Together or Apart

The case for married couples to file joint tax returns or separate tax returns

The annual tax season comes with a question for married couples: Do you file jointly or separately? While most married couples file together, there are some reasons you might want to consider filing separately. Here’s the case for both methods.

Why You Should File Jointly

  • Lower Tax Rate. Typically, married couples who file jointly enjoy a lower tax rate than married couples who file separately.
  • Tax Benefits. As US News reports, if you’re married, you need to file jointly to qualify for some tax breaks. If you file jointly, you’re eligible for the Earned Income Credit, the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, student loan interest deduction and more.
  • Deducting Retirement Contributions. If you file jointly, you’ll have higher income cutoffs to make Roth IRA contributions. Married couples can contribute to a Roth IRA if their adjusted, joint-tax return lists a modified adjusted gross income of less than $208,000 in 2021. If you’re married and filing separately, the income cutoff drops all the way down to less than $10,000.
  • Why You Should File Separately

  • You and Your Spouse are High Earners. If you and your spouse earn high incomes that are roughly the same, it might make more sense to file separately. Your tax rate might actually be lower if you take the separate returns route.
  • You Have High Medical Costs. Another reason to file separately is if you have high medical bills. You can deduct unreimbursed medical expenses, but only if they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. If you have extensive medical bills, it might make sense to file by yourself so you can easily cross that 7.5 percent threshold.
  • You’re Concerned About Liability. If you’re concerned about tax liability, you might want to file separately. If you file your own forms, you won’t be tied to your partner’s potential tax or legal issues.
  • Chris O'Shea

    Chris O'Shea

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