How do I File Income Tax When Married?

by Amber Keefer, Demand Media
    Married filing jointly qualifies couples for more tax breaks than filing separate returns.

    Married filing jointly qualifies couples for more tax breaks than filing separate returns.

    According to H&R Block, married couples usually get the lowest tax rates by filing a joint return. The filing status of married filing jointly offers more tax breaks in the form of credits and deductions. Getting married brings changes in your finances and tax liability as well. If you choose to file a joint income tax return with your spouse, you will be reporting your combined incomes and deducting combined allowable expenses. You can file separate returns, but you probably are going to pay more combined tax, because you won't qualify to claim as many credits and deductions.

    Step 1

    Organize your paperwork. You will need your W-2 forms from your employers to report your wages, 1099s to report interest and dividend income, bank statements, last year's returns, and documentation showing income that you or your spouse earned from self-employment. Gather together receipts and canceled checks as proof of any of the expenses you plan to deduct. Now that you are married, the two of you may need to adjust your withholdings by filing updated W-4 Forms or increasing your estimated tax payments. If you are the wife, contact the Social Security Administration to inform them of your name change, so that the IRS can match your name with your Social Security number.

    Step 2

    Claim deductions that you haven't been able to take before. If you and your spouse had to relocate after the wedding--and you paid the costs of moving out-of-pocket--you might be able to deduct moving expenses on your tax return. The move must be related to your employment, and your new job must be located at least 50 miles farther away from your previous home than your last place of employment. Buying a home together could allow you to deduct mortgage interest if you itemize deductions. In addition, you can deduct student loan interest but only if you file a joint return. You can deduct up to $2,500, even if both of you are repaying student loans.

    Step 3

    Figure out your adjusted gross income. You are allowed certain deductions. These include--yet are not limited to--student loan interest, moving expenses, deductions for medical savings accounts, and deductions for your contributions to an IRA or qualified pension. You can deduct a portion or all of your IRA contribution, even if you aren't covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but your spouse is.

    Step 4

    Use Form 1040, Schedule A to itemize deductions. These are eligible expenses that you can report on your federal income tax return to decrease the amount of your taxable income. Some of the deductions allowed include property taxes, state and local income taxes that you pay, interest you pay on mortgage and home equity loans, charitable contributions, and certain medical expenses. If the sum of your itemized expenses is greater than the standard deduction, take the higher amount. The standard deduction is highest for married filing jointly. In 2009 the standard deduction for married filing jointly was $11,400, as compared to $5,700 for a single taxpayer.

    Step 5

    Deduct each qualified exemption from your income. Federal tax exemptions reduce your taxable income and include those you can take for yourself, your spouse, and any children or other dependents living with you in your home. In 2009, the personal exemption amount per taxpayer and each dependent was $3,650. The amount is adjusted each year for inflation.

    Step 6

    Take advantage of any tax credits for which you qualify. Deductions reduce your tax by a marginal rate, whereas a credit reduces your tax by the amount of the credit you are eligible to claim. Married couples filing jointly can claim the earned income tax credit (EITC), if they fall within the adjusted gross income guidelines. Couples who file separate returns are not eligible to take the credit. Actual amount of the credit depends on your income and family size.

    Step 7

    File your tax return to the IRS before the date due, which is usually April 15, unless you file a fiscal year return. Both of you and your spouse must sign a joint return. If you don’t file on time and you owe money, you will have to pay interest and penalty besides. As a newlywed you may need additional time to get all the appropriate paperwork into the IRS on time. File for an Automatic Extension of Time if you don’t think you can make the filing deadline. This will give you another six months to file.

    Warning

    • Generally, filing separate returns when married means paying higher tax rates and not qualifying for many of the tax deductions and credits offered other filing statuses. However, there are cases in which married filing separate could lower your tax. You might want to do your taxes both ways before deciding how you are actually going to file.

    About the Author

    Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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