If you’re married, you have the option to file one or two tax returns every year. While most people file together due to the increased standard deduction, in some situations it pays off to file separately.
When should I file separately?
There are several situations where married filing separate can benefit you at tax time. For example, sometimes filing jointly pushes you into the next tax bracket. If you file separately, you will most likely fall into a lower tax bracket, which means your income will be taxed at a lower rate. See the new income brackets for 2018 here.
Some other reasons to file separately include:
If one spouse has a substantial medical expense.
If one person doesn’t want to be liable for the other’s taxes.
If one spouse is unwilling or unable to consent to file a joint tax return.
If the spouses are separated but not divorced and they wish to keep their finances separate.
If one spouse qualifies for head of household.
If one spouse has a significant itemized deduction.
Do I lose anything when I choose to file separately?
Filing separately can help with special circumstances but can limit other tax breaks you might be eligible for. Some of the credits and deductions you might lose include:
The Child Care Tax Credit
The Adoption Credit
The Earned Income Tax Credit
Tax-free exclusion of U.S. bond interest
Tax-free exclusion of Social Security benefits
The credit for the elderly and disabled
The deduction for college tuition expenses
The Student Loan Interest Deduction
The American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit for Higher Education Expenses
The deduction of net capital losses
Traditional IRA deductions
Roth IRA contributions
If you count on or rely on any of these credits or deductions, then it might not be worth it to file separately.
It is also important to note that if one spouse itemizes deductions, the standard deduction goes to $0 for the other spouse. In short, if one spouse itemizes, the other should as well. This is especially important because the new tax code for years 2018 – 2024 has nearly doubled the standard deduction for all filing statuses so it could be more beneficial than ever to file jointly. Learn how much the standard deduction has increased under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act here.
Enter your personal information, including your name and mailing address.
Choose “married filing jointly” for the question “What’s your filing status?”
Continue to fill out your taxes as normal.
Use TaxSlayer to prepare your tax return jointly and separately to compare the benefits. Or enter your information from a paystub into our Calculator to estimate which method will benefit you most. If you’re still unsure of whether to file separate, use TaxSlayer’s Filing Status Wizard inside of any version of the software to help calculate your status.
This article is up to date and accounts for tax law changes for tax year 2018 (tax returns filed in 2019). Learn more about tax reform enacted under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act here.