When it comes to filing status, the Internal Revenue Service recognizes a few gray areas. If you're happily married, however, you probably don't fall into one of them. The bottom line is that if you married at any time during the year and if you're still living with your spouse at year's end, you can't file a single return. If you did, you'll have to amend it.
The IRS says you're married if you tied the knot at any time up to and including December 31. This might not make a lot of sense if you spent 364 days as a single person, but if you filed using single status, you made a mistake. The only exception to this rule is if you got married but legally separated or divorced by year's end. The last day of the year is the pivotal date, so if you were unmarried on December 31, and if you filed a single return, amending it isn't necessary.
What to Do
If you goofed when you filed, the fix is simple. You need only file another return, a Form 1040X this time. There's a space for amending your filing status near the top of the first page of this tax form. After you check off one of the married statuses, you can re-enter the information from your previous return and make any adjustments brought about by the change. You have three years to do this after you filed the return with the wrong status. The clock starts ticking with the tax due date – typically April 15 – even if you filed earlier in the year. If you filed late, however, such as because you took an extension, you have three years from the date you actually filed. There's one small catch: you can't file Form 1040X electronically. You can access it on the Internet, but you'll have to print it out, fill it in, and mail it off to the IRS the good old-fashioned way.
You can't simply amend from a single return to a married return – the IRS never makes things that easy. You must decide whether to amend to a joint married return with your spouse, or to a separate married return on your own. If you want to file a joint married return, your spouse will have to amend his original return as well, unless he got it right the first time and included your income with his when he filed. If he filed a separate married return, he doesn't have to do anything else as long as you also amend to a separate return. Tax law allows him to amend from a separate return to a joint one, but not from a joint one to a separate one, at least not after the return's due date. Therefore, if he filed jointly, you can't file separately, because he can't amend his to match.
You may be better off filing a joint married return, depending on your personal circumstances. It won't affect your standard deduction – as of 2013, this is $6,100 for those who file separate returns and $12,200 for joint married returns, exactly double the $6,100 to each of you. Depending on your incomes, filing separately might not affect your tax bracket either. For example, if you both earn $90,000, you'll fall into a 28 percent bracket whether you file separately or together, reporting $180,000 in income. However, you'll miss out on some lucrative tax credits and deductions if you file separately; some aren't available to taxpayers who file separate married returns.
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