This Is Your Best Last-Minute Tax Move

Your friends, not your family, are the key to a stress-free tax season.

Tip for Tax Season

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—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 Greene-Lewis, CPA and tax expert with TurboTax, 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 2017, the exemption per dependent was $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 W-2 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 Greene-Lewis. To answer your next question, no, pets don't count—even if your pup needed a $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 curious 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 one more or less nullifies that. In fact, Greene-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.)

So when you meet with your accountant this year, think about your friends and lovers. You have to be very clear, though, and mention it to your accountant. After all, how was he or she supposed to know you've been putting up a friend above the garage for the past eight months? And for more tax-season tips, know the 5 Best Ways to Survive an IRS Audit.

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Ari Notis
Ari is a senior editor, specializing in news and culture. Read more