Is a New Spouse Responsible for Past Tax Problems?

by Angela M. Wheeland, Demand Media
    File an injured spouse claim to eliminate your responsiblity to pay his tax bill.

    File an injured spouse claim to eliminate your responsiblity to pay his tax bill.

    "For better and for worse." When you take this wedding vow, you promise to stand by your spouse regardless of the circumstances -- even when he has past tax problems. When you get hitched, you assume responsibility for your hubby's past and future debts. Although the Internal Revenue Service assumes that both taxpayers are responsible for paying the back tax bill, a special rule might exclude you from this responsibility.

    Past Taxes

    When your wife owes back taxes, the IRS seizes all future refunds until the tax debt is satisfied. If you file your income taxes jointly, the IRS will also seize your portion of the refund to pay your wife's debt. Although you didn’t participate in failing to pay the debt, the IRS will still hold you responsible. Tax bills are only considered a marital liability if you do not take steps to exclude yourself from the liability.

    Filing Separately?

    It is usually better for married couples to file a tax return jointly than to file separately. The tax bracket for married couples filing jointly is exactly twice as much as the tax bracket for those filing separately. If one spouse earns a lot more than the other, filing jointly can lower the tax bill. Carefully consider both alternatives before filing your income taxes. Prepare your taxes jointly, then separately, to calculate the lowest tax liability. Although filing separately does get you off the hook for your hubby's tax liability, filing jointly can produce a bigger refund if you file an injured spouse allocation.

    Injured Spouse

    If one spouse incurs tax debt before the marriage, the other spouse is considered the "injured" spouse. To file an injured spouse claim, you must complete a special tax form that separates income, taxes, credits and tax liability. The form allows the injured spouse to claim her portion of the income tax refund, and the remaining amount is applied to the past tax debt.

    Filing the Form

    You must file Form 8379, or the Injured Spouse Allocation, within six months of the tax deadline, which is usually April 15. By law, the IRS must hold your tax refund for six months before applying the refund to your spouse's debt. This period allows you time to complete and submit the claim. The IRS advises that it can take up to 14 weeks to distribute your refund, as processing an injured spouse claim is lengthy.

    About the Author

    Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.

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