Dear Penny: If My Boyfriend Is My Dependent, Do I Get His Coronavirus Cash?

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Dear Penny,

My boyfriend hasn’t filed a tax return in decades, and I’ve been an independent contractor since 2017. 

I haven’t filed, but I have three years of 1099s. I’m filing ASAP. We have a child, and he is a stay-at-home dad. I’m head of household. 

I’m not working due to COVID-19. I groom dogs as an independent contractor and he informally assists me. 

I need the stimulus money for him to cover his living expenses, but we aren’t married. 

Can I claim him as a dependent? I pay his credit cards from my bank account. If not, how does one get a stimulus check for someone that hasn’t filed taxes in years but lives in the household and I’m financially responsible for?

-A.

Dear A.,

First off, I’m glad to hear you’re filing your taxes ASAP. Filing a return for 2018 or 2019 is essential so you can get the $1,200 coronavirus stimulus payment for yourself into your own pocket quickly. Provided that your child is under 17, you should get an additional $500 child coronavirus stimulus credit, so your benefit will be $1,700.

As for your boyfriend, the solution is a little more complicated. Can you claim him as a dependent? It sounds like he meets all the requirements. But is it your best option? Maybe not. Doing so won’t get you more stimulus money, but more on that shortly.

First, let’s talk about the rules for claiming someone who’s not your child as a dependent: He or she must be a citizen of the U.S., Canada or Mexico, and meet all four of the following tests: 

They can’t have income over $4,200 for the 2019 tax year. You must provide at least half of their support, even if he receives public assistance like SNAP benefits or housing assistance. They need to live in your home for all of the tax year. And you must be the only person who can claim that person as a dependent.

So it sounds like your boyfriend qualifies as your dependent. But you may not want to list him as such.

If you claim your boyfriend as your dependent, his stimulus payment will be exactly $0. You wouldn’t get the additional $500 for him, because you only receive this for dependent children 16 or younger. 

For your boyfriend to get the $1,200 payment, he’ll have to file his own tax return — without you claiming him as a dependent. This may be the better move. 

But before I go further, let me give you the standard disclaimer about how I’m not a CPA or a tax attorney, and I’m not qualified to give tax advice for your specific situation. So consider this general information about taxes.

One big incentive for claiming someone as a dependent went away in 2018. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the personal exemption, which previously let you knock $4,050 off your tax bill for each dependent you could claim. 

Since you’re filing as head of household — a status typically reserved for single parents whose children live with them for more than half the year — claiming your boyfriend as a dependent has no effect. In your case, you qualify for this status because you’re not married and have a child. 

Claiming your boyfriend as a dependent could allow you to get a $500 tax credit that’s unrelated to the coronavirus relief package. But putting on my Captain Obvious hat here: $1,200 is more than $500, so you might come out ahead if he files his own return.

Your boyfriend can still file a tax return for 2018 or 2019, even if he reports his income as $0. 

In normal times, I’d suggest seeking out your local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) office for assistance when you haven’t filed a return in several years. It’s a free tax assistance resource operated by the IRS. But these are coronavirus times, and unfortunately, many VITA offices are closed. 

You can use the VITA locator tool at irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ to see if there’s an office open near you. You can also use one of the many free filing resources available at IRS.gov to prepare your return for free.

For anyone reading this who’s wondering how to get their coronavirus check quickly, the answer most likely boils down to: Go forth and file your 2018 or 2019 tax return.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]