Once you tie the knot, the IRS requires you to file as a married individual in most cases. Occasional exceptions allow you to file using a status such as "Head of Household" while you're married, but filing as single when you're married isn't allowed. Though jointly filed returns typically grant the largest returns, other options are available if you're married but don't want to file with your spouse.
The filing status you choose for your tax return affects the taxes you pay in several ways. Your filing status determines the standard deduction you can use, the tax credits and other incentives you may qualify for and even the tax rate that your tax debt or refund is calculated at. You can file as a single person only if you're unmarried or legally separated pending divorce or other court action on the last day of the year; otherwise, you must file using your proper status.
Just because you're married doesn't mean you have to file your tax return with your spouse. By selecting the "Married Filing Separately" status, both you and your spouse can file your own returns and claim your own deductions. Each return will have the name and Social Security number of the other partner on it, but there will be no other links between the two in the eyes of the IRS. The only stipulation is that you both have to use the same deduction type; you can't choose a standard deduction if your spouse itemizes or vice versa.
Head of Household
Filing as "Head of Household" is generally reserved for people who are single and supporting one or more dependents, but there are situations where you can choose file this way even if you're married. To qualify, you'll need to live apart from your spouse for at least the second half of the year, with both of you having a separate address; this may be because you're separated, or it could be because one of you is working in another location for an extended period. If you've paid more than half of the household expenses and taken care of a dependent for more than half the year, you can qualify as "Head of Household" even though you're married.
The only way that you could file as "Single" while you're married is to qualify as being "considered unmarried" by the IRS. This status generally refers to people who are separated pending divorce, though in some cases state law may allow for other forms of legal separation that qualify you as unmarried in the eyes of the IRS. You have to have a separate address from your spouse and some form of legal action drawing a distinction between you; otherwise, you're still considered married even if you aren't living with your spouse at the time.
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