federal taxes, donated to charities out of the kindness of their hearts (and the tax write-off), and self-employed workers are double-checking their Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals. Next year (as is the case every year), overlooking these things could cost them greatly when it comes to tax refunds.
But there’s one group of people who are banking on a specific type of tax money flow. This group is adamant about claiming their roommate family member as a dependent. If you live with this person, this conversation can get awkward very fast.
Dependents: The IRS defines a dependent as a qualifying child (under age 19 — or under 24 if a full-time student — or any age if permanently and totally disabled). Qualified relatives also are eligible. A qualifying dependent may earn income but cannot provide more than half of their own annual support.
I recall someone asking me if he could claim me as a dependent when I was in my early 20s. He said he’d make sure to pay me from whatever his tax refund would be, but he didn’t have an exact amount. I told him no and that I preferred to claim myself. I’d done the math on my full-time job after graduation. It was possible that I’d make a pretty penny. Additionally, I thought it was an odd question to ask, considering my own parents had stopped claiming me as a dependent as soon as “teen” was no longer on the end of my age.
What I didn’t expect was for the person who asked me to be his tax dependent to get so mad. I thought it was a conversational question. Meanwhile, my answer made him stop talking to me for several months. The same attitude that some people have when you opt out of letting them borrow money from you was exactly this person’s response to me not wanting to be his dependent. And once I found that out, I never looked at him the same again.
This becomes an even more uncomfortable question for those who live with someone. While they may need a place to stay and could potentially be paying bills, rent, babysitting, dogsitting or offering their services in other ways, they may still be faced with the same question.
Qualifying relatives (who are not minors): They must live at your home all year or be included in the “relatives who do not live with you” in Publication 501. (There are approximately 30 relatives on this list, according to Turbo Tax.) They cannot make more than $4,400 annually (in 2022). No one else can claim them as a dependent nor can they claim a dependent (ex. a roommate cousin moved into your home but wants to claim her son on her own taxes).