Tax Breaks Every Single Mother Should Know

Updated April 9, 2019

For millions of American families — especially those headed by single women, tax season is full of stress and number crunching. However, at tax time, being a parent comes with certain perks.



For millions of American families — especially those headed by single women, tax season is full of stress and number crunching.

There are, however, some useful tax credits that can significantly lower the amount of taxes to pay. And, in some cases, give cash refunds to families in jobs that pay too little to live on.

Claiming a tax credit is like putting money back in your pocket, and for single mother, this can make a real difference to the bottom line.

In fact, at tax time, being a parent comes with certain perks.

For example, as for tax year 2018, eligible single mom could claim

Earned Income Tax CreditUp to $6,431
Child Tax CreditUp to $2,000 per child
Child and Dependent Care CreditUp to $3,000

The EITC, together with the Child Tax Credit keep millions of women out of poverty – the EITC alone lifted more than 1.4 million women above the poverty line in 2015.1

01Personal & Dependent Exemption

Personal exemption has been suspended. For 2018, you can’t claim a personal exemption for yourself, your spouse, or your dependents.2

One of the most common tax deductions for single mothers is the dependent exemption — $4,050 for each child until your child turns 19, or 24 if he’s a full time student.3

What’s especially nice is that you can take one exemption for yourself to cover your basic living expenses, that’s $4,050 off your taxable income.

So if you are a mother with two qualifying children, you can deduct $4,050 for each exemption you claim on your tax return — that’s a total of $12,150 by which you may be able to reduce your taxable income.

02Filing Taxes as a “Head of the Household”

As a single mother and the sole breadwinner in the family, the first thing you must do is to select “Head of the Household” as your filing status.

Filing as “Head of Household” has two benefits. First, you’ll pay less taxes overall; and second, you’ll also be able to claim a larger tax exemption.

Single or Married Filing Separately$12,000$12,200
Head of Household$18,000$18,350
Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er)$24,000$24,400

For example, for tax year 2018, taxpayers who use the head of household filing status may receive an $18,000 annual standard deduction. While a single filer is only entitled to a $12,000 standard deduction. 4

Donald Trump’s Tax Plan Would Hit Single Parents Hard
Trump’s tax plan seems designed to financially penalize single mothers by eliminating the “Head of Household” filing status. By itself, that boosts tax rates for single mothers at most income ranges.

03Earned Income Tax Credit

EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a tax benefit designed primarily to help low- to moderate-income individuals and families whose earned income falls below a certain limit.

It isn’t a welfare handout per se. Only people who work and pay taxes can claim it; creating an incentive for them, including many who are poor, to leave welfare for work.5


The EITC is “refundable,” which means that when EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund, whose amount varies by income, family size and filing status.6

For example, if your tax liability is only $1116 and the credit you are allowed is $5,716, you may receive a refund check for $4,600 from the IRS.

2018 EITC Income Limits + Maximum Credit Amounts

3 or more$6,431$49,194$54,884

Twenty six [26] states and the District of Columbia, as well as New York City, offer their own version of Earned Income Tax Credits [EITCs] to complement the federal credits — applying a percentage match to the federal allocation.

The EITC is widely recognized as an effective tool for preventing low-income working families, particularly single mothers, from slipping into poverty by promoting work rather than welfare.

04Child Tax Credit

If your child or children under the age of 17 (on the last day of the year), claimed as dependents and are US citizens, then you can qualify for Child Tax Credit.

This can reduce your taxes by up to $2,000 for each qualifying child. The child tax credit will be gradually reduced based on your income for the year until it reaches a threshold of $200,000 ($400,000 if married filing jointly).

Technically speaking, as your income increases, the exemption decreases proportionately. For some, utilizing the child tax credit can reduce their tax liability to zero.

05Additional Child Tax Credit

The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable tax credit for people who have a qualifying child and did not receive the full amount of the Child Tax Credit.

