A dependent is a person, often a child or other qualifying relative, who a taxpayer supports financially. Before 2018, taxpayers could claim a "dependency exemption" for each of their dependents. Claiming this exemption lowered the income they owe taxes on. Taxpayers aren't able to claim personal or dependent exemptions through 2025 due to a congressional act passed in 2017. The rules and tests that determine who's eligible for an exemption apply to other tax benefits, too, so it's important to know who qualifies.
Who counts as a dependent?
A dependent is a "qualifying" child, relative, or non-relative. In this case, "qualifying" means that the person meets a lineup of criteria from the IRS. If someone you support meets those criteria, they're your dependent.
For most, it's as easy as claiming a child who lives at home. Or perhaps a parent to whom they provide significant support (over 50%). Families are complex, though, and sometimes other relatives also qualify.
How do I know if my dependent "qualifies"?
There are different tests for each of the types of individuals you might claim as a dependent—children, relatives, and non-relatives. For a taxpayer to claim the person as a dependent, the dependent will need to pass all of the tests for their category.
I have a qualifying dependent. What does this mean for my taxes?
Dependents reduce your taxes significantly by creating eligibility for certain tax credits. April will ask you about your dependents and take care of the details for you.
It's important to note that you can't claim a dependency exemption for a person who's claimed as a dependent on someone else's return. So if you are divorced, you and your ex-spouse will not be able to claim your child(ren) the same year. Your divorce decree likely specifies the years that each of you can claim them.