DEFINITION of 'Joint Return'

A joint return is a tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by two married taxpayers whose filing status is married filing jointly (MFJ) or by a widowed taxpayer whose filing status is Qualifying Widow or Widower (QW). A joint return allows these taxpayers to combine their tax liability and report their income, deductions and credits on the same joint return.  

BREAKING DOWN 'Joint Return'

A joint return permits eligible taxpayers to figure their taxes using favorable joint return tax brackets, tax rates, and tax benefits. As a result, married couples who file a joint return generally pay a lower overall tax than married couples who file two separate returns.

Who is Eligible to file a Joint Return

To file a joint return, the taxpayers' filing status must be either Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) or Qualifying Widow/er (QW). To be eligible for the married filing jointly (MFJ) filing status, the taxpayers must be legally married to each other on or before the last day of the tax year and both must agree to file and must sign the Joint Return. To qualify as qualifying widow/er (QW), the taxpayer’s spouse must have died in either of the two prior tax years and the taxpayer must maintain a household for a dependent child. 

Definition of Married in a Joint Return

Whether or not taxpayers are considered married on the last day of the tax year is decided by the law of the applicable state or jurisdiction.  Same-sex marriages that are legally entered into are recognized for all federal tax purposes. Taxpayers who divorce or separate under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance that is final at any point during the tax year are considered unmarried for that entire year and cannot file a joint return.

Benefits of a Joint Return

Taxpayers who are married and not widowed must choose one of two filing statuses: married filing jointly (MFJ) or married filing separately (MFS). Filing jointly is likely to result in less tax if one spouse earns most of the income and deductions will not be itemized. Filing separately may result in less tax if both spouses earn the same income and if one or both have medical expenses, casualty losses, or miscellaneous deductions since joint and separate tax rates are likely to be the same and since adjusted gross income floors will be lower. Any time both spouses earn taxable income, the tax should be figured both jointly and separately and a return filed using the status that provides the lowest tax. 

RELATED TERMS
  1. Married Filing Jointly

    Married filing jointly is a filing status for married couples ...
  2. Qualifying Widow/Widower

    A qualifying Widow/Widower is a 2-year federal tax filing status ...
  3. Single Filer

    Single filers are taxpayers who are unmarried and do not qualify ...
  4. Amended Return

    An amended return is a return filed in order to make corrections ...
  5. Head Of Household

    Head of household is a filing status on tax returns filed by ...
  6. Dependent

    A dependent is a person who entitles a taxpayer to claim dependent-related ...
Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    Gay Marriage and Taxes: Everything You Should Know

    Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples can now take advantage of gay marriage tax benefits or may end up paying a "marriage penalty."
  2. Taxes

    Top Reasons to File Separately When Married

    Usually couples file their taxes jointly, not separately. Except for these possible exceptions...
  3. Taxes

    20 Tax Changes You Need To Know About

    Don't miss out on the tax changes. Here's a list that you need to know about.
  4. Taxes

    Newly Divorced? How To File Your Taxes

    Divorce is a rough transition. Make the tax changes as easy as possible with these tips.
  5. Taxes

    Tax Issues For Same-Sex Spouses

    The tax rules for same-sex spouses are largely the same as for traditional filers, but there are a few special considerations that apply.
  6. Taxes

    Ryan vs. Trump: How Their Tax Plans Differ

    Changes to the tax code are likely, but President-elect Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wis.) have yet to agree on which ones.
  7. Personal Finance

    The 10 Most Common Tax-Filing Mistakes

    Be sure to double check your federal income tax return for these common mistakes that could cost you time and money.
  8. Retirement

    Top Tax Tips for Retirees

    Filing your taxes during retirement can be just as time consuming as when you were employed. We have some tips to help you out.
  9. Taxes

    Breaking Down Taxes For Different Income Brackets

    Here is a useful rundown of how much you will pay in taxes based on your income.
  10. Taxes

    Anticipating Trump: How to Adjust Tax Planning Now

    President-elect Trump's proposed tax plan means your tax situation could change next year. What to do now.
Trading Center