There are two different types of federal tax exemptions, personal and dependent. Someone can claim a personal exemption for himself and his spouse. If he has children or other relatives whom he cares for, he can claim dependent exemptions for them. Federal tax exemptions are different from deductions. Each citizen of the United States can claim exemptions on her tax return, provided she meets certain criteria.
The amount of the personal federal tax exemption varies from year to year. In 2010, the amount was $3,650 US Dollars (USD). A single person without any children or a spouse would subtract that amount from his income when filing a tax return. If a person is claiming dependents or is married and filing jointly, he can deduct that amount for each dependent as well as for his spouse.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has specific rules regarding dependent exemptions. A taxpayer can either claim a person as a dependent child or dependent relative. To be claimed as a dependent child, the dependent must be less than age 19 or, if in school full-time, less than age 24. If the person is disabled, she can be any age. The dependent needs to be a person's son or daughter or brother or sister. She can be a foster child, half-sibling, or step-sibling as well.
To claim federal tax exemptions on a dependent child, the child needs to live with the taxpayer for at least six months out of the year. The dependent child cannot provide more than half of her own support for the year. If a person is claimed as a dependent, she cannot take her own personal tax exemption.
In some cases, a person can take federal tax exemptions for a relative who is not a child but is still a dependent. Generally, a person must live with the taxpayer to be claimed as a qualifying relative but does not need to. For example, a taxpayer can support a parent, niece, or uncle, even if that person lives in a separate house. To take the exemption for a relative, the relative must earn less than the amount of the exemption. The taxpayer also needs to provide more than half of that person's support for the year.
If someone is married and files jointly, he can take a federal tax exemption for his spouse. Exemptions for spouses are considered personal exemptions, not dependent exemptions. A married person who files separately can take an exemption for his spouse only if the spouse did not have any income for the year and isn't being claimed as a dependent by someone else.