Should You and Your Spouse File Taxes Jointly or Separately?
There are many advantages to filing a joint tax return with your spouse. The IRS gives joint filers one of the largest standard deductions each year, allowing them to deduct a significant amount of their income immediately.
Couples who file together get to deduct two exemption amounts from their income and they qualify for multiple tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits, the exclusion or credit for adoption expenses, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit. Joint filers also receive higher income thresholds for certain taxes and deductions – this means they can earn a larger amount of income and still qualify for certain tax breaks.
On the other hand, couples who file separately receive few tax considerations. Separate returns may give you a higher tax with a higher tax rate. The standard deduction for separate filers is far lower than that offered to joint filers.
In 2012, married filing separately taxpayers only receive a standard deduction of $5,950 compared to the $11,900 offered to those who filed jointly. If you file a separate return from your spouse, you are automatically disqualified from several of the tax deductions and credits mentioned earlier. In addition, separate filers are limited to a smaller IRA contribution deduction. They also cannot take the deduction for student loan interest, or the tuition and fees deduction. The capital loss deduction limit is $1,500 (instead of $3,000 on a joint return).
In rare situations, filing separately may help you save on your tax return. For example, if you or your spouse has a large amount of out-of-pocket medical expenses to claim and since the IRS only allows you to deduct the amount of these costs that exceeds 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI), it can be difficult to claim most of your expenses if you and your spouse have a high AGI. Filing separate returns in such a situation may be beneficial if it allows you to claim more of your available medical deductions by applying the 7.5 percent threshold to only one of your incomes.
The best way to find out if you should file jointly or separately with your spouse is to prepare the tax return both ways. Double check your calculations and then look at the net refund or balance due from each method. If you use TurboTax to prepare your return, we’ll do the calculation for you, and recommend the filing status that gives you the biggest tax savings.