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Can You Claim Your Sweetheart on Your Tax Return?

Lisa Greene-Lewis

Valentine's Day is all about that special someone in your life, but have you ever wondered if your date across the dinner table might actually be able to save you money on your tax return? Dependents, which can range from a girlfriend to a child or even a friend, are often an area where tax deductions are either missed or misstated on tax returns.

To help taxpayers navigate this gray area, here are the tests necessary to claim someone as your dependent--and some of the tax benefits available for claiming the one you love:

First and foremost, whether they are your child or your Valentine:

-- You cannot claim them if you can be claimed as a dependent by another person.

-- They cannot file a joint tax return (in most cases).

-- They must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

In order to claim a child as a dependent, these five additional tests must be met:

-- Relationship: Must be your child, adopted child, foster-child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these (grandchild or nephew).

-- Residence: Must have the same residence for more than half the year.

-- Age: Must be under age 19 or under 24 and a full-time student for at least 5 months. Can be any age if they are totally and permanently disabled.

-- Support: Must not have provided more than half of their own support during the year.

-- Joint support: The child cannot file a joint return for the year.

These four tests determine where a relative or sweetheart qualifies as a dependent:

-- They are not the "qualifying child" of another taxpayer or your "qualifying child."

-- Gross income: Dependent earns less than $3,800 taxable income in Tax Year 2012 and $3,700 in Tax Year 2011.

-- Total support: You provide more than half of the total support for the year.

-- Member of household or relationship: The person must live with you all year as a member of your household or be one of the relatives who doesn't have to live with you (see IRS Publication 501 for a list of qualifying relatives.)

You can even claim a boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner, or friend as a qualifying relative if:

-- They are a member of your household the entire year.

-- The relationship between you and the dependent does not violate the law, meaning you can't still be married to someone else. Also check your individual state law, since some states do not allow you to claim a boyfriend or girlfriend as a dependent even if your relationship doesn't violate the law.

-- You meet the other criteria for "qualifying relatives" (gross income and support).

Once you've determined who in your life can be claimed as a dependent, be sure to take advantage of the following tax deductions and credits:

-- Dependent exemption: Have you been supporting your boyfriend or girlfriend? If he or she meets the above tests, this may entitle you to a deduction of $3,800.

-- Dependent care credit: Allows you to claim up to $2,100 of your eligible dependent care costs for two or more dependents.

-- Child tax credit: Depending on your income, you can claim up to $1,000 per qualifying child--helping to reduce your federal taxes.

It costs a lot to support our children and sometimes even our friends who have been living on the couch for the past year. But taking advantage of these tax tips will provide you with some relief and well-deserved tax savings this Valentine's Day.

Lisa Greene-Lewis, Lead CPA, American Tax & Financial Center at TurboTax has more than 15 years of experience in tax preparation, including positions as a public auditor, controller, and operations manager. For up-to-date tax tips and tax news, go to the TurboTax Blog.

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