Married Couples: How to Decide if You Should File Joint or Separate Tax Returns
If you're a married taxpayer, you can decide to file your income tax returns with or without your spouse. While the IRS offers both filing statuses it's always important for each individual to decide which option is best for their situation. Once you've learned about the basics of each status, you'll find it simpler to choose the filing status that gives you the biggest tax break. In a few cases, however, it may be best for an individual to file separately from his or her spouse even though doing so might result in a larger tax bill.
1. Consider the benefits of filing jointly.
In the vast majority of cases, it is best to file your income tax return as a joint return with your spouse. To encourage taxpayers to file jointly, the IRS offers many substantial tax incentives to married couples that are not available to separate filers. For example, married couples who file joint returns receive a standard deduction that is twice the amount given to those who file separately. In addition, joint filers are eligible for many tax credits that are not offered to couples who file separately.
2. Think about the possible consequences of filing separately.
The married filing separately option is almost always inadvisable for most taxpayers. One reason is that using this filing status automatically disqualifies you for nearly every tax credit, including the Earned Income Credit and the Child Tax Credit. This is true even if you meet the income standards for the credit. If you file a separate return, you'll also have to divide all of your income and expenses from your spouse on the form, which could be tedious and time-consuming especially if you're filing near the deadline.
3. Evaluate your own situation.
While the choice between filing separately and jointly may seem clear each person's financial situation is different. In some cases, it's actually best for a taxpayer to use the married filing separately status. For example, if a married individual has a spouse who is currently dealing with outstanding tax debt that he or she has no connection to it's usually advisable for that person to file a separate return to avoid being responsible for a share of that debt.
Choosing your appropriate filing status for the year is one of the most important tax decisions you'll make. Despite the obvious advantages of filing jointly you should take your time when deciding whether to file a joint or separate tax return.
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