If you and your spouse decide to file your taxes separately, you each can only take half the standard deduction that you would have gotten had you filed a joint return. In 2012, the basic standard deduction for married individuals filing separately was $5,950. But if your spouse itemizes deductions on his or her return, your standard deduction is $0, and you instead have to itemize your deductions on Schedule A.
The standard deduction for married individuals filing separately is the same as that allowed a single filer and half the amount allowed on a joint return. If you are at least 65 or considered blind on the last day of the tax year, the amount increases by $1,150 in each case. For example, if you are 67 years old and blind, your standard deduction when filing separately would be $8,250 instead of $5,950. In addition, if for any reason you claim your spouse as a dependent, you can add another $1,150 to your deduction in each case if your spouse is at least 65 or blind.
If One Spouse Itemizes
If one spouse itemizes deductions on his or her return, the other spouse cannot take the standard deduction. Instead, you must itemize deductions on your return, even if the amount comes out to less than the standard deduction. You should only claim deductions you paid from your personal funds. If a deduction was paid from common funds, you should split the amount.
If You Are a Dependent
If you are married filing separately and another taxpayer claims you as a dependent, your standard deduction is limited based on your earned income. Your deduction will equal $950, or the amount of your earned income plus $300, whichever is greater (up to the maximum allowed). This amount increases by $1,150 in each case if you were at least 65 or blind at the end of the tax year.
In certain cases you can file as head of household instead of married filing separately, which qualifies you for a higher standard deduction and makes you eligible for certain tax credits such as the earned income credit. To file as head of household, you and your spouse must have lived completely apart for the last six months of the tax year. Temporary absences attributable to work, school or military service don't count. You also must meet the other requirements for filing as head of household, such as having a qualified child and paying most of the household expenses.
Alan Sembera began writing for local newspapers in Texas and Louisiana. His professional career includes stints as a computer tech, information editor and income tax preparer. Sembera now writes full time about business and technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Texas A&M University.