For many married couples, it makes sense to file joint federal income tax returns. A number of benefits are only available to married couples filing jointly, so it's important to carefully consider your own situation and consult a tax professional before choosing how to file.
"In many cases, it does not make sense to file separately because you probably are not going to save any money," says Bob Meighan, vice president of customer advocacy for the online tax-preparation firm TurboTax®.
But Meighan says some couples could benefit from filing separately for a few specific reasons:
- To take advantage of some deductions, such as medical expenses, that must exceed a certain percentage of income. For example, a spouse with significant medical expenses could more easily surpass the 10% income threshold needed to deduct those expenses.
- To qualify for a lower tax rate on capital gains and dividends. If one spouse is earning all the capital gains and dividends, filing separately could mean a lower tax rate on that income, depending on that spouse's income.
- For specific legal or financial reasons, such as when one spouse has reservations about the other spouse's reported income. When you file jointly, you are responsible for the information reported by you and your spouse.
- Likewise, filing separately could make sense if one spouse has not made child support payments. The IRS can seize tax refunds -- whether joint or separate -- for unpaid support.
As always, Meighan adds, it's wise to consult a professional for advice specific to your own situation.