Is 19-year-old still a dependent?

George Saenz
March 20, 2012
George Saenz
George Saenz

Dear Tax Talk,
I have a son who is 19 and has lived with me for nine months of the year and is not a student.

I have provided more than half of his support. He was employed for two months over the summer, making less than $2,600 for the year.

Can I still claim him as a dependent? If so, do I put his income down under mine or does it even need to be claimed, or does he have to file a tax return?
-- Tisha


Dear Tisha,
The rules for claiming dependents can be quite confusing. There are two types of dependents: qualifying children, or QC, and qualifying relatives, or QR. A QC is a lineal descendant of you or your siblings (e.g., child, grandchild or nephew, including by adoption or a foster child). A QC can have any amount of gross income. Justin Bieber can be a QC.

A QR may be related in an expanded context or even unrelated if they live with you for the entire year. A QR cannot earn more than the personal exemption amount in gross income ($3,650 in 2010) regardless of age or student status.

A QC has to live with you -- disregarding temporary absences to attend school -- for more than half of the year. A related QR does not have to live with you.

To be a QC, the dependent must not provide more than half of his or her support. You have to provide more than half of the support of a QR.

To qualify as a QC, the person must be:

  • Under age 19 at the end of the year, or
  • Under age 24 and a be a full-time student for at least five months out of the year, or
  • Any age and totally and permanently disabled.

If a lineal descendant can't be your QC, he or she may still qualify as a QR. Since your son is age 19 at the end of the year, you cannot claim him as a QC in 2010. If he goes back to school in 2011, you would claim him as a QC; otherwise, you have to look at the rules relating to claiming him as a QR.

The earned (i.e., from work) income of a dependent is always his or her income and does not get included with the income of the parent. Filing requirements vary with filing status, dependency and age. Generally, any individual with less than the personal exemption amount in income is not required to file a return. Hence, your son is not required to file a tax return.

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To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Taxpayers should seek professional advice based on their particular circumstances.

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