Kissing. Cake. Music. Dancing. Long, romantic honeymoons. Weddings can create some truly wonderful memories, and your own will be a day cherished for the rest of your life. But amid all the hustle and bustle, it is easy to forget that marriage is just as much of a financial decision as an emotional one.
Nothing makes this clearer than tax season. As a newly married couple, one of the first decisions you will have to make is how to file your taxes. Should you continue to file separately, or will it be more advantageous to file jointly? No two financial situations are the same, but let’s discuss your options in broad terms below and outline what they might mean for you.
Benefits of Filing Jointly
Rare circumstances exist where it may be beneficial to file separate tax forms, such as when dealing with self-employment or trust fund assets. Nine times out of 10, however, filing jointly is going to be the preferred option. Besides the convenience of filling out only one 1040 instead of two, filing jointly allows families to take advantage of the many benefits our tax system offers married couples, including deductions and exemptions that may result in a significant tax break.
At first, this may seem counterintuitive, since combining incomes often means climbing into a higher tax bracket. This may or may not be true depending on your situation, but usually the credits and deductions married couples qualify for offset the baseline tax increase by a significant margin. By filing separately, you automatically disqualify yourselves from most of these credits.
Qualifying for Tax Credits
Married couples usually have the option of filing two separate tax exemptions, which may qualify them for tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, or traditional IRA deductions. Families must do their research and discover, either on their own or with the help of a certified tax professional, what credits they qualify for based on their specific situation. Once married couples enter a higher tax bracket, they can no longer afford to leave potential deductions on the table. To see the previous year’s tax rates, deductions, and brackets, check out the official IRS website here.
Every Year Is Different
Tax situations are fluid and can change from year to year; just because filing jointly was the correct decision last year doesn’t mean it will be this year. If circumstances have forced your spouse to pay a substantial number of medical bills, for example, then your spouse might wish to claim an itemized deduction on bills that exceed 10 percent of his or her income. If you claim this deduction filing jointly, you will only be able to deduct bills that exceed 10 percent of your combined income. In this case, it may make sense to file separately.
To cite another common example, let’s say a new spouse already owes a significant amount of back taxes to the government. In this case, their tax refund will be used to help cover the debt. If you file your taxes together, both of you will be responsible for your spouse’s debt. To ensure your refund isn’t forfeited, you should file your taxes separately until the debt is settled.
If divorce is likely on the horizon, this might be another reason to consider filing separately. Divorce can be legally messy for couples with a lot of assets, and separate tax forms could streamline a significant amount of paperwork down the road.
Keep in mind that these examples only tell part of the story, and much more must be considered before making a decision.
Larger Tax Breaks Mean More Financial Leverage for a New Home
For most, the option to file jointly will also grant couples the leverage needed to make larger purchases that can significantly increase net worth. It might even be enough to justify a new, larger home to accommodate a growing family. If you’re thinking of buying a new home, consider meeting with a local real estate agent to see what price range is right for you.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to your taxes, ensuring you’re filing correctly can help you save time and money in the long-run, and could even make a positive impact on your current finances if you qualify for a return. A certified tax professional can answer any questions you have about filing your taxes, and the deductions they can identify typically more than justify their commission.