Updated Jan. 8, 2019 to reflect the newest tax laws.
Gah! Taxes! No one likes them (except maybe accountants and sadists), but you and I know we have to deal with them.
As a single mom or dad, there are specific considerations you must take when filing your taxes — things your married parents don’t have to deal with, and stuff that your friends without children have no idea about.
If you are self-employed (like I am as a full-time writer and business owner, or if you have a side-gig like driving for Uber, tutoring, or babysitting), things can get even more complicated.
Check TurboTax Self Employed is an affordable, easy-to-use tool that quickly helps you file both your business and personal taxes online, including with a live help option.
Here is the down-and-dirty about what single parents must know about your 2018 tax filing
There are some new rules, and income requirements that differ from last year. But the bottom line remains: File early, take all the deductions you are legitimately entitled to, and ask expert advice from a reputable tax preparer like TurboTax Online if/when you get stuck.
Determine who you can claim as a dependent as a single mom
The more kids you can count as a dependent, the higher the deductions. Your number of dependents determines whether you can take any number of other credits and deductions.
This is usually stipulated in a separation or divorce agreement, and the parent who would normally claim the child can agree to sign a waiver allowing a non-custodial parent to make the claim. You cannot split this deduction for a single child, but some parents agree to take turns claiming children on alternate years. Or, if there are two or more children, you and your ex might agree that each parent can claim one of the kids. However, the IRS determines that a child is a dependent based on if the child lived with a parent for at least six months and was financially supported for the same time by that same parent.
In my family, this is something that had to be re-negotiated after our initial divorce agreement, since our incomes changed. One I earned the money, I took the kids as deductions on my taxes.
You can claim as dependents:
- Yourself, if you cannot be claimed as someone else’s dependent
- Your children, if they're under 19 years old, or under 24 years old if they're full-time students, as long as they don't provide more than half of their own financial support
- Foster children
- Grandchildren whom you support financially
Exemptions for parents
For tax year 2018, the personal exemption ($4,050 in 2017) has been eliminated. However, there are increased credits and deductions, detailed below …
Head of household status if you're a single mom
If you were unmarried on Dec. 31, 2018, earn at least 50 percent of your household income and your kids live with you for 6 months of the year or more total, file as head of household. This usually affords you a lower tax rate, and higher deductions.
As of the 2018 tax year, the standard deduction is $18,000 for head of household. This compares with $12,000 for single taxpayers and those who are married and filing separately, and $24,000 if you're married and filing jointly or if you're a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child.
This is up significantly from the 2017 tax year when these deductions were set at $6,350, $12,700, and $9,350 respectively. Whoo-hoo!
Tax credits for children
Parents and legal guardians can take $2,000 off their tax bill for each dependent kid who was aged 17 and younger on Dec. 31, 2018, and phase-out starts at $200,000 income for single and head-of-household filers, or $400,000 for married couples.
This doubles the credit from 2017.
Starting with tax year 2018, the tax reform bill makes up to $1,400 of the credit amount refundable, meaning parents can get back up to $1,400 for each kid.
However, the refundable portion of the credit is capped at 15% of any earned income higher than $4,500.
Child care deductions for single moms
Heads of household who have an income or are full-time students can get the new child-care credit (not deduction) of up to $3,000 of dependent care expenses if you have only one qualifying child or other dependent, and up to $6,000 if you have two or more dependents.
The amount of the credit ranges from 20 to 35 percent of your allowable expenses, depending on your adjusted gross income. As your income increases, the percentage of your allowable expenses that you claim decreases. If your adjusted gross income exceeds $43,000, the maximum credit you can receive is 20 percent.
Dependent care spending account tax changes
If this tax-sheltering benefit is available through your employer or business, single heads of household can contribute up to $5,000 tax-free to pay for child care expenses for dependent children. For some small business owners (like me), it can make sense to set up a spending account to shelter this income. This is unchanged from 2017 tax year.
Alimony law change for 2019 and beyond
Until Jan. 1, 2019, alimony was deductible for the payor (97% of alimony payors are men, according the Census data), and taxable for the recipient (women).
