Glossary: Filing Status

Income Tax space on Game BoardFederal tax returns allow for 5 filing statuses on a tax return:

  1. Single
  2. Head of household
  3. Married filing jointly
  4. Married filing separately
  5. Qualifying widow(er)


Straightforward. An unmarried person who (generally) doesn’t have kids. It’s also possible that an unmarried who has kids might not qualify for head of household filing status and so they would also file as single.

Head of Household

Generally refers to an unmarried person who has kids. In order to qualify for this status, the taxpayer must pay more than 50% of the costs of maintaining the home.

Married Filing Jointly

Straightforward. A married couple that combines their income and deductions.

Married Filing Separately

A married couple that elects to file two separate tax returns, splitting items of income and deductions.

Qualifying Widow(er)

Refers to a married person whose spouse dies and children remain in the household. The surviving spouse files as married in the year of death, and then as a qualifying widow(er) in the next two tax years. This filing status uses the same tax brackets as married filing jointly.

What Does It All Mean?

Each filing status comes with its own tax bracket. Various rules, such as phaseouts of deductions and credits, vary with filing status.

Is One Status Better than Others?

As with everything with taxes, the answer is “it depends.” One common myth is that married filing jointly is “always” better. IT IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER.

It is true that, in general, married filing separately is the worst filing status of all, but again, that’s not always the case.