Claiming Parent As Dependent On Tax Return

Reader Bill asked me if it’s possible to list his parents as dependents on his tax return. Bill’s parents are foreign citizens. They came to visit him and lived with him for eight months last year.

We are all familiar with children as dependents. Can parents also be dependents for tax purposes?

I consulted my favorite tax book. I see Bill and his parents will have to meet several requirements before Bill can claim his parents as dependents on his tax return.

Citizenship or Residency

A dependent must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien or a resident of Canada or Mexico. Immigrants who send money home to support their family elsewhere can’t claim their family as dependents when the family members are not U.S. citizens or residents.

Bill’s parents are foreign citizens. For them to be U.S. residents, they must either have Green Cards or be physically present in the U.S. for 183 days or more. The 183 days are counted as 100% of the days in the current year, plus 1/3 of the days in the previous year, plus 1/6 of the days two years ago.

Because Bill’s parents lived with him for eight months, which is more than 183 days, they meet the residency requirement.

Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number

Form 1040 requires a Social Security number or tax identification number for each dependent.

If Bill’s parents don’t have a Social Security number, they can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) with a W-7 Form.

Gross Income

This is perhaps the toughest requirement. A “qualifying relative” dependent can’t have $3,700 or more in gross income in the tax year. This number is as of 2011 and it’s per parent. It’s adjusted for inflation each year.

U.S. residents are taxed on worldwide income. The parents’ income from their home country also counts toward the $3,700 number. Although not relevant to Bill’s parents, non-taxable income, for example Social Security or tax-exempt interest, doesn’t count.

If Bill’s parents don’t have that much income, they meet the income requirement for being a dependent. When their income is that low, they also don’t have to file a U.S. tax return themselves.

Relationship

A “qualifying relative” isn’t limited to a parent. It can also be a sibling, a grandparent, a niece or nephew, or some in-laws (parent in-law, brother or sister in-law, son or daughter in-law).

Bill’s parents meet the relationship requirement.

Support

The person claiming the dependent must provide more than 50% of the dependent’s support during the tax year. The 50% number can be shared among several people (say siblings) if other support providers vow not to claim the same person as a dependent.

Providing food and shelter for eight months is providing support. Unless his parents paid their own support somehow, Bill meets the support requirement.

If all the requirements are met, each dependent will give Bill a $3,700 tax exemption, which is similar to a tax deduction. For two parents, that’s $7,400. At a marginal rate of 30% (federal and state), the extra exemption is worth about $2,200. It’s definitely worth it to claim the parents as dependents if they satisfy all the requirements.

Reference: IRS Publication 501

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Comments

  1. Alex says

    I was in a similar situation. You can figure out the case when you can claim your parents or other close relatives from other countries as your dependents. And it is all laid out here nicely.
    The comment I have is that you generally should not allow your relatives to live with you for longer than 183 days as they may have problems with getting an American VISA in future. The reason is simple – uncle Sam does not want them to be considered as “residents” for tax purposes. This is of course unofficial but experience shows that it is at least mostly true.

  2. Milton says

    and if the parents have less than $3650 income each… say $3000. Is that income just ignored or added to your return in like income for children?

  3. Samid says

    The citizenship/residency requirement is not entirely true. The dependent can also be residing in Mexico or Canada without ever having to touch US soil. I know this because I have done it myself.

  4. taylor says

    Now is the 3,650 the exemption and the marginal rate added, or is it a total of 3,650.
    now is that including head of household tax or is that separate?

  5. says

    taylor – The $3,650 was the exemption for 2010 tax year. The exemption is $3,700 for 2011. You then apply the marginal rate for your tax savings due to this extra exemption. If the marginal rate is 25%, your savings would be 25% of $3,700. It doesn’t include the effect of qualifying as head of household because the taxpayer may very well be married. If you are single and claiming a parent as dependent makes you qualify as a head of household, any additional tax savings would be separate.

  6. Jerry Grayson says

    For US residency you wrote ” they must either have Green Cards or be physically present in the USA for 183 days or more”. What happens if a parent has been in the USA during 2011 for 1.5 (1 1/2) months and was issued a green card and SS# about 2-3 weeks after their arrival? Since this is less than 183 days do they still qualify as my dependents during 2011?