That's over now.
The new law applies to divorces finalized after Dec. 31, 2018. If you're getting a divorce this year or later, any alimony will no longer be a deduction — or considered income.
For divorce decrees issue prior to January 1, 2019, alimony will continue to be deductible for the payor, and taxable to the recipient. Just like the good ol' days.
Earned income tax credit for single parents
For the 2018 tax year, the earned income credit ranges from $519 to $6,431 depending on your filing status and how many children you have.
The maximum income requirement for the 2018 earned income credit is:
$40,320 for a head of household with one child.
$45,802 for a head of household with two children.
$49,194 for a head of household filer with three children.
Adoption cost tax credit changes for 2018
If you adopted a child and the process was finalized in 2018, you are eligible for up to $13,840 per child in federal tax credits. Phaseouts apply beginning with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $207,580 and completely phased out for taxpayers with MAGI of $247,580 or more.
This is one case where the federal government is a beautiful organization supporting families. Muah, IRS!
Estimate how much you owe, with this TurboTax calculator.
Commonly missed tax deductions
The federal government estimates that the average filer misses more than $6,000 in deductions! Don’t be one of them! These can include:
- Medical expenses exceeding 10 percent of your gross adjusted income, or (pr 7.5 percent if you're older than 65)
- Mortgage interest (for mortgages of $750,000 or less), property taxes, and mortgage insurance
- Points you paid to obtain a mortgage
- For 2018, the max deduction for student loan interest remains at $2,500. Phaseouts start with incomes of $65,000.
- Charitable contributions (just one more reason to give)
- Job search expenses, like resume consulting, networking events, gas and other expenses to attend conferences and job interviews. If you are an ambitious single parent working towards your career goals, I hope this deduction was a big one.
Preparing your taxes, and finding all the hidden deductions, doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. TurboTax products, automatically helps single parent tax filers maximize deductions, including those for single moms and dads. Lord knows we need all the deductions we can get! TurboTax products feature great user-friendly features!
Tax changes for the self-employed
There is a 20% deduction on all qualified business income starting in 2018 for federal returns. This includes sole proprietor, S-corps, rental property income. The phase-out ranges for this benefit is $315,000–$415,000 for married joint filers, and $157,500–$207,500 for everyone else.
TurboTax Self-Employed automatically finds this and other tax savings.
When can you file taxes for 2018?
The IRS began accepting tax returns on Jan. 29. The last day to file taxes for tax year 2018 is April 17, 2019 – so you have two additional days to file beyond the traditional deadline of April 15.
If you are self-employed, don't forget your quarterly estimates.
For the 2018 tax year, quarterly estimated taxes were due:
April 18, 2018, June 15, 2018
September 17, 2018
January 15, 2019.
You don’t have to make your 2018 4th quarter payment if you filed your full 2018 tax return by January 31, 2019, and pay the entire balance due with your return. However, if you skipped a quarterly payment or pay late, you may be subject to a penalty.
How to file an extension for 2018
If you are unable to file your 2018 return by the April deadline, you’ll need to file an extension with the IRS, and/ or your state tax authority to avoid any late-filing or late payment penalties. This allows you to push your deadline back six months to October 15, 2019.
To file an extension, you have a few options.
- Pay your accountant or tax preparer to file it for you.
- Print out the IRS form and mail it in.
- Use TurboTax Easy Tax Extension software, and get an extension quickly, online.
Free tax filing
If your tax filing is very simple, without itemized deductions, no 1099s from side gigs or self-employment, or profits from any investments, you likely can get your taxes filed online for free with TurboTax. This covers W-2 income, Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) and child tax credits.
>>Check out TurboTax Free Edition now.
If you are self-employed, check out the TurboTax Self Employed to ensure you're getting all the deductions and write-offs you qualify for.
>>Look into TurboTax Self Employed if you're a freelancer.
If you have a different situation or you'd like help from a live accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA), you can contact TurboTax Live to file taxes.
>>Contact a TurboTax live expert about your tax return.
What tax deductions were you missing in the past? What tips do you have for easy filing? Share in the comments!
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.