Married taxpayers can file either joint tax returns or separate ones, depending on their personal finances. Ones who file jointly usually get more tax benefits, but it is important to explore your individual options before deciding which way to file every year. You do not have to file the same way each year as long as your particular circumstances allow for the change.
Legally married people on the last day of the previous tax year can file jointly, no matter what date the marriage took place on. Spouses must agree to file jointly and sign the tax return together. The joint standard deduction is higher that the single one and additional tax benefits may be available.
Joint Tax Return Basics
Basically, a joint tax return is one tax return that covers two legally-joined people. All the income and tax liabilities of both spouses must be declared on this one return in accordance with the rules of the IRS.
They are both responsible for providing completely accurate information and both are equally responsible for paying taxes if applicable. It does not matter who made the money or who actually filled out the papers. The IRS holds each person accountable in the case of an audit or other troubles.
There are options for extreme cases that are outlined in Publication 971: equitable relief, separation or innocent spouse relief that is mostly used in case of criminal issues.
Death of a Spouse
A joint tax return may be filed even if one spouse passed away during the previous tax year. The next tax year will change your status to single, head of household or you can use the unique surviving spouse status. You are, for IRS legal purposes, deemed married if your spouse died during the year, even if they were not alive for more than 6 months.
Separate or Joint Tax Returns?
Most married couples find a greater benefit in filing a joint return. The standard deduction is higher and there are more possible tax benefits they can get. Husbands and wives who file separately may have less financial benefits, but they are also not liable for the other person’s taxes or claims. Explore your options thoroughly and decide what works best for your marriage.
Filing for Same-Sex Married Couples
Couples that are legally married in the state in which they reside can file a joint tax return just the same as opposite sex couples can. They can also file separately if they so choose. This is a recent change due to the Defense of Marriage Act and the changing political climate surrounding same-sex marriage.
When the Supreme Court overruled it as unconstitutional, it changed the terminology of the tax laws. Spouse, husband and wife are now all encompassing when it comes to both opposite and same sex couples, as long as they are legally bound by state marriage.
Same-sex couples who were legally married in a state that recognizes gay marriage and have since moved to a state that does not are still recognized as married by the federal government. They are able to file joint or separate tax returns as married couples. This is a big changed to recent tax laws and, if it applies to your specific status, it is important to keep up-to-date with the information surrounding same-sex marriages and tax laws.
Civil Partnerships and Domestic Unions
In states that do not allow same-sex marriage but do have civil unions or domestic partnerships, no matter what the official title of the union is, couples are not considered married for federal tax purposes. They must file either single tax returns or head of household if they have a qualifying person as outlined in the other article. The IRS does not include people in civil partnerships as married under the laws of their state or the federal government.
Couples in these civil unions must divide any joint property or income to declare it properly on separate tax returns if they reside in a community property state. They cannot take the same deductions or write-offs on the same income or property.
Remember, when you file with TurboTax Online, we’ll ask you simple questions about your situation and recommend the filing status, credits and deductions that will get you the biggest refund.