Unlike the EITC, the Additional CTC is partially refundable. Families whose credit exceeds their tax liability can receive the remainder of the credit in the form of a refund not exceeding 15% of their earnings above $2,500.

For example, a single mother with two children working full-time, year-round at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — and earning $14,000 per year — could receive 15% of $11,500, or $1,725, as a refund.7

An additional refundable credit may be claimed on Form 8812, Additional Child Tax Credit8 if your earned income was greater than $2,500.

06Child and Dependent Care Credit

Paid a local daycare center to take care of your kid? Did you pay someone to care for your child so that you could work or look for work?

If you did, you may claim up to $3,000 of expenses paid in a year for one qualifying child under 13 or $6,000 max per family. Eligible expenses include the cost of a nanny, preschool, before- or after-school care and summer day camp.

This works best when you file as a “Head of Household”, and can cut your taxes by up to 35% of what you’ve paid for the service — the exact percentage is determined by your income level.

Keep in mind that the dependent care credit is not refundable, meaning it can only take your tax bill to zero. Any excess credit is not usable.

To claim child and dependent care credit, complete and attach Form 2441 to your return. You must file taxes using either Form 1040 or Form 1040A to claim the credit.

07Education Tax Benefits

There are two (2) tax credits available to help you offset the costs of higher education by reducing the amount of your income tax. They are the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

The former is a tax credit of up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition, fees and course materials, which can be claimed for expenses for the first four (4) years of post-secondary education.9

Unlike the American Opportunity Credit10, the Lifetime Learning Credit is non-refundable so the maximum credit is limited to the amount of tax you owe. There is, however, no limit on the number of years for which you can claim a Lifetime Learning Credit.

American Opportunity Tax Credit$2,500 tax credit per student11
100% of first $2,000, 25% of second $2,000
Limit: First 4 years of postsecondary education
$80,000 to $90,000 (single)
$160,000 to $180,000 (joint)
Lifetime Learning Tax Credit$2,000 tax credit per student12
20% of first $10,000
Unlimited number of years
$54,000 to $64,000 (single)
$108,000 to $128,000 (joint)

If you are eligible for both the American opportunity credit and the lifetime learning credit, you can choose to claim either credit, but not both.

No matter what your tax status is, take a little time to make sure that you’re taking advantage of all the benefits available to you — especially if this is the first time you’ll be doing your taxes as a single mother.

If you can afford it, it might even be worth spending a little money to seek advice from a professional tax consultant to make sure you are not missing out on a refundable tax credit worth up to nearly $6,000.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

The IRS offers free tax preparation through a program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). These sites are usually open from the end of January through April 15.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program also offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

To locate the nearest VITA or TCE site near you, call

Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic

Funded by the IRS, Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) represent low income individuals in disputes with the IRS — for free or for a small fee, including audits, appeals, collection matters, and federal tax litigation.

No application is needed to utilize this service. Each LITC will determine if you meet the income guidelines and other criteria before it will agree to represent you.

If you believe you’re eligible — and in need of help with tax matters, find the clinic nearest you13 and call the numbers listed on the list for an appointment.

  1. NLWC, EITC and the Refundable Child Tax Credit Are Extremely Important to Women’s Economic Security
  2. At the time this writing, Congress was considering legislation that would do the following.
  3. IRS, Publication 17, Personal Exemptions and Dependents
  4. IRS, Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
  5. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Policy Basics: The Earned Income Tax Credit
  6. Use the EITC Assistant to find out if you qualify.
  7. CBPP, Policy Basics: The Child Tax Credit
  8. IRS, Schedule 8812 (Form 1040A or 1040), Child Tax Credit
  9. IRS, Chapter 2, Publication 970, Earned
  10. Up to $1,000 of the credit can be refunded if your credit is more than you owe in taxes.
  11. IRS, Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, Table 2-1
  12. IRS, Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, Table 3-1
  13. Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List