Married With Taxes: Deciding Whether to File Jointly or Separately

Sara Hammarback/freeimages
Sara Hammarback/freeimages

As a married taxpayer, you aren’t limited to filing a joint tax return with your spouse. Depending on your unique tax situation, it may benefit you to file separately. Here’s an overview of the benefits and drawbacks of the filing options available to you.

Married, Filing Separately

In most cases, it isn’t a good idea to use this filing status as a married person. One significant reason is that by filing under this status, you will automatically disqualify yourself from nearly every tax credit, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, even if you do meet the income guidelines.  You’ll also be facing an additional headache if you do file separately: you’ll have to divide all of your income and expenses on your tax form, which can be tiresome and nerve-wracking if you’re not very detail-oriented or are up against the tax filing deadline.


As with any tax matter, there is always another angle. If your spouse is burdened with a sizable tax debt to which you have no connection, it would be to your advantage  to file separately. Doing so will allow you to not shoulder the burden of your spouse’s tax obligation. Instead, your tax returns would be treated as separate entities.

Benefits of Filing Jointly

If you or your spouse aren’t saddled with a separate tax debt, it would be to your benefit to file your tax returns jointly. The IRS encourages married couples to do so by offering a standard deduction that is twice that single standard deduction. You’ll also be able to claim a higher charitable contribution as a married couple, both of which could reduce your overall tax liability at the end of the year.

As with any tax matter, there is always a caveat, so it’s best for you and your spouse to meet with a qualified tax advisor at least once, especially if this will be your first year of marriage. Your tax advisor can assess your current financial situation, including any back taxes owed by either you or your spouse. From there, you’ll get a plan of action for filing your taxes: separately or jointly as a married couple.

Choosing the appropriate filing status for you is one of the key tax decisions you’ll make as a married person. Know and understand your options, and check in with a tax advisor to get answers to your specific questions. Marriage has its share of joys and headaches. While taxes certainly can’t be counted as one of the joys of marriage, they shouldn’t be a headache, either.