|Rose Hudson, college student|
Answer: Whether you can claim yourself on your tax return does NOT depend on whether your parents actually claim you as their dependent. It depends on whether they *could* have claimed you under the applicable tax laws.
If any other taxpayers qualify to claim you as their dependent, you may NOT claim an exemption for yourself on your own tax return, even if they choose not to exercise their right to claim you.
That is why our official IRS Intake/Interview sheet asks:
Notice the wording. It is quite deliberate. We are not asking "Is anyone else claiming you?" We are asking "Can anyone else claim you?"
You can see the same kind of wording right on the IRS Form 1040 tax return itself:
IRS Pub 17 (the definitive advice for laypeople) further reinforces the message by explicitly stating:
Your Own Exemption
You can take one exemption for yourself unless you can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer. If another taxpayer is entitled to claim you as a dependent, you cannot take an exemption for yourself even if the other taxpayer does not actually claim you as a dependent.
So, naturally enough, this leads to
Frequently Asked Question #2: How do I know if another taxpayer can claim me on their return?
That turns out to be a complicated question for many taxpayers, including many young people and some very low income disabled or elderly citizens who may not be providing all of their own support, so we will save it for the next post.
In the meantime, I will leave you with a case study from the VITA volunteer workbook. Rose Hudson, the fictitious college student who also works as a restaurant manager, has checked the box on her Intake/Interview form to indicate that she does not believe that any other taxpayer can claim her.
However, experience shows that many taxpayers are confused about these matters, and given her age and student status and the fact she lived with her parents for at least part of the year raises questions about whether she can--in fact--claim herself. Before going ahead and assuming that Rose can claim herself because she believes nobody else can claim her, we need to actually go through the information she has given us and ask sufficient additional questions to be sure whether she is right in saying that nobody else can claim her.
You can find Rose's tax documents and the notes taken by her interviewer at this link. Feel free to take a look and see what you think. You may find it helpful to use IRS Pub 4012 Tab C, IRS Pub 17, and/or IRS Pub 501 as references.