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Should you file IRS taxes as single or married?

As a married couple, how to file your taxes is one of many decisions you have to make together. Only this time, there is no option to say, fine, you do your thing, and I’ll do mine. You both need to file in the same way.

If the IRS considers you as married, then you have two ways to file taxes. You can file one married filing jointly return or two married filing separately ones. 

How does the IRS determine if you are married?

The IRS looks at your marital status on December 31st, the last day of the tax year. So if you were married on that day, you need to file as married. If you were legally separated or divorced on that date or only got married afterward, then you each need to file a single person (or, perhaps more appropriately, an individual) tax return.

What is better: Married filing jointly or married filing separately?

The government gives considerable tax incentives to married couples who file together. These relate to several areas, including:

  • Child tax credit
  • Earned income tax credit
  • Lifetime learning credit
  • Retirement savings

Sometimes the disadvantages of filing jointly outweigh the advantages. If the IRS is investigating your spouse, or you fear they might, keeping your return separate may be best. If one of you, typically the person with the lower income, paid off significant medical bills during the year, then filing separately could land them a greater refund. 

The situation is unique for every couple. The only way to discover whether it is better to file your tax return as married jointly or married separately is to take a detailed look at your finances. Only by doing this can you make a decision based on facts.