Life changes, such as getting married or getting divorced, can occur at any time during the year. These changes significantly affect how your federal income taxes are determined. You can adjust your W-4 at work to reflect any changes in your marital status, so you don't get a big surprise when tax time rolls around.
The Internal Revenue Service recognizes five filing statuses, including single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, qualifying widow(er), and head of household. Each filing status is based on your marital status as of the last day of the tax year. If you got married in June, the IRS considers you to have been married for the entire year. If you got divorced in December, the IRS considers you to have been single for the entire year.
The tax rates are different for single individuals than they are for married individuals. For instance, a single taxpayer with between $24,000 and $24,050 of taxable income would owe $3,179 in federal income taxes. A married couple filing a joint return with the same taxable income would owe $2,754 in federal income taxes for the 2011 tax year, according to the IRS. Married couples filing jointly can also take a standard deduction of $11,400 while a single taxpayer could only claim $5,700.
The U.S. income tax system is a pay-as-you-go system, which means your employer must withhold income taxes from your paycheck and pay them to the IRS on a regular basis. The amount your employer withholds is based on the W-4 form that you filled out. The W-4 reflects your marital status and the number of exemptions you are entitled to. If you claim a greater number of exemptions your employer withholds less money from your paycheck. If you claim single as your marital status, your employer will withhold a larger amount from your paycheck.
Change of Marital Status
If you change your marital status in the middle of the year -- you either get married or divorced -- you will need to adjust your W-4 with your employer to make sure you have the proper amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck. If you get married and you don't update your W-4, your employer may withhold more than it needs to. That may not be too big of a deal, since you'll get any excess withholding back when you file your federal income tax return. If you go from married to single and you don't update your W-4, your employer may not withhold enough taxes from your paycheck and you may end up having to pay when you file your return. Your best bet is to periodically check the status of your W-4 to make sure it appropriately reflects your current situation.
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