Getting married is sure to change nearly everything about your life, including how you file your taxes. The IRS wants to know when you get married and whether you stay that way. “It’s complicated” is an acceptable status on Facebook but not on your tax forms. Although the IRS does recognize some gray areas about one’s filing status, being happily married doesn’t allow for any wiggle room. If you got married during the year and remained married, it’s not acceptable to file a tax return as single.
So, if you filed single when you’re married, it’s necessary to amend your return. The good news is that this is not a difficult task to complete. Amending a tax return to change filing status is common. The IRS understands that mistakes happen, so it offers solutions to fix them.
Consider Your Wedding Day
According to the IRS, your marital status on the very last day of the year determines how you should select your filing status. If you were married on December 31 of the tax year, you are considered married for the entire tax year. If you spend nearly 12 months as a single person and only married at the end of the year, that may seem confusing at first, but that is how the filing status is determined. So, if you were married on December 31 and you filed as single, it’s necessary to amend your tax return. On the other hand, if you were married for most of the year but were divorced by December 31, there will be no need to change a single return. All the same tax rules that apply to opposite-sex marriages apply to same-sex marriages.
Choose the Correct Status
Don’t expect the IRS to keep things too simple. There’s more to choosing a tax filing status than just stating whether you are single or married. All of the possible tax return filing statuses are: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. So, if you’re looking to amend your return from single to married, you need to determine whether you want to file as married filing jointly or married filing separately.
The married filing jointly option is best if you and your spouse want to file the return together. In this scenario, your husband or wife will need to amend his or her original return too, unless they already filed with this status and included your information the first time around. If your spouse passed away during the tax year, you may still file a joint return for that year.
If you and your spouse decide that you should amend your return to the married filing separately status, your spouse won’t have to do anything else if he originally filed a separate return under this status. Keep in mind that your spouse can change a separate return to a joint one, but that doesn’t work the other way around after the return’s due date. If your spouse filed jointly, you can’t then decide to file separately, since he can’t amend his return to match yours.
Actions to Amend the Return
Here’s the rather easy fix. To amend your return from single to married, request Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, from the IRS. Get a blank copy of Form 1040-X from IRS.gov/forms anytime. File using a hard copy. Amended returns can’t be filed electronically. Completely fill out the form, following the instructions that are included with it. Where can you submit the form? Mail it to the address that’s listed in the instructions.
Use Form 1040-X to amend forms 1040, 1040-A, 1040-NR, 1040-EZ or 1040NR-EZ. When sending Form 1040-X to the IRS, include copies of all schedules and forms that you changed or didn’t include with your first return. If you hope to receive an additional refund or credit, you need to file Form 1040-X within three years of the date you filed your original return or within two years of paying the tax, whichever is later. Hopefully you’re not in a rush! Plan for the IRS to take up to 16 weeks to process the corrected return.
If you suddenly realize that you need to correct several years’ worth of forms that were filed as single when you should have chosen either married option, you’ll need to fill out a separate Form 1040-X for each year you’re amending. Also, never file more than one tax return for a calendar year. If you’re filing corrected return forms for more than one year, mail each Form 1040-X separately.
Information Needed for Form 1040-X
Gather the tax forms you originally used and any papers that support the changes you need to make. Then, use blue or black ink when filling out Form 1040-X. At the top of the form, you’ll need to enter basic information like your name, address and Social Security number. A post office box address is only accepted as your address if the mail isn’t delivered to where you live. Have all the information about your income, deductions, tax liability, payments and refund or other amount you owe on hand as you fill out the form. Information on exemptions should be included. The form also asks if you want to contribute to the presidential election campaign fund. Just before signing the form, there is a place for you to write a paragraph or two to provide an explanation of the changes and let the IRS know why you’re filling out the form in the first place. When filling out the form, make a note of all additional paperwork that’s necessary to support the information provided. Then, gather it to include when mailing the form.
Implications for Amended Returns
When you’re amending a tax return from single to married, it will likely impact tax calculations. Not only will it alter which tax brackets you use, but it can change a variety of things that affect how much you owe. You may discover that you owe money, or you may get a second refund check if the IRS owes you more money than it provided with your initial refund.
