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Double check dependents, filing status

If you believe the adage that art reflects life, then today's television programs are giving us a much more wide-ranging view of the American family.

OK, maybe equating art and television is not exactly accurate, especially when we're talking about the families represented by Dance Moms and Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty.

Then we have the truly fictional families portrayed in Sons of Anarchy, The Middle, Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother (Lily, Marshall and Marvin), Don and Betty "Worst Mother Ever" Draper of Mad Men and my favorites, back soon via Netflix, the Bluths of Arrested Development.

All are, of course, exaggerated for artistic television purposes, but they do underscore how families have changed over the years.

Even if you share very little with the crazy, financially-strapped, divorced, gay, young, May-December, criminal, violent, absurd families on your flat screen, you probably do have your own special family issues that could affect your taxes. (How's that for a segue?)

And today's Countdown to Oct. 15 takes a look at some of them when it comes to filing status and dependents.

4_Oct 15 seven day countdown Filing status: You have five choices on how you can file your taxes --

Each filing status has certain requirements. And each offers tax advantages or limits.

So look at the guidelines carefully to make sure you choose the best one for your family.

For example, opting to file as a single taxpayer when you actually are providing enough support to claim someone as a dependent could cost you big tax bucks.

With the dependent, a head of household filer can claim a larger standard deduction amount and gets a bit of an income tax rate break.

Dependents: And speaking of dependents, although they are specifically mentioned in just one filing status (surviving spouse with dependent child, also sometimes referred to as qualifying widow or widower), the folks who rely on your for monetary as well as emotional support can come into play in the others filing options.

In addition to the single parent filing as head of household, couples could have 2.3 (or more) kids to claim or even an elderly relative living in the home. A married couple filing jointly could split the dependent claims.

Be sure, too, that your dependents qualify.

The tax claim rules are different for minor children than for claiming other relatives or even friends who lived with you during the tax year.

IRS Publication 17 has all the many, many details about filing status (beginning on page 20; page 22 of the PDF version), qualifying children (page 26; page 28 PDF) and qualifying relatives (page 31; page 33 PDF).

Read that publication and your tax return's (or filing software's) instructions carefully. Just like today's jumbled family structures, the status and dependent requirements are a bit scattered, can seem illogical and are sometimes annoying.

But, as with our families, we're stuck with 'em! (Just joshing relatives; love you all!)

And taking the time to choose the best filing status for your family situation and claim all the dependents you can could make a big difference in your final tax bill.

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