Filing taxes doesn't get any easier when you're hitched. Your new marriage changes the filing status you can use when you prepare your federal and state returns. The "married filing jointly" and "married filing separately" statuses provide different benefits, but you have to determine which is appropriate to use for your state taxes. Generally, each state expects you to file taxes with the same filing status you used to prepare federal tax returns.
Some states require couples to file separate state taxes, even after filing joint tax returns, if one spouse lived in a different state. States such as New Jersey give the couple the option to file jointly, as if both were residents of the state the previous year. If the couple chooses to forgo this option, the spouse who lived in that state must file state taxes with the "married filing separately" status.
Joint Versus Separate
You can expect a lower tax bill when you file your state taxes with your spouse. You would also have access to tax breaks that aren't available to spouses who file separately. However, a separate filing makes sense in some situations. For example, if one of you was lucky enough to receive a raise last year, this could push your total earnings into a higher tax bracket and increase your tax liability. You could avoid the higher tax by filing separately. This is also the best option if one person owes a significant amount that could wipe out the other person's refund.
The filing process is less complicated when you file jointly, especially if you file electronically. Tax programs automatically prepare your state taxes with the information you submit for federal reporting. If you choose to file separate state taxes, you will have to create a dummy joint state tax return based on your joint federal tax return, then use the dummy state return to file separate state returns. You must prepare the forms carefully so you both don’t claim deductions twice. There are more rules to consider if you live in a community property state.
Because tax laws differ, check with your state's tax revenue office before filing a return. The American Institute of CPAs provides links to websites for each state's revenue department. You can contact each office online, by telephone or by mail to ask about state requirements for a married couple's filing status.
Tina Amo has been writing business-related content since 2006. Her articles appear on various well-known websites. Amo holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration with a concentration in information systems.