Seven Tax Tips for Recently Married Taxpayers

I attended several weddings this spring and summer…which of course for me often means providing some tax advice to newlyweds :-)

[NOTE: Everything in this article pertains only to those couples recognized as “married” under federal law. So even if you’re married under state law, the religious law of your faith, Canadian law, maritime law, Murphy’s law, or anything else, the IRS only recognizes federal marriage law. And if you’ve followed this blog before, that can mean a lot of headaches, but surprisingly a few big advantages, for same-sex spouses. But this article is just talking about marriages recognized under federal law.]

One big mistake newly married couples frequently make is using the Married Filing Separate (MFS) status because they don’t feel like they’re ready to “merge their finances” yet. In almost every case, filing MFS will result in a higher combined tax liability, often by a significant amount. In fact, in years of getting the question about whether it’s better to file separate or jointly, I’ve only been able to think of three scenarios in which filing separately might produce a better result…and even in these unusual cases joint filing is still typically better. The three scenarios where separate filing might be better are:

  1. Both spouses earn incomes of about $150k or higher.
  2. Both spouses have income, but one has very large job-related expenses.
  3. Both spouses have income, but one has very large medical expenses.
If you’re in one of those 3 situations, it’s worth running the numbers both ways. Otherwise, filing jointly is going to give you the better result 999,999 times out of 1,000,000. The only other reason not to file jointly is if you have doubts about whether your spouse is disclosing all income and you don’t want to be liable for penalties that may result if caught. And let’s hope that’s not your situation because you need more than just good tax advice!
Finally, one thing the IRS doesn’t mention is if you filed separately without realizing what it would cost you, you can always go back and amend your return, for up to three years after filing, to claim the extra savings. However, it doesn’t work the other way around. If you file jointly, and then realize after the deadline passes that you would have been better filing separately, you can’t amend your return to go from joint to separate filing after the filing deadline. So it’s probably always a good idea to run that first joint return (and any joint return for years with significant changes) by a professional before filing, just in case you’re in one of those unusual situations where separate filing is better.
And now, for a few words from the IRS on the topic:

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2011-20

With the summer wedding season in full swing, the Internal Revenue Service advises the soon-to-be married and the just married to review their changing tax status. If you recently got married or are planning a wedding, the last thing on your mind is taxes. However, there are some important steps you need to take to avoid stress at tax time. Here are seven tips for newlyweds.

  1. Notify the Social Security Administration Report any name change to the Social Security Administration so your name and Social Security number will match when you file your next tax return. File a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office. The form is available on SSA’s website at, by calling             800-772-1213       or at local offices.

  2. Notify the IRS if you move If you have a new address you should notify the IRS by sending Form 8822, Change of Address. You may download Form 8822 from or order it by calling             800–TAX–FORM       (            800–829–3676      ).

  3. Notify the U.S. Postal Service You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service when you move so it can forward any IRS correspondence or refunds.

  4. Notify your employer Report any name and address changes to your employer(s) to make sure you receive your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, after the end of the year.

  5. Check your withholding If both you and your spouse work, your combined income may place you in a higher tax bracket. You can use the IRS Withholding Calculator available on to assist you in determining the correct amount of withholding needed for your new filing status. The IRS Withholding Calculator will give you the information you need to complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. You can fill it out and print it online and then give the form to your employer(s) so they withhold the correct amount from your pay.

  6. Select the right tax form Choosing the right individual income tax form can help save money. Newly married taxpayers may find that they now have enough deductions to itemize on their tax returns. Itemized deductions must be claimed on a Form 1040, not a 1040A or 1040EZ.

  7. Choose the best filing status A person’s marital status on Dec. 31 determines whether the person is considered married for that year. Generally, the tax law allows married couples to choose to file their federal income tax return either jointly or separately in any given year. Figuring the tax both ways can determine which filing status will result in the lowest tax, but usually filing jointly is more beneficial.

For more information about changing your name, address and income tax withholding visit  IRS forms and publications can be obtained from or by calling 800-829-3676.


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