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Should you and your spouse file your taxes jointly?

What we'll cover

  • The difference between filing taxes jointly and separately 

  • The benefits and disadvantages of each option

  • How to decide how to file as a married couple

When you tie the knot, you have to decide just how much you and your spouse will share — from bank accounts to calendars to chores. The same goes for tax time and choosing whether to file jointly or separately. Most people assume it’s always advantageous to file jointly, but that’s not always the case. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each option before you decide what works best for your situation. 

What is married filing jointly?

Married couples in the United States have the option of filing their tax returns jointly. If you go with this approach, you and your spouse report your combined income, dedications and credits on one tax return. You and your spouse may also choose to file separately.

Married filing jointly requirements

To be eligible to file jointly, you must meet these conditions: 

  • Be married on the last day of tax year. For example, to file married jointly on your 2022 taxes, you must be married by December 31, 2022. If you are unmarried, divorced or legally separated on December 31, you are considered unmarried for the purposes of filing taxes, unless your spouse has died.

  • Both you and your spouse must agree to file a joint tax return.

Advantages of filing jointly

For most couples, filing jointly is simpler than filing separately, and it will reduce your tax burden, too. 

You may get a lower tax rate

The vast majority of married couples could get a lower tax rate when they file jointly. You could receive a larger tax refund or a lower liability than if you had filed separately. With combined incomes, a higher earner may be placed in a lower tax bracket because the tax rate ranges for married filers are different than those for single filers.

You earn more credits and deductions

Filing jointly makes you eligible for a number of tax breaks, including:

  • Earned Income Tax Credit

  • American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Education Tax Credits

  • Exclusion or credit for adoption expenses 

  • Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Higher standard deduction

The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly in the 2023 tax year is $27,700. For single taxpayers and married couples filing separately, the standard deduction is $13,850. The standard deduction reduces the amount of your income that’s subject to tax.

The vast majority of married couples could get a lower tax rate when they file jointly.

Disadvantages of filing separately

While you have the option to file separately if you’re married, it can come with some downsides. You’ll be excluded from eligible tax credits, receive a lower standard deduction and could fall into a higher tax rate if you file separately. The capital loss deduction limit is $1,500 when you file separately, compared to $3,000 on a joint return. You’ll also typically be limited to a smaller IRA contribution deduction.

Reasons to consider filing separately

Although it usually makes more sense to file jointly, some circumstances make filing separately the better option:

You earn the same income as your spouse

The amount of money you earn determines your tax bracket. For some high-income couples who earn around the same amount, they could actually benefit from filing separately. 

You have large medical bills

If you file separately and you itemize your deductions, you can deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. If one spouse has a lot of medical bills and earns less income, it could be easier to hit the 7.5% income threshold in order to deduct those costs. 

Your income determines your student loan payments

If you or your spouse (or both of you) are on an income-driven student loan  repayment plan, and you file jointly, your combined income will be considered the borrower’s income. With a higher reported income, your minimum required loan payments will increase. 

Determine which is best for you

Marrying your better half comes with a lot of perks, including some potential tax breaks. But just because filing jointly is usually the best choice for married couples, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you. Carefully consider all the factors, and consult with a tax advisor to assist you with determining your best option, before deciding how to file as a married couple.

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