DEFINITION of 'Married Filing Separately'

A filing status for married couples who choose to record their respective incomes, exemptions and deductions on separate tax returns. In most cases, married filing jointly offers the most tax savings, especially when the spouses have different income levels. However, there is a potential tax advantage to filing separately when one spouse has significant medical expenses or miscellaneous itemized deductions.

BREAKING DOWN 'Married Filing Separately'

According to the IRS, if you and your spouse file separate returns and one of you itemizes deductions, the other spouse will have a standard deduction of zero. Therefore, the other spouse should also itemize deductions. Some credits cannot be used at all if you file separately; these include the child and dependent care credit, hope and lifetime learning credits, and adoption expense credit. If you live in community property states including Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin, you may need to see a tax professional because the rules about separate incomes can be tricky.

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