Married Filing Jointly Tax Filing Status
You are considered married for the full year if you were or are married as of December 31 or the end of the year. Thus, you and your spouse have the option to e-file your next tax return - due on the April IRS tax deadline - with the filing status of married filing jointly or married filing separately. For the majority of married couples, the married filing joint status is more tax advantageous.
However, there are good reasons when you should use the married filing separate status as it might be more beneficial to your specific tax situation. If you are unsure, use our eFile.com STATucator tax tool to find out which filing status you should use on your next tax return. Use the tool and work with your spouse to determine the most beneficial status. Below, see the ten reasons why most married couples choose to file a joint return.
Related: Find out if your state has a marriage tax penalty.
Once you determine your filing status, you will indicate it on the beginning information screen (Name and Address) when you file your next tax return on eFile.com. Choosing your filing status is one of the first things you do when you start preparing your tax return online via eFile.com. The eFile app will select any forms and schedules for you based on your answers to simple tax questions. We will then apply the correct tax rates and standard deduction amount to your return.
If you got married in the last year, you should submit a new W-4 to your employer to adjust your withholding. Keep more of your money during the year; allow your employer to withhold less from each paycheck if you plan to file jointly. Use one of four free W-4 creator tools courtesy of eFile.com.
Tax Filing Status: Married Filing Jointly
As a married couple, you are entitled to a higher standard deduction which is double the amount of a single person's deduction. The standard deduction is a set amount which you deduct from you and your spouse's income. See the updated tax brackets for married filing jointly or calculate your tax brackets here.
You can select this filing status even if only one of you works or has taxable income. However, you cannot claim your wife or husband as a dependent even if you provide all financial support for them. Spouses are never able to be claimed as dependents on your tax return, even if they are unemployed, disabled, or cannot work.
When filing as married jointly, both spouses report their taxable income, tax deductions, and tax credits on the same tax return. Both parties are responsible for each other's tax liability. Therefore, if you choose to file as married filing jointly, your spouse will be responsible for any tax, penalties, and interest that arises from that joint tax return, even if your spouse reported no income on the return.
Tax Tip: If you do not believe you are responsible for some of your spouse's tax liability, penalties, or interest, you should see if you qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief. Furthermore, if one spouse is not responsible for the current or past debts of the other spouse, then the spouse might be entitled to request his or her portion of the IRS tax refund back from the IRS in case the IRS has offset the tax refund to pay the spouse's debt. Thus, consider the Injured Spouse option. See how to do it on eFile.com:
On your married jointly return, you and your spouse can claim your children or dependents, qualify for increased tax credits and tax deductions, and earn more combined income before being taxed. Note: on a married joint return, both you and your spouse claim your dependent(s). On a separate return, only one of you can claim a specific dependent.
Benefits of Filing a Joint Return
There are many benefits to filing with the married filing joint status. Most married taxpayers will elect to use the joint filing status versus the separate status. Find 10 reasons why to file a joint return with your spouse:
- Your tax may be lower than your combined tax would be for the married filing separately filing status.
- You may receive a larger tax refund. One of the reasons for this is that if spouses have a large difference in their salaries for the year, the lower salary can pull the higher one into a lower tax bracket, and thus will reduce their overall taxes and get you more money back if you withheld too much.
- Your standard deduction is higher and you may qualify for other tax benefits that do not apply to the other filing statuses.
- If you or your spouse owns a business and the business is losing money, the spouse who earns a salary will enable you to take tax deductions and claim the loss on a joint return.
- If one spouse does not earn income, the/you can both still contribute to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and get the tax benefits from this, including double the amount of a single person.
- If one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may be able to claim qualifying widower on their next tax return and may have other favorable treatments, like being able to roll over their spouse's IRA into their own.
- If one spouse has a flexible spending account through their job, both spouses can benefit from this on their tax return since this will lower their taxable income.
- You can potentially have a higher charitable contribution deduction since the limit is based on your income and with two incomes on a married filing joint return, the limit is higher and you can deduct more.
- If a spouse passes away, they can leave the assets to the surviving spouse without estate taxes, thus protecting the surviving spouse.
- You can file one return for you and your spouse (versus two for married filing separate) thus saving you time and money.
For more information, see the tax rates and standard deduction for married filing jointly.
In most cases, it is more tax advantageous for a married couple to file a joint tax return than a married filing separate return. However, this is not always the case. A return with a married filing joint status means that both spouses are responsible for the income reported and/or taxes owed. Also, if there are unpaid taxes or child support, a refund could be offset (or reduced) by the IRS, regardless of which spouse is responsible for the debt. See the Tax Tip above regarding Innocent Spouse Relief or Injured Spouse Allocation you can file with your return if you are concerned about this.
