In Focus: Who do you consider a dependent?

By Perspective Staff

Ian Tancun | Columnist

I think one can be considered “independent” when they no longer rely on their parents or family for financial support. I believe financial support is different from financial assistance. When I say financial support, I mean relying on parents or family to help cover more than half of one’s bills.

This is similar to the qualifications the IRS has when considering whether a child can be claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax returns. If a child provides more than half of their financial support for the year, they cannot be considered a dependent child, according to the IRS website.

The line between independent and dependent is blurred when a student pays most but not all of their bills. In that case, I think strong arguments could be made as to whether that student is independent. I also think if you still live with your parents — and don’t pay rent — you cannot be considered independent either.

As an independent student, the American Opportunity Tax Credit is the only reason I’ve looked forward to tax season the past couple years. For eligible students, the AOTC can result in a tax credit of up to $2,500, according to the IRS website.

The only downside is that it can only be claimed four times. Having just claimed it for the fourth and final time, I’m now dreading filing taxes next year.

Although there is a limit on the number of times the AOTC can be claimed, I can still claim the Lifetime Learning Credit next year. This is another education credit that eligible students can claim come tax time. While the credit is less than the AOTC, there is no limit on the number of times it can be claimed, according to the IRS website.

These tax credits are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the obscenely high tuition expenses we all pay.

Faith Mellenthin | Columnist

I found that I had to file an amended tax return this year because I had the wrong idea of what an independent was. In my opinion, if a guardian pays over half of somebody’s expenses, they are a dependent without any further argument.

The definition of a dependent has five requirements that must be met: relationship, age, residency, support and joint return, according to the IRS website. I was considered an independent because I pay over half of my expenses: rent, utility bills, food, gas and college expenses. The rewards were great. However, I realized that the other requirements are not as easily agreeable.

The residency requirement means that a person must live under their guardian’s roof for over half the year. Going away to college can challenge this test because students reside at the college for roughly six or more months. It hardly seems fair to assume that because a person lives elsewhere that they are not dependent. Similarly, there is an age requirement that seems logical but still impractical.

Overall, I agree with the requirements individually, but I do not think a person should have to meet all of them. Dependency is situational.

Maritza Huerta | Columnist

If someone is under 24 years old, a full-time student, unmarried with no children of their own and their parents provide them with financial support equal to or greater than half of their annual income, they fit the criteria for a relative to claim them as a dependent on taxes, according to the IRS website. If someone fits the bill year round, their parents should have the right to claim them as a dependent because they are not financially supporting themselves. However, I believe independence often comes — for most college students — as a gradual release of responsibility, an instructional model that includes demonstration, collaboration and application, according to the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model developed by Ellen Levy, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. In other words, a person’s parents take complete care of them, teach them how to take care of themselves while looking after them and then expect them to eventually fend for themselves after giving them the tools they need to survive. There are plenty of college students who work to pay for school and their own living arrangements and file their own taxes, but we accept the Free Application for Federal Student Aid under our parents’ taxes and ask for snacks, gas and utility money. Although social and academic independence is nurtured by attending college, financial independence can take more time to come about.