TurboTax / Tax Calculators & Tips / All Tax Guides / Family / When Married Filing Separately Will Save You Taxes

When Married Filing Separately Will Save You Taxes

Updated for Tax Year 2016


OVERVIEW

If you're married, there are circumstances where filing separately can save you money on your income taxes.


The Internal Revenue Service considers wedded taxpayers married if they are legally married under state law, live together in a state-recognized common-law marriage, or are separated but have no separation maintenance or final divorce decree as of the end of the tax year.

married filing taxes separately

Of the 56 million tax returns married couples filed in 2009, the latest year for which the IRS has published statistics (at the time of writing), 4.3 percent belonged to twosomes who filed separately. These partners reported individual income and expenses on individual tax returns. They had to agree on either itemizing expenses or using the standard deduction. By filing separately, their similar incomes, miscellaneous deductions or medical expenses likely helped them save taxes.

Filing separately with similar incomes

A couple may pay the IRS less by filing separately when both spouses work and earn about the same amount. When they compare the tax due amount under both joint and separate filing statuses, they may discover that combining their earnings puts them into a higher tax bracket. Their savings depends on a variety of other factors, however, including their investment situation and whether they have children. The "married filing separately" status cuts the deductions for IRA contributions and eliminates child tax credits, among other tax breaks.

Using miscellaneous deductions by filing separately

Miscellaneous deductions can lower taxable income, but in order to enter them on Schedule A, they must add up to more than 2 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). Spouses with union dues, job-search costs, tax-preparation fees and unreimbursed business expenses may find their miscellaneous deductions don't qualify when their higher combined income raises their AGI. A spouse who travels frequently for business could rack up a sizable tally in airline fees for baggage and itinerary changes that makes the miscellaneous deduction worth pursuing.

Filing separately to save with unforeseen expenses

Adjusted gross income also determines if a couple can use unreimbursed health care costs and casualty losses on Schedule A to save taxes. Unless out-of-pocket medical expenses exceed 10 percent of AGI, they don't qualify as a deduction. Casualty losses must also total more than 10 percent of AGI. The spouse with the loss or substantial medical outlay calculates deductibility against his own, lower AGI when he and his partner file separate returns. When one spouse can lower taxable income this way, married filing separately might trim a couple's overall tax burden.

There is a temporary exemption from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2016 for individuals age 65 and older and their spouses. If you or your spouse are 65 years or older or turned 65 during the tax year you are allowed to deduct unreimbursed medical care expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. The threshold remains at 7.5% of AGI for those taxpayers until Dec. 31, 2016.

Filing separately to guard the future

When you don't want to be liable for your partner's tax bill, choosing the married-filing-separately status offers financial protection: the IRS won't apply your refund to your spouse's balance due. Separate returns make sense to prevent the IRS from seizing a spouse's refund when the other has fallen behind on child support payments.

Couples in the process of divorcing may shun joint returns to avoid post-divorce complications with the IRS, while a spouse who questions her partner's tax ethics may feel more comfortable living a separate tax life.

All couples living in community-property states must consider state law when deciding how to file.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $54.99$34.99*
Start for Free

Looking for more information?

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.


Security is built into everything we do
Here's how
* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • TURBOTAX ONLINE/MOBILE

  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Free 1040EZ/1040A + Free State offer only available with TurboTax Federal Free Edition; Offer may change or end at any time without notice. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice. Savings and price comparisons based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • QuickBooks Bonus Offer with TurboTax Self-Employed: File your 2016 federal return with TurboTax Self-Employed by 4/18/17 and receive a complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed until 4/30/18 at no additional cost. After you file your taxes, you must activate your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription by 7/15/2017 by logging into QuickBooks Self-Employed via mobile app or at https://selfemployed.intuit.com/login. Once activated, you will have access to QuickBooks Self-Employed until 4/30/2018.
    Offer valid only for new QuickBooks Self-Employed customers.
    • When you use TurboTax Self-Employed to file your 2017 taxes, you will have the option to renew your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription. If you do not file with TurboTax Self-Employed by 4/30/2018, your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription will automatically renew on 5/1/2018 for another year at the then-current annual subscription rate. You may cancel your subscription at any time from within the QuickBooks Self-Employed billing section.
  • Pays for itself: In order to pay for the price of TurboTax Self-Employed, you will need at least $600 in deductible business expenses. This calculation is based on the self-employment tax income rate for tax year 2016.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Expert Help, Tax Advice and SmartLook: Included with Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed (via phone or SmartLook); not included with Federal Free Edition. Feature availability varies by device. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • CompleteCheck: Covered under the TurboTax accurate calculations and maximum refund guarantees.
  • TurboTax Self-Employed Expense Finder: Available only in TurboTax Self-Employed. Not available for people with certain types of expenses and tax situations including paying contractors or employees, home office or vehicle actuals, inventory, self employed health insurance or retirement, asset depreciation, sale of property or vehicles, and farm income. Some financial institutions limit the timeframe for which historical transactions may be imported by ExpenseFinder. ExpenseFinder expected late January (late February for mobile app).
  • TURBOTAX CD/DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE

  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice. This benefit is available with TurboTax Federal products except TurboTax Business.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support vary by time of year.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice via phone is included with Premier and Home & Business; fees apply for Basic and Deluxe customers. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2015 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2011 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.