See more details about relationship conflicts and taxes.
To find out the best filing status for you, calculate your refund or balance due by using the free eFile.com tax calculator. You can use this as a married versus single or other filing status calculator: estimate your taxes with the married filing joint filing status, then do a new calculation with the married filing separate filing status, for example. When you prepare your taxes on eFile.com, use the filing status that gives you and your spouse the biggest refund or the lowest tax liability.
Who Can File as Married Filing Jointly?
If you are married, you and your spouse can agree to file either a joint or separate tax return. You can file a joint tax return with your spouse even if one of you had no income. However, you can not, under any circumstances, claim your spouse as a dependent.
You can use the married filing jointly filing status if both of the following statements are true:
- You were married on the last day (December 31) of the tax year.
- You and your spouse both agree to file a joint tax return.
As a matter of fact, you legally need to use one of the married filing statuses if you are married during the year. You can not file as single, even if you do not speak to your spouse and are actively seeking divorce. You will need your spouse's SSN and information to file married jointly or married separately. The IRS - not eFile.com - will reject your return if you try to file as single when you are married.
If one spouse is a nonresident alien (or dual-status alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien) on December 31, you can choose to file a joint return. If a joint return is filed, the nonresident spouse will be treated as U.S. resident for the entire tax year.
Same-Sex Marriage and Taxes
Legally married same-sex couples are required to file as either married filing jointly or as married filing separately, just as opposite-sex married couples are required to do. Due to a Treasury Department ruling on August 29, 2013, same-sex couples that have been legally married must file as married filing jointly or as married filing separately on their federal tax return(s). They must use one of these filing statuses on their federal returns regardless of the state where they reside, as long as they were legally wed in a state (or the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or even a foreign country) where same-sex marriage is legal. Since June 26, 2015, all 50 states recognize same-sex marriage as legal.
For back taxes filed prior to 2015:
If the state for which you are filing a return recognizes same-sex marriages, then you will be able to file as married filing jointly, provided you meet all the normal requirements. If, however, the state does not recognize the legality of same-sex marriages, then you will not be able to file a joint return with the state. In this case, each of you will need to file as single, or one of you can file as head of household, if you meet the requirements.
If the couple was legally married in a year prior to 2013, but did not file as married for that year, they may file an amended return to change their filing status, until the statute of limitations expires. You can file an amended return to the IRS and or state. Be aware, if you expect a tax refund for any given tax year and you did not file a return by the initial tax deadline, you have 3 years after the initial deadline to file a tax return and be able to claim your tax refund. After three years, your tax refund will expire.
How Marital Status Determines Tax Filing Status
Your marriage status for tax purposes is determined by your marriage status on the last day of the tax year. If you were married on December 31, then you are considered to have been married all year. If you were divorced or legally separated (according to state law) on or before December 31, then you are considered unmarried for the entire year and you cannot use either married filing status, jointly or separately. This is true even if you were married for most of the year. If you filed a joint return while married and were then divorced, you are still responsible for any tax liability from the joint return.
If, at the end of the tax year (December 31) you were not divorced or legally separated, you are considered unmarried if all of the following apply:
- You lived apart from your spouse for the last 6 months of the tax year (temporary absences, e.g. business, medical care, school, or absence due to military service do not count as lived apart).
- You file a separate tax return from your spouse.
- You paid over half the cost of keeping up your home during the tax year.
- Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or foster child for more than half of the Tax Year.
If a spouse died during the year and the surviving spouse did not remarry in the same year, the surviving spouse can file as married filing joint (or married filing separately) on the return. A joint return needs to show the income of the deceased spouse prior to death and all income of the surviving spouse.
For the next two years, you may be able to file as a Qualifying Widow or Widower with a dependent child.
Can You Amend a Married Filing Joint Return to a Married Filing Separate Return?
If you file as married filing jointly with your spouse, you cannot file a tax amendment with the married filing separately status after the filing deadline has passed. That is a good reason to e-file your return early. If you file before the deadline, you can amend your joint return to separate returns up until the day of the Tax Day deadline.
There is an exception in the case of a deceased spouse. A representative for the decedent can amend a joint return (as filed by the surviving spouse) to a separate return for the decedent for up to 1 year after the due date of the return, including any tax extension that was filed.
See information on alimony payments and taxes; read more details via IRS Publication 501 with specifics on filing statuses.
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