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How Does Marital Status Affect Your Taxes?

Tips to save on taxes when your marital status changes.

By
Laura Adams, MBA,
September 23, 2009
Episode #142

 

In all the excitement of a wedding or sorrow of a divorce or death of a spouse, it’s easy to forget about tax issues that need to be addressed. In this show I’ll give you tax tips for what to do when your marital status changes.

What to Do if You Plan to Change Your Name

One of the first things to remember once you get back from the honeymoon is to notify the Social Security Administration if you plan to change your name. Your tax return must match the name you’ve registered with the Social Security Administration in order to avoid problems. You also will need to get an updated social security card with your new name. Simply submit Form SS-5, the Application for a Social Security Card, and allow yourself at least two weeks for the change to go into effect. You can find more information at socialsecurity.gov.

How to Change Your Address

If you have a new address, notify the U.S. Postal Service as soon as possible so your mail delivery won’t be interrupted. The post office sends your new information to the IRS. However, I also recommend that you notify the IRS directly about your address change using Form 8822, especially if you’re expecting a tax refund.

How to Decide Tax Filing Status

It’s important to decide which tax filing status you’re going to use for the year in which your marital status changes. Your filing status is important because it determines the amount of tax you have to pay. It affects the amount of your standard tax deduction and whether you’re eligible to claim certain tax deductions and credits. Your marital status on December 31st determines whether you can consider yourself married for that entire tax year. However, if your spouse died during the year, you’re still considered married for the entire year for income tax purposes.

There are five different filing statuses for taxpayers:

  1. Single

  2. Married Filing Jointly

  3. Married Filing Separately

  4. Head of Household

  5. Qualifying Widow or Widower with Dependent Child

You must choose one status for each tax year, so always choose the one that results in the least amount of tax. Here’s a brief description of each one:

    • Single status applies if on the last day of the year you were unmarried or were legally separated or divorced from your spouse. If you’ll claim a dependent, check to see if Head of Household status may save you more in taxes.

    • Married Filing Jointly status applies if on the last day of the year you were legally married and is one of two options for married people. Filing a joint return allows spouses to combine income, exemptions, and allowable deductions on one tax return. It gives you more tax benefits and usually results in lower taxes than filing separately.

    • Married Filing Separately status applies if on the last day of the year you were legally married and is your second option if you’re married. It generally offers the least beneficial tax treatment, but may be necessary if one spouse doesn’t agree with the other about taxes. For instance, one wants to file taxes but the other wants to skirt the law, or one spouse doesn’t want to take joint responsibility for the other’s tax messes. Even if you file separately, you still have to coordinate with your spouse on a couple of issues. If you have dependents, you’ll have to decide who gets to claim them. And if one spouse itemizes deductions, the other must also itemize.

    • Head of Household status applies if you’re considered unmarried on the last day of the year, paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home, and had a qualifying dependent live with you for more than half the year. This status gives you more tax benefit than filing as a single taxpayer or as a married person filing separately. But not every single parent qualifies for this status. I’ll put a link to IRS Publication 501 in the show notes at moneygirl.quickanddirtytips.com for more details.

    • Qualifying Widow or Widower with Dependent Child status applies if you’re unmarried, due to the death of your spouse within the last two years, and you’ve cared for a dependent all year. After two years, if you remain unmarried, your filing status must change to either single or head of household.

How Does Marital Status Affect Your Taxes?

Your marital status affects your income tax withholding, so be sure to complete a new Form W-4, the Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, for your employer. You can use the IRS Withholding Calculator at irs.gov to help you figure the right amount. If you and your spouse both work, that could bump you up to a higher tax bracket. Or if you’re now filing as single or head of household, your tax rate may be lower. Submitting a revised W-4 will make sure that you don’t have too much or too little taxes withheld throughout the year. The W-4 also notifies your employer about any name or address changes that they need to know to update your employment records. That will ensure that you receive your Wage and Tax Statement in the mail after the end of the year.

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I’m glad you’re listening. Chi-Ching, that's all for now, courtesy of Money Girl, your guide to a richer life.

Resources:

Social Security Administration

Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card

Form 8822, Change of Address

IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information

IRS Withholding Calculator

Stressed Couple image courtesy of Shutterstock

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