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Should Married Couples File Jointly or Separately

Should Married Couples File Jointly or Separately?

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Like many of the decisions made in a marriage, the choices couples make are related to their specific situation. The same goes for the filing status you choose when you get married. After marriage, your filing status will shift from either single or head of household to married filing jointly or married filing separately, but couples often wonder “What is my filing status now that I’m married?” and “Should I File Married Filing Jointly or Separately”?

Depending on when you got married, you may not have been married for more than half the year by the time tax time rolls around. Generally, the IRS considers you married all year even if you don’t get married until the last day of the year. So, if you are legally married as of December 31, then you must file either married filing jointly or married filing separately. 

Here are some reasons why married couples choose to file jointly or separately. 

Let’s go over some pros and cons of filing a joint or separate tax return. 

Pros of filing married filing jointly 

Should I file a married filing jointly? 

In general, couples who file married filing jointly versus separately receive more tax breaks and in turn more money in their pockets at tax time.

For instance, the IRS gives couples filing jointly the largest standard deduction each year. This standard deduction allows couples to deduct a considerable amount from their taxable income immediately. For 2021, the standard deduction for a couple filing jointly is $25,100 as opposed to $12,550 if you are married filing separately or you are single.

For couples to qualify for certain tax credits, they cannot file married filing separately and must file a joint tax return. Some popular tax credits that couples who file married filing jointly can qualify for include: 

  • Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit up to $8,000 with 2 or more kids
  • Earned Income Tax Credit up to $6,728 for a family with 3 or more kids
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit up to $2,500 per person
  • Lifetime Learning Tax Credit up to $2,000 per tax return

Typically, couples who file married filing jointly can have more income and still qualify for certain tax credits and deductions. 

Cons of married filing separately 

What are some disadvantages of married filing a separate tax return? 

Couples who choose to file separate tax returns receive few tax incentives. Filing separate tax returns causes you to be taxed at a higher tax rate. The standard deduction for married filing separate filers is significantly lower than that available to married filing joint filers at $12,950 for 2022. 

Some common disadvantages to filing a separate tax return also include: 

  • Unable to take a deduction for student loan interest. 
  • Typically limited to a smaller IRA contribution deduction.
  • Disqualified from several tax credits and benefits available to those married filing jointly. 

When might it be a good idea to file separately? 

In general couples who file married filing jointly receive more tax breaks, but sometimes it might be a good idea to consider filing a married filing separate tax return. 

These situations may include, the following scenarios: 

  • If together, the married couple’s income would be too high to qualify for the medical expense deduction, but filing married filing separately one spouse could qualify to deduct their medical expenses. 
  • If your spouse’s tax bill is significant, then filing separately can serve as protection so your refund would not apply to what your spouse owes. 
  • If your spouse has not paid outstanding child support payments filing separately would prevent the IRS from taking your portion of any refund. 

How to decide which filing status to use? 

The best filing status will depend on your individual situation. Most people benefit from filing married filing jointly since tax rates can be lower, and there are more tax deductions and credits available when you file married filing jointly. At tax time, TurboTax will guide you through choosing the right filing status for your situation.

We’ve Got You Covered 

No matter what your situation or how you want to file, TurboTax has you covered. With TurboTax you can do your taxes yourself, get help from an expert along the way or hand them off from start to finish to a dedicated tax expert.

Katharina Reekmans

Katharina Reekmans is an Enrolled Agent and a contributor to the TurboTax Blog team. Katharina has years of experience in tax preparation and representation before the IRS. Her passions surround financial literary and tax law interpretation. She has a strong commitment to using all resources and knowledge to best serve the interest of clients. Katharina has worked as a senior tax accountant, operations manager, and controller. Katharina prides herself on unraveling tax laws so that the average person can understand them. More from Katharina Reekmans

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