Filing a tax return is pretty much a once-a-year event, but the W4 you fill out for your employer is different. You can revise and submit a new one at any time during the year if you experience a major change in your life…like getting married.
Ask your employer for a new form after you tie the knot. The W4 is an important document for changing tax status from single to married and you’ll want to adjust this because it can affect your take-home pay. The information on your W4 tells your employer how much to withhold from your pay for taxes.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Changing your tax status to married can result in bigger take-home paychecks.
When You Get Married at Mid-Year
You should see a significant difference in your paychecks when you change your W4 to reflect your new marital status because married couples who file joint tax returns are entitled to a larger standard deduction and their tax brackets are a bit more generous. This can be particularly advantageous for a married taxpayer who earns more than his partner. You’ll be taxed on less income at the end of the year so less in the way of taxes will be withheld from your pay to cover your taxes at year’s end.
Keep in mind that when you file your tax return, you must use one of the married filing statuses even if you got married on the last day of the year. You must either file a separate or a joint married return if you married on any day of the calendar year for which you’re filing. In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, you were married all year long even if you didn't say “I do” until Dec. 31.
Be sure to notify the Social Security Administration if you change your name. A lot of confusion and complications can result if the name on your tax return doesn’t match up with the name associated with your Social Security number. The process of changing your name with the SSA can take a little time so try to take care of this well in advance of filing your tax return. You can use your new name on the new W4 you give to your employer to change your tax allowances, but this won’t officially change it with Social Security.
Oversights and Exceptions
Don’t panic if you forgot to change your W4 after getting married. It will only affect your take-home pay, not your tax return if you don’t change to taxable married status on your paycheck. You can still file a married return even if your W4 says you’re single. You’ll just probably get more of a tax refund at year’s end because more was withheld from your pay than was necessary.
The same will happen if you marry at the very end of the year. You must file a married return but taxes have been withheld from your pay all year at the single tax rate so the IRS might be sending you a pretty nice tax refund check.
You might have heard of the “marriage penalty” that once plagued some couples at tax time. It used to be that the married tax brackets were not exactly double the ones for single taxpayers and this could result in more taxes due than if they had just remained single. This was particularly the case when both spouses earned pretty much the same. But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act fixed this when it went into effect in January 2018.
The Effect on Your 2018 Taxes
So what exactly is the difference between single and taxable married status on your paycheck as of 2018? Withholding from your pay is based on a standard deduction of $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, double that for single individuals. This means that you and your spouse will pay taxes on $24,000 less in income.
The income parameters for tax brackets are now double those for single filers as well thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The only exception is the top tax rate of 37 percent and a single individual would have to earn $500,000 a year or more to reach this tax bracket. Married couples who file jointly must earn $600,000.
The Effect on Your 2017 Taxes
Changing tax status from single to married had a somewhat different impact on 2017 tax returns. One of the most important changes is that the new tax law eliminated personal exemptions, another dollar amount that you could deduct from your earnings to arrive at your taxable income.
It used to be that you could claim an exemption for yourself, each of your dependents and your spouse if you were married. The personal exemption was $4,050 for the 2017 tax year so you could shave an additional $8,100 off your income if you were married and filed a joint return, even if you didn’t have any dependents. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.
The standard deductions were significantly less in 2017 as well: $6,350 for single taxpayers and $12,700 for those who were married and filed joint returns. They very nearly doubled in 2018 due to the terms of the TCJA. Changing your tax status from single to married saved you $11,300 less in taxable income in 2017 than it will in 2018.
So go ahead and take a moment to check the taxable married status on your paycheck. Make sure it’s up to date. It could save you some significant money at tax time and throughout the year as well.
Beverly Bird has worked as a paralegal in the areas of personal finance and bankruptcy for over 20 years. She has been writing professionally for over 30 years.