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When Does It Make Sense for Married Couples to File Taxes Separately?

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Married? When Should You File Jointly vs. Separately


This tax season is almost at a close, and some people may still be finalizing their documents before the April 17th deadline. For married couples, the question may arise each year about whether to file jointly or separately. The reality is, there is no right or wrong answer; it really depends on both of your individual financial situations and potential tax breaks you may want to take advantage of.

There are some unique cases where filing jointly may not yield the highest return and could actually end up costing you money. Here are three reasons why you may want to consider filing separate tax returns, even if you’re married.

1.) You’re on an income-based repayment (IBR) plan. Student loans can be a massive bill to foot each month. Some individuals qualify for IBR plans which allow them to make lower monthly payments. If you’re married and one partner is on an IBR plan, you should consider filing separately. Combining your reported income with your spouse can bump you up to a higher tax bracket, and disqualify your eligibility for continued low monthly student loan repayments.

2.) Your spouse has a larger tax liability. Your partner might owe the IRS a significant amount of money from previous tax seasons, or may have a large medical bill that needs to be itemized. Filing jointly means that you both agree to share responsibility for all income and liabilities reported between the both of you – which might not be the best option if your tax liability is much lower and you want to keep a healthy record.

3.) You’re going through a separation or divorce. If you live separately but are still legally married, filing separately may be the best option. This is especially true if one of the spouses qualifies for head of household status. You’ll want to keep your finances separate as you go through other legal motions of the divorce.

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The Bottom Line:

Whether you decide to file jointly or separately, there are pros and cons to consider for each. It’s most important to understand your individual tax situation before you decide how to file. Hiring a CPA or tax advisor can be helpful; they can run your information through both options to determine which filing status net the best results for you and your spouse.


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This data is for informational purposes only and Capital Benchmark Partners, LLC ("CBP") is not affiliated with any of the businesses mentioned nor endorses them. CBP is not endorsed by any third party entities for their inclusion in this article nor is compensated for mentioning them. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but the accuracy of the information cannot be guaranteed.

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