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Can You Claim Your Adult Children on Your Taxes?

It's possible, but after they turn 19, the rules become complicated

By Penelope Lemov

 

Let’s start with the simplest case. If your child was 19 to 24 and a full-time college student for at least five months of the year, the exemption is yours for the taking, so long as you provided at least half of his or her support.

(MORE: Why I Bought My Son a Roth IRA)

This isn't a high bar to meet for parents of undergrads or grad students. “If you’re paying for their education, it’s a no-brainer,” says Harold Miller, a CPA in New Haven, Conn. “That’s the largest expense in supporting them.”

 

When calculating whether you provided more than half of the support, you don’t need to factor in any scholarships or financial aid your child received. Nor do you need to count gifts from grandparents, as long as your son or daughter saved or invested the money. 

“If you’re paying for more than half of their support while they are in college, they could have a summer job and earn $5,000, and that’s still OK,” says Barbara Weltman, an attorney and contributing editor at J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax 2013.

 

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That’s an increasingly common phenomenon. In the wake of the Great Recession, with a great number of recent college grads unable to find work, many have moved back home. According to the most recent census data, 19 percent of men ages 25 to 34 — and 10 percent of women in the same age range — live with their parents.

(MORE: The New Fiscal Cliff Law and Your Retirement)

 

Although the dependency exemption is fairly sizable, keep in mind that it’s a deduction from income, not a credit against your taxes. So its actual value depends on your tax bracket. For example, at the 25 percent bracket (taxable income between $70,700 and $142,700 for couples filing jointly), a $3,800 exemption is worth $950.

“It’s a nice amount, but not anywhere near what it costs to support a child,” says Marty Kurtz, president of the Financial Planners Association and a planner in Moline, Ill.

Penelope Lemov is the founder and writer-in-chief of the blog Parenting Grown Children. She is also a financial columnist for Governing, a national magazine and website. Read More
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