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Is it better for a married couple to file jointly or separately?
Is it better for a married couple to file jointly or separately?

The pros and cons of married filing jointly vs married filing separately.

Updated over a week ago

This article was updated for Tax Year 2023, last edited on December 20th, 2023

Typically, married couples find that filing their federal tax returns jointly is a better option than filing separately. However, there are times when filing married separately may be a better fit. Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both to see which filing status is the best fit for you and your spouse.

Requirements For Filing With A Married Status

Per the IRS: you are considered married for the whole year if, on the last day of your tax year, you and your spouse meet any one of the following tests.

  • You are married and living together.

  • You are living together in a common law marriage recognized in the state where you now live or in the state where the common law marriage began.

  • You are married and living apart but not legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance.

  • You are separated under an interlocutory (not final) decree of divorce.

Married Filing Separately

What are some advantages of filing Married Filing Separately?

  • You get to keep your tax liability separate from each other.

  • If there is a large disparity in you and your spouse’s income, you will get to pay tax only on your income

  • If you are legally separated, this is generally a good filing status.

  • Sometimes, one spouse has a tax debt that the other spouse does not want their refund being reduced to cover. In those instances, married filing separately could be best.

What are some disadvantages of Married Filing Separately?

Married Filing Jointly

What are some advantages of filing jointly with your spouse?

  • Married couples who file jointly may receive a higher tax break than filing separately, per the IRS.

  • Phaseouts (gradual reduction of a tax credit as income approaches the upper limit of the credit) start at higher income levels for Married filing Jointly.

  • Certain credits such as the Child Tax Credit or Student Loan Interest Deduction may come with an income phaseout where the full credit or deduction is reduced.

  • Per the IRS, filing MFJ (Married Filing Jointly) may allow for claiming credits such as Education Benefits, Earned Income Credit (EIC), Child and Dependent Care, and Adoption Credit.

  • The standard deduction for MFJ is $27,700 (2023).

What are some disadvantages of filing jointly with your spouse?

  • Equal responsibility for the return and any taxes or penalties owed.

  • Deductions for Medical Expenses will be limited, especially if they exceed 7.5% of your income.

  • The refund of one spouse may end up paying for the other spouse’s delinquent debts.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as tax, legal, financial, accounting, or other advice. Rules and regulations vary by location and are subject to change, so please consult with an expert if you need advice specific to you.

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