Most people who amend a return from single to married do so for their first year of marriage. If you changed your name when you got married and that’s reflected on your tax forms, be sure to also let the Social Security Administration office know of your name change. In fact, you should do that as soon as possible after your wedding. If possible, the Social Security Administration needs to receive and process your name change before you file your amended form. That can help you avoid complications.
You may find that the standard deduction you receive is no longer more than itemizing your deductions once you’re married and own a house. Also, you may be surprised by some of the additional things that are allowed once you amend your return from single to married. For example, you and your spouse may give each other endless amounts of cash or other property without being charged gift taxes to do so. However, that can impact estate planning, so make sure you talk to a professional about estate planning before you make any big decisions on what you do with money in that regard.
Filing for 2017 vs. 2018
Whether it’s in your best interests to file a joint married return depends on your circumstances. However, keep in mind that it won’t affect your standard deduction. For the tax year 2017 (effective on January 1, 2017), the standard deduction for single taxpayers and married taxpayers who file separately is $6,350. Married couples filing jointly receive a standard deduction of $12,700. There were significant changes for 2018. For the tax year 2018 (effective on January 1, 2018), the standard deduction for single taxpayers and married taxpayers who file separately increased to $12,000. Married couples who file jointly for 2018 receive a standard deduction of $24,000.
Depending on the incomes of both you and your spouse in either year, filing separately may not affect your tax bracket. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act resulted in a lot of changes to tax brackets. So, if your incomes vary a great deal, you may see a big difference. If you earn the same amount (or in the same range) as your spouse, the tax bracket may stay the same. For example, if you both earn $157,500, you’d fall into the 32 percent tax bracket whether you file separately or together, reporting $315,000 in shared income. Nevertheless, that can’t be the entire deciding factor. You may miss out on lucrative deductions and credits if you file separately, since married couples filing jointly get breaks not given to others.
Amending an Amended Return
If you previously corrected a mistake on your taxes by amending a return for the same year for which you want to change your filing status, you may be wondering, "Can you amend an amended return?" The good news is that you can. Simply amend the tax return the same as you would otherwise. Fill out Form 1040-X. The IRS realizes that people make mistakes, and they have those forms on hand for that very reason. Make every effort to get it right the first time, then don’t worry if you need to correct mistakes along the way.
When You Shouldn’t Amend
If you only made a math error, don’t file an amended return for that because the IRS will correct that. Also, you may not need to amend the form if too much time has passed. Another remedy may be available. If it has been over three years since you filed the form you need amended, contact the IRS directly to ask about your unique situation.
Tracking Your Amended Tax Return
When you’re changing a tax status from single to married, you may be eager to track its progress. The IRS makes it simple. You can go to the “Where’s My Amended Return” section of the official IRS website to track the status of your Form 1040-X and any forms for the previous three years. Alternately, call 866-464-2050. Keep in mind that it can take up to three weeks for the amended return to appear in the system, so you may want to refrain from checking it until then. When you do use the site tracker or call the IRS, have your Social Security number, date of birth and zip code on hand.
Amending MFS to MFJ
If you filed your tax return as married filing separately (MFS) but discover that it would be in your best interests to change your status to married filing jointly (MFJ), you’re not stuck with your previous choice. Just as you can switch your tax filing status from single to married, you can change your mind about the type of married filing status you want to have. However, the timeline is different. When you’re amending married filing separately to married filing jointly, you must do so before the April 15th deadline.
- IRS: Filing Status and Exemption Adjustments
- IRS: Choosing the Correct Filing Status
- IRS: Form 1040X
- Forbes: IRS Announces 2017 Tax Rates, Standard Deductions, Exemption Amounts And More
- Forbes: New: IRS Announces 2018 Tax Rates, Standard Deductions, Exemption Amounts And More
- Tax Foundation: 2018 Tax Brackets
Robin Raven is an experienced journalist and author. She has a BFA in writing from the School of Visual Arts and loves to write about personal finance. She has contributed to USAToday.com, The Huffington Post, The Nest, Grok Nation, and many other publications.