Tax season. It’s one of the most stressful times of the year, when you’re scrambling like crazy to get your ducks in a row. And by ducks, of course, we mean the obscene amount of bureaucracy-issued paperwork you—or, more accurately, your exhausted accountant—will have to pore over throughout the next week-and-change. If you’re like most of hard-working America, you’ve probably waited until now to get the gears moving. So we’d like to offer some extra advice on your taxes that could help you out—especially if you want to dodge an audit.
You may be surprised to learn that your friends, not your family, might be the key to unlocking a stress-free tax season. “If you support a boyfriend or girlfriend—or even a friend—you can claim them as a dependent,” says Lisa Lewis, CPA and tax expert, also known as TurboTaxLisa, the blog editor for TurboTax. A lot of people overlook this little exception and end up losing out on the benefits. (For 2016, the tax exemption per dependent is $4,050.)
Of course, like everything involving your signature and social security number, there are rules. You can’t just pencil in, “I have friends” on your W2 and get the exemption. “If you provided over half of their support and they lived with you, you can claim them as a dependent,” says Lewis. To answer your next question, no, pets don’t count—even if Rocco needed that $6,000 surgery to remove a pile of rubber bands from his small intestine.
Being able to claim girlfriends and boyfriends as dependents is a funny rule. After all, the IRS incentivizes marriage by offering a personal exemption for spouses. But being able to receive a dependent exemption for your live-in loved on more or less nullifies that. In fact, Lewis mentions that she’s seen couples hold off on getting married in order to maximize their tax benefits. (Typically, these couples are high-earners; if both people in a marriage make 6-figures-plus, they can actually face marriage penalties. Isn’t tax season great?)
So when you meet with your accountant this week, think about your friends and lovers. You have to be very clear, though, and mention it to your accountant. After all, how the hell was he supposed to know you’ve been putting up Harold (divorce is a trying time) above the garage for the past eight months? And when it comes time to buying your accountant a thank-you gift—come on, it’s the right thing to do—you could do far worse than some kickass bar accessories. After all, he’s gonna need them.