- Days left

IRS To-Dos Before You Say 'I Do'


Wedding cakePlanning a wedding takes a huge amount of effort. But as much as you may not want to add one more thing to your to-do list, you really need to get a handle on how getting married will affect your relationship with Uncle Sam and the IRS.

In many cases, getting hitched can mean big changes in your tax situation, and the sooner you start planning, the more likely it is you'll avoid some huge pitfalls that snare many newlyweds.

Will You Owe More or Less?

The first question you have to figure out is whether being married will boost or cut your tax bill. In the past, tax brackets created a marriage penalty for most two-income couples, but changes to the tax laws eliminated that penalty for lower-bracket taxpayers. On the other hand, families with a single breadwinner could enjoy a marriage bonus that lets you take advantage of lower brackets for more of your income.

Once you figure out whether you'll owe more or less, the next step is changing your tax withholding from your paycheck to reflect your new tax bill. Because the IRS treats you as married for the whole year regardless of whether your wedding is in January, June, or December, you'll want to make those adjustments sooner rather than later. In fact, doing so before you get married may be the best way to avoid any penalties if your taxes will go up. To change your withholding, talk to your HR department at work to get a new Form W-4 filled out.

Picking a Filing Status

When it comes time to file your first tax returns, you and your spouse will have to decide whether to file jointly or separately. The decision can make a huge impact on how much you pay in total.

For most couples, filing jointly makes the most sense. Because joint filers get to add up all their income and deductions together, they typically get maximum benefit from the lower tax brackets, cutting their overall tax bill. By contrast, separate filers can end up paying far more in total taxes, especially if one spouse earns a lot more than the other.

However, filing separately sometimes has benefits. The most typical situation happens when one spouse has a great deal of medical expenses or other deductions that are based on total income. By reducing income, you can increase the amount you're able to deduct.

Another reason to file separately involves potential tax liability. If you file jointly, then both spouses are liable for any taxes, interest, and possible penalties that may arise from a return. A separate return insulates each spouse from the tax liabilities of the other.

Whether you file jointly or separately is up to you, so it pays to work things out both ways and see which one leaves you in a better position.

Changing Tax Benefits

Getting married also affects a host of other tax issues. Here's a partial list:

  • Low-income taxpayers may be eligible for a larger earned income tax credit than when they were single, but typically only if they file jointly.
  • Spouses who don't work are able to make contributions to IRAs if their spouses have enough earned income from their jobs or other work.
  • If you live in a state that recognizes community property between spouses, then it can have a marked impact on your returns if you file separately.
  • If one spouse has access to perks like a flexible health benefits plan at work, both spouses' medical expenses are eligible, allowing both to reap tax savings from using the flex plan to set aside money for health-care costs.
  • Some other tax benefits aren't available for separate filers, including the adoption credit, educational tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest. In addition, if one spouse itemizes, both have to itemize even if the other spouse would potentially be better off with a standard deduction.

Taxes can get confusing in a hurry. But by spending a little time thinking through how your trip down the aisle will change your tax situation, you can avoid a more painful experience down the road.

Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has gotten a huge marriage bonus on his taxes. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Getting out of debt

Everyone hates debt. Get out of it.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

Cities with the Lowest Tax Rates

The total amount of tax you pay reaches far beyond what you owe the federal government. Depending on where you live, most likely you're required to pay additional taxes, including property and sales tax. The disparity between the amount of tax you pay in a low-tax city and that in a high-tax city can be dramatic. Living in any of these 10 cities could save you a bundle, although the exact amount may fluctuate based on your income and lifestyle choices.

Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

Much ado is made in the press about federal tax brackets, but cities can carry a tax bite of their own. Even if you live in a state that has no income tax, your city may levy a variety of taxes that could eat away the entire benefit of living in an income tax-free state, including property taxes, sales taxes and auto taxes. Consider all the costs before you move to one of these cities, and understand that rates may change based on your family's income level.

Great Ways to Get Charitable Tax Deductions

Generally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as a deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

A Freelancer's Guide to Taxes

Freelancing certainly has its benefits, but it can result in a few complications come tax time. The Internal Revenue Service considers freelancers to be self-employed, so if you earn income as a freelancer you must file your taxes as a business owner. While you can take additional deductions if you are self-employed, you'll also face additional taxes in the form of the self-employment tax. Here are things to consider as a freelancer when filing your taxes.

Tax Deductions for Voluntary Interest Payments on Student Loans

Most taxpayers who pay interest on student loans can take a tax deduction for the expense ? and you can do this regardless of whether you itemize tax deductions on your return. The rules for claiming the deduction are the same whether the interest payments were required or voluntary.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Great tips for paying taxes.

April 08 2014 at 1:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

does anybody care? ... hell no!! 75% can't figure out how to file their own taxes now... 47% don't give a damn cause they don't hafta pay anyway... the 1% "richies" pay somebody else to do their tax planning for them...
"middle class couples" who actually pay 50% of all taxes get refunds....So what's the point of this stupid artcile?

June 03 2012 at 6:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All the more reason for a flat tax! Get rid of all this confusing, time-wasting, and expensive regulation and just slap a percentage on everyone - EVERYONE - everyone should have a share in supporting this country, no matter how small a contribution. This can be a fair tax plan if implemented correctly, but you know it'll never happen - the politicians and the wealthy who support them enjoy their tax breaks and won't be giving those up, ever!

June 02 2012 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Also, in order to be eligible for the Earned Income Credit, married couples living together for more than half the year normally have to file jointly.

June 02 2012 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lots of Good information here. Passed it on to friend. Thanks.

June 01 2012 at 4:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply