Why getting married can be more expensive

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 Q. I’m getting married, and we’re not sure if we should file as married or separately next year. What do we need to think about?

A. You’ll have to file as a married couple, but you do have options in the married category.

The law requires a couple, who are legally married as of Dec. 31, to file either Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately.

“Married Filing Separately tends to be the