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Married Filing Jointly Tax Filing Status

Tax Deduction Share

You are considered married if you were or are married as of December 31, 2020. Thus, you and your spouse have the option to e-File your 2020 Tax Return - due on April 15, 2021 - 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 filing 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.

Once you determine your filing status, you will indicate it on the beginning information screen (Name and Address) when you prepare and eFile your 2020 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.

When filing married filing jointly, both spouses report their 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 you reported no income on the return.

Tax Tip: However, 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 debt's 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.

Benefits of Married Filing Jointly

If you and your spouse file as married filing jointly, your tax may be lower than your combined tax would be for married filing separately, or you may receive a bigger tax refund. Your standard deduction may be higher and you may qualify for other tax benefits that do not apply to the other filing statuses. 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. To find out the best filing status for you, calculate your refund or balance due by using the free eFile.com tax calculator. Estimate your taxes with the Married Filing Jointly filing status, then do a new calculation with the Married Filing Separately filing status. When you prepare your 2020 Tax Return 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 a joint tax return. You can file a joint tax return with your spouse even if one of you had no income.

You can use the Married Filing Jointly filing status if BOTH of the following statements are true:

  1. You were married on the last day of the tax year.
  2. You and your spouse both agree to file a joint tax return.

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.

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.

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. Check with the state to find out its latest rules on the matter.

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 for the 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 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: Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing 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 military service does 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 2020 and the surviving spouse did not remarry in 2020, or if a spouse died in 2021 before filing a 2020 tax return, the surviving spouse can file as married filing joint.  A joint return needs to show the 2020 income of the deceased spouse's 2020 prior to death, and all 2020 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 Joint Return to a 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 eFile your return early. If you file before the deadline, you can amend your joint return to separate returns up until the day of the 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.

Information on alimony payments and taxes.