Married and Filing Jointly For the First Time

Ed note: It’s your first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. I’m sure you’re envisioning chocolate, roses and a rousing discussion about taxes. No? Well, here’s a few dos and don’ts of filing jointly that you might want to get squared away so you can enjoy the night. Leer en español.

You’ve said “I do” to the love of your life, and, now, for better or worse, you have to file your taxes.

Filing for the first time as a married couple can be tricky.  You have to decide whether to file as “Married Filing Jointly” or “Married Filing Separately.”

Couple working on taxes jointlyMost couples find it best to file jointly for a few reasons:

  1. The tax rate is usually lower.
  2. You can claim a higher standard deduction.
  3. You can claim education tax credits if you were a student.
  4. You can deduct student loan interest.
  5. You can claim deductions for children and childcare expenses.
  6. You can file for the Earned Income Tax Credit (if you qualify).
  7. Some deductions (like medical expenses) are based on whether your expenses exceed a certain percentage of your income.  By filing jointly, you may be able to meet that deduction requirement.

Every person’s tax situation is unique, and there may be many reasons to file jointly and maybe some reasons to file separately (like if your new spouse owes child support or back taxes).  Talk to a qualified tax preparer to see what option is best for your new family’s situation.

Aside from the big “how to file” question, you’ll discover there are many questions you haven’t considered when it comes to your newlywed status and taxes.  Some questions are things you should know about your spouse before you’re married.  But there are some things you will want to discuss before you have an awkward argument with your spouse in front of your tax preparer.

  1. Did you sell or buy a home?
  2. Did you add any dependents when you married?
  3. Do you or your spouse have unpaid tax debts or student loan defaults?
  4. Does your spouse owe or pay alimony or child support?
  5. Did your spouse have gambling wins or losses?
  6. Did you contribute to political campaigns?
  7. Did you have any capital gains/losses?

You’ll also want to discuss how you’ll receive a tax refund if you’ll be getting one and what to do with it.

When you’re filing as a married couple, there is twice as much paperwork, so be sure to get it all – W-2s, 1099s, medical and child care expenses, charitable contributions, business expenses, capital gains/losses and more.  Gather all your information early in tax season so you’re completely ready to file.

After you’ve filed, take some time to evaluate where the process was a bit rocky and establish good money habits for the rest of the year.

For example, if your tax refund was large, you may want to think about adjusting your tax withholding to keep more money in your wallet.  If you had to pay in, you should make adjustments to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Establish a filing system for all your important financial documents and make sure you both know where that information is kept.

Have a conversation with your spouse about monetary decisions that can affect your tax liability for next year.  Will you have a baby?  Go back and finish your college degree?  Pay off debt?  Start investing?  What charities will you support?  Will you be moving or buying a house?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you avoid any surprises at tax time next year.

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