single parent tax

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 or a side hustle 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 2019 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.

Which parent should claim child on taxes?

Which parent should claim child on taxes?

That depends. 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. If you have 50/50 custody, though, it could be hard to say who “financially supports” the child.

Talking this over with your ex should be part of the child custody agreement. For example, suppose that you have primary physical custody but your ex pays child support equal to more than six months’ worth of total expenses. They might want to claim the kiddo, and you might agree to let them do it as part of the separation or divorce agreement.

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.

If “who pays more” is a potential issue, don’t worry: There’s an app for that. Co-parenting apps like Fayr let you track expenses right down to the penny. Which is a good thing, because some kid-related expenses are sneaky. You’re likely to remember paying for the shoes and the sports fees and medical co-pays, but fail to factor in stuff like shoe-waterproofing spray, new shin guards and after-practice snacks, and cold meds and extra tissues.

The apps aren’t just for bean-counting, though. They help prevent scheduling mishaps, make it easier to share info (“He’s got strep throat so you’ll need to pick him up here rather than at school”), and let you and your ex create a co-parenting plan that focuses your attention where it ought to be: on those kids you share.

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.

In my family, this is something that had to be re-negotiated after our initial divorce agreement, since our incomes changed. Once 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
  • Stepchildren
    • Foster children
    • Grandchildren whom you support financially

Exemptions for parents

The personal exemption of $4,050 was eliminated as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 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, 2019, 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 2019 tax year, the standard deduction is $18,350 for head of household (that's $350 more than the previous year). This compares with $12,200 for single taxpayers and those who are married and filing separately, and $24,400 if you're married and filing jointly or if you're a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child.

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, 2019, and phase-out starts at $200,000 income for single and head-of-household filers, or $400,000 for married couples.

The tax reform bill made 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 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.

Alimony law change for 2019 and beyond

Until Jan. 1, 2019, alimony was deductible for the payor (97% of alimony payers are men, according to 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 2019 tax year, the earned income credit ranges from $529 to $6,557 depending on your filing status and how many children you have.

The maximum income requirement for the 2019 earned income credit is:

$41,094 for a head of household with one child.

$46,703 for a head of household with two children.

$50,162 for a head of household filer with three children.

Adoption cost tax credit changes for 2019

If you adopted a child and the process was finalized in 2019, you are eligible for up to $14,080 per child in federal tax credits (that's $240 more than the previous year).  Phaseouts apply beginning with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $211,160 and completely phased out for taxpayers with MAGI of $251,160 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
  • Mortgage interest (for mortgages of $750,000 or less), property taxes, and mortgage insurance
  • Points you paid to obtain a mortgage
  • For 2019, 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 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 2019?

Employers have to deliver (or at least postmark) tax-related paperwork by Jan. 31 each year. If you have all your documents before then, you can file your taxes any time you want before the deadline. The last day to file taxes for tax year 2019 is April 15, 2020.

If you are self-employed, don't forget your quarterly estimates.

For the 2019 tax year, quarterly estimated taxes are due:

April 15, 2020

June 15, 2020

September 15, 2020

January 15, 2021

You don’t have to make your 2020 4th-quarter payment if you filed your full 2020 tax return by January 15, 2021, 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 2019

If you are unable to file your 2019 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, 2020.

To file an extension, you have a few options.

  1. Pay your accountant or tax preparer to file it for you.
  2. Print out the IRS form and mail it in.
  3. 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!

About Emma Johnson founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


  1. Robbie on March 26, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Is this federal or provincial? Which province?

  2. Kaitlyn on January 25, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Lessons? I was under the impression those did not qualify…

    • Emma on January 26, 2017 at 7:19 am

      Yes, in general that is considered a hobby … but you might be able to deduct them if they are provided through an after-school program or day camp.

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