  7. Priyam says

    My scenario is like this:

    My parents and I came to US on 23rd July 2011, we all have got Green Card. They left for India after a month and I am living here doing job. My questions are,

    Can I claim them as dependent in tax refund?

  8. SK says

    Very good information. I have 2 question.
    1. Is this applicable for ALL states in US ?
    2. As mentioned by users above they are here only for 179 days as mentioned above uncle SAM give American VISA only for 6 months.

    So are we eligible for Claiming a Parent As a Dependent ?

  9. Sean says

    My tax accountant told me two things that are slightly different:
    1) To be claimed as dependant, the foreign parents must present in the US for over 6 month in the current year, and none of the days in previous years can be counted.
    2) The “current year ” doesn’t have to be calendar year. It can be any consecutive 12 month period.

    Is he right?

  10. Rose says

    If I claim my parent as a dependent of mine, will they find out — will they be notified, or will they find out next year when they file?? They didn’t have to file this year, but if they found out that would be humiliating for them.

  11. Moe says

    My parents have Green Cards and I have been claiming them as dependents on my taxes for years now as I provide for their support. Now they filed for themselves last year (2010) as well with no income and no return. The reason for that was to have a record in IRS system for their filing which is a requirement for US Citizenship as they are applying for it soon. This year I claimed them dependent like I always had and my e file was rejected that one of the SS is already been used. So I had to paper file… Any thoughts on this situation? As I first thought this was an ID Theft situation.

  12. Sagar says

    Hello,

    My parents lived in the US in 2011 for 179 days.
    They lived in the US in 2010 for 165 days.
    Both times, they visited US on a B2 visa.
    They are retired and do not work in the home country (India) and do not pay taxes there.

    CAN I CLAIM THEM AS MY DEPENDENTS ON 2011 TAX RETURN?

    Thanks.

  13. haleem says

    My parents lost their job and have no source of income right now, I moved in on feb. 15th 2012 to help with the bills and i’m their main source of income right now. Can I claim them and my 2 younger brothers? And how much will I get back..Every penny will I get back will help out allot!

  14. says

    haleem – Every calendar year is tabulated separately. You will have to run down the list in the article and see if your parents or 2 younger brothers qualify as your dependents in 2011. How much you will get back depends on your taxable income.

  15. jules says

    Hi, I just want to give kudos to you for the nice job you doing? Please I would like to know about this, can my brother who is an American Citizen file for me as a dependant, to come stay with him in the states? Thanks

  16. says

    I have been taking care of my parents and niece part of the year with help.m Am I eligible for any kind of tax dedution for this coming year. My parents health has been bad and they take care of my niece. My dad draws SSD and my niece draws SS off of her mother. It is very little income that they get. Its like 1500.00 monthly. But bny the time rent and utilities are paid they have very little to go on and this is were I come into effect. Please let me know if there is anything available for us. Thank you

  17. Ruth says

    My parents live out of state and live off their social security and what I give them exceeds the $3,700 a year, can I still claim them as dependents?

  18. Rafi says

    HI,
    wife and I are both US Citizens, her mom lives in eastern europe/ she needs major medical surg and she is in hospital and nursing home/ we are providing financial support $300 – 500 month and sometimes more.
    Do we have any tax benefit for helping out? we have bank receipts . shall we apply for ITIN #?
    Thank you for your help.

    Regards
    Rafi

  19. Mary-Anne says

    Thank you so much for the great info!!!I had my Mom here in 2012 for 6 months, over 183 days…she doesn’t have any income close to $3650.00 Hope I can claim her this year. She came from Bulgaria. She is not a sitizen.neither a resident. Do I need to get a ITIN for her? Or I can just claim her….

  20. Ankur says

    Hi. My Parent visited US last year and they stayed here total of 183 days (164 days in 2012 and 19 days in 2013). My CPA told me that i can include them as my depended and get tax benefits. I’m not sure whether i follow my CPA words or not as i don’t any complication in my tax returns. I did some research on this and get divided opinion and there is no unified way to go forward. Could anyone tell me is it correct for me to do so as i don’t want any issues from IRS as i’m going to apply for GC very shortly. Please suggest me what to do in my case.

    Thanks in advance!
    Ankur

  21. ilda says

    Hi, My husband has sponsored his parents and they now have lived with us for 1 year and we have been supporting them with everything. Can we claim them as a dependent on our tax return??

    Thanks..

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