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Newlywed? Whether To File Separately Or Jointly

You probably weren't thinking about your tax burden when you said "I do," but marriage does impact upon a couple's income tax requirements, sometimes positively and sometimes not. Newlyweds are often confused about the best type of filing for their particular situation as well as the legalities involved. If you want to enjoy the lowest tax rate possible, you'll need to do your homework, starting with a few considerations.

When did you get married?

Your marital status is defined by the date you got married. If your wedding took place, even as late as the last day of the year, you are considered to have been married for that entire year by the IRS. This is true for everyone, including gay couples who marry in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is authorized by law, independent of their state of residence.

Your To-do list

Before you decide which type of return is best, make sure to do the following:

    • Double check your tax withholding to determine if both partners have enough being taken from their paychecks
    • Inform the Social Security Administration of any name changes made
    • Gather income statements and forms, receipts and deductible expenses, just as you did when you were single
    • Keep an eye on all possible tax breaks you might claim, including charitable donations, education credits, investment losses, mortgage interest and others, as recommended by a tax professional
Tax Forms

You can then explore the two options available for your tax returns: Married filing jointly or Married filing separately.

Married filing jointly

Most couples find this to be the most financially-beneficial option, but if you have any doubts given your specific situation, have a tax professional prepare both versions before you decide which one to file. Married filing jointly allows couples to:

    • Claim student loan interest deductions, tuition and fees deductions, education credits and earned income credits
    • Claim child and dependent care credit
    • Claim elderly and disabled credit
    • Claim tax-free exclusion of U.S. bond interest and Social Security benefits
    • Allows for one partner to take a standard deduction and the other to itemize
    • Benefit from each other's tax breaks

Married filing separately

Married filing separately provides fewer tax benefits, but some couples find it to be the better option, at least for the first year of marriage. Reasons for filing this way may include:

    • One spouse enters the union with past-due debt which might be deducted from their taxes or a tax lien
    • One spouse enters the union with the tax liability of a former spouse
    • Each spouse is solely responsible only for his or her separate return, both legally and financially
    • Neither spouse has to assume responsibility, either legally or financially, for the other's tax burden
    • Each spouse maintains a separate residence with one qualifying for head of household filing status
    • Each spouse has agreed to keep their finances private and separate from each other

Take all of these things into consideration before you begin to file your taxes.

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Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at

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