Should You and Your Spouse File Taxes Jointly or Separately?
Married couples have the option to file jointly or separately on their federal income tax returns. The IRS strongly encourages most couples to file joint tax returns by extending several tax breaks to those who file together. In the vast majority of cases, it's best for married couples to file jointly, but there may be a few instances when it's better to submit separate returns.
- What are the advantages of filing jointly?
- What are the potential cons of filing your tax returns separately?
- When should married couples file taxes separately?
- Are there rules around deductions when you’re married and file separately?
- Do all married couples have the option of filing jointly or separately?
- When you file separately, can you file as single if you’re married?
- Is it better to file jointly or separately?
- Can you change a past filing status from Married Filing Separately to Married Filing Jointly?
- For tax year 2023, most married couples under 65 filing a joint return receive a Standard Deduction of $27,700, while couples filing separately receive a Standard Deduction of $13,850. For 2024, the Standard Deduction for married couples under 65 filing jointly increases to $29,200 and to $14,600 for those filing as Single.
- Joint filers usually receive higher income thresholds for certain tax breaks, such as the deduction for contributing to an IRA.
- If you’re married and file separately, you may face a higher tax rate and pay more tax.
- Filing separately may be a benefit if you have a large amount of out-of-pocket medical expenses. It may be easier to reach the 7.5% threshold of your adjusted gross income to qualify for medical deductions if you only claim one income.
What are the advantages of filing jointly?
There are many advantages to filing a joint tax return with your spouse. Joint filers receive one of the largest standard deductions each year, allowing them to deduct a significant amount of income when calculating taxable income.
Couples who file together can usually qualify for multiple tax credits, such as the:
- Earned Income Tax Credit
- American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Education Tax Credits
- Exclusion or credit for adoption expenses
- Child and Dependent Care Credit
Joint filers mostly receive higher income thresholds for certain taxes and deductions—this means they can often earn a larger amount of income and still potentially qualify for certain tax breaks.
What are the potential cons of filing your tax returns separately?
On the other hand, couples who file separately typically receive fewer tax benefits. Separate tax returns may result in more tax.
- In 2023, Married Filing Separately taxpayers only receive a Standard Deduction of $13,850 compared to the $27,700 offered to those who filed jointly. For 2024, these Standard Deductions increase to $14,600 and $29,200 respectively.
- If you file a separate return from your spouse, you are often automatically disqualified from several of the tax deductions and credits mentioned earlier.
- Additionally, separate filers are usually limited to a smaller IRA contribution deduction.
- They also can't take the deduction for student loan interest.
- The capital loss deduction limit is $1,500 each when filing separately, instead of $3,000 on a joint return.
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.
When should married couples file taxes separately?
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% 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.
- For example, if you have $10,000 in medical expenses and made $50,000. That would meet the 7.5% threshold ($10,000 ÷ $50,000 = 20% of your income).
- Whereas, if together you make $135,000, this would disqualify you from claiming these medical expenses ($10,000 ÷ $135,000 = 7.4% of your income).
- 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 threshold to only one of your incomes.
- If your student loan repayment plan is determined by the income on your tax return, filing separately may help you keep your payments more manageable.
- You and your current spouse are planning to divorce and don't want to be accountable for each other’s tax liability. This may be especially applicable if it isn’t going to be an amicable divorce.
For more tips on when you might want to file separately, be sure to check out our article When Married Filing Separately Will Save You Taxes.
Are there rules around deductions when you’re married and file separately?
If you’re married and filing separately, there are a few requirements to keep in mind when it comes to claiming your deductions:
- When filing separately, both spouses must take the Standard Deduction or both must itemize their deductions. One spouse can't itemize their deductions while the other spouse takes the Standard Deduction.
- When itemizing deductions, each deduction can only be used by one spouse even if both spouses paid for the expense. A deduction can be split between spouses filing separately as long as the total claimed by both spouses doesn't exceed the total deduction.
Do all married couples have the option of filing jointly or separately?
You can use the Married Filing Jointly status if:
- You were married by the end of the filing year. For example, to file your taxes for the 2023 tax year, you’d need to have been married by December 31, 2023.
- You live apart, but aren’t legally separated.
- Your spouse passed away this year, and you haven’t remarried. Note this only applies to the tax year in which they passed.
- You’re in a common-law marriage that is recognized by the state where your marriage began.
If you have further questions about whether you and your partner qualify for the Married Filing Jointly status, you may want to speak with a tax professional.
When you file separately, can you file as single if you’re married?
No. If you’re filing separately as a married individual, you can’t file Single. Single filing status is reserved for individuals who aren't married. If you’re legally separated or divorced, you can also use single filing status when completing your tax return.
Once you’re married, you have two choices for filing status: Married Filing Separately or Married Filing Jointly.
Is it better to file jointly or separately?
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.
You can also use our Tax Calculator to see estimates for your tax liability as filing separately or jointly to determine which is the better option for you and your spouse.
Can you change a past filing status from Married Filing Separately to Married Filing Jointly?
If you filed separately but want to change your filing status to Married Filing Jointly, you can amend a past return within three years from the due date of the original return.
You may want to change a past filing status from Married Filing Separately to Married Filing Jointly if you realize that it may result in a tax refund.
Learn more about how to change your filing status.
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