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What to Know if You’re Filing Separately but are Married

What to Know if You’re Filing Separately but are Married

A separate tax file gives each spouse the responsibility of paying their taxes. Married couples can decide to pay their taxes separately to avoid the penalties of filing jointly. The tax system allows you to be legally responsible for your errors and omissions on your tax returns, not your spouse. 

In addition, the IRS sends you a refund to your registered account. However, the system has fewer benefits compared to its counterpart. Plus, you’ll not be eligible for many tax deductions and credits. 

How married filing separately works

Many married taxpayers benefit from jointly filing their returns, but those that choose to use the separate filing status must follow certain rules. Some of the criteria are:

  • Both must agree on the filing method to use, which must be the same. If you use an itemizing method, your partner must use the itemizing deduction method. The filing method makes it challenging to decide who’s getting the deduction. 

  • In addition, if you file separately, you might be ineligible for various benefits and deductions, such as credit for dependent and child care, adoption credit, student loan interest deduction, and education credits.

  • There needs to be more clarity between filing separately and filing singly. The single filing method is for single individuals, and they have a different tax bracket from married people filing separately. 

Nonetheless, there are other ways being married and filing separately can benefit you. For example, 

Married filing separately with kids

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has made it easy for parents to benefit from tax breaks through the child tax credit. The Act manifests its provision by raising the income threshold to qualify as a parent. However, couples that use the separate filing statute will decide on who to claim the qualified child and to receive the credit. 

Generally, the IRS considers who has housed the child for a longer time. In a case where both parents house the child equally, then the IRS will pick the parent with the higher gross income. 

Battling with spousal consent

The joint system requires signatures from both spouses. Filing separately can save you the hurdles of seeking consent in a case of negligence from your partner. However, the law does not apply to a spouse that became a widow or widower in that time. Therefore, you can file your tax separately or jointly in such a tax year.

You have trust issues

Spouses are equally responsible for errors if they are going through the joint filing route. They face the same penalties for errors and omissions except in some situations. However, a separate filing system limits your spouse’s liability, especially if you have trust issues with your spouse. 

For example, a spouse may have many debts from taxes or alimony. Uncle Sam cannot use your refunds to repay the debt if you file separately.

Student loans

  • Parents on installment repayment of their child’s educational loan will benefit by paying lesser monthly bills if they file separately. These income-based repayment programs have become a way to start an adjusted gross income (AGI).

  • Filing separately allows the loan provider to take their refund from the spouse that took the loan. It is worth filing separately with an extra $500 to save $200 on student loan repayments. 

Approximately equal incomes

Filing separately will benefit spouses that receive an almost equal paycheck. However, you’ll be subject to a higher tax bracket rate, although you must ensure that the deductions of using separate returns outweigh the gain of joint returns.  

Medical expenses in the marriage

Medical expenses deduction is there for spouses spending over 7.5% of the adjusted gross income. However, there are others with lower AGI if you can’t reach the threshold. Nonetheless, filing separately is the best option.


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Tiffany Gaskin
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