Married Filing Jointly

What Is Married Filing Jointly?

Married filing jointly is a filing status for married couples who have wed before the end of the tax year. When filing taxes under married filing jointly status, a married couple can record their respective incomes, deductions, credits, and exemptions on the same tax return.

Married filing jointly is often the best choice when only one spouse has a significant income. However, if both spouses work and the income and itemized deductions are large and very unequal, it may be more advantageous to file separately.

Key Takeaways

  • Married filing jointly is an income tax filing status available to any couple who has wed as of Dec. 31 of the tax year.
  • When one spouse earns significantly more money than the other, it is often the best choice.
  • It allows a couple to use only one tax return, but both spouses are equally responsible for the return and any taxes and penalties owed.
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Should Married Taxpayers File Together?

Understanding Married Filing Jointly

When using married filing jointly filing status, both spouses are equally responsible for the return and the taxes. If either one of the spouses understates the taxes due, both are equally liable for the penalties, unless the other spouse can prove they were unaware of the mistake and did not benefit from it.

Taxes can get pretty technical and tricky, so if a couple is having trouble determining tax liability they should talk to an experienced tax preparer.

Married Filing Jointly vs. Filing Separately

When using married filing jointly status, your total combined tax liability is often lower than the sum of your and your spouse’s individual tax liabilities if you were filing separately. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) encourages couples to file together by offering them various tax benefits that don’t apply to the other filing statuses.

Couples who file together qualify for multiple tax credits, including the Earned Income Credit (EIC), the child and dependent care credit, the American opportunity tax credit (AOTC), the lifetime learning credit (LLC), and the saver's tax credit.

Married couples filing jointly generally have access to more tax benefits.

A joint tax return will often provide a bigger tax refund or a lower tax liability. However, this is not always the case. A couple may want to investigate their options by calculating the refund or balance due when filing jointly and separately. Then use the one that provides the biggest refund or the lowest tax liability.

Married Filing Jointly Requirements

You can use the married filing jointly status if both of the following statements are true:

  1. You were married on the last day of the tax year. In other words, if you were married on Dec. 31, then you are considered to have been married all year. If you were unmarried, divorced, or legally separated (according to state law) on Dec. 31, then you are considered unmarried for the year. There is an exception to this rule for the death of a spouse.
  2. You and your spouse both agree to file a joint tax return.

Before filing taxes, married couples should run some calculations to determine whether it makes more sense financially for them to file jointly or separately. Filing jointly is usually more rewarding, although not always.

Also, if you were not divorced or legally separated on Dec. 31, you are considered unmarried if all of the following apply:

  • You lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the tax year (not including temporary absences for reasons such as business, medical care, school, or military service).
  • You file your tax return separately from your spouse's.
  • You paid over half the cost of keeping up your home during the tax year.
  • Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or foster child for more than half of the tax year.

Is There a Benefit to Filing Taxes as Married Filing Jointly?

That depends on your personal circumstances. Married couples often find that filing jointly makes sense financially. Other than saving time, filing jointly tends to offer more generous tax breaks.

When Should Married Couples File Taxes Separately?

Despite the many benefits of filing jointly, there are instances in which filing separately may be more beneficial. This may be the case, for example, if either you or your spouse has significant miscellaneous deductions or medical expenses to claim.

What Is the Standard Deduction for Married Filing Jointly?

For the 2021 tax year, the portion of income not subject to tax for married couples filing jointly is $25,100. In 2022, the standard deduction for this category of filer increases an additional $800 to $25,900.

Article Sources

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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 205 Innocent Spouse Relief (Including Separation of Liability and Equitable Relief)."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2021."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. “IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022.”

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Summer Tax Tip: Advice to Newlyweds," Page 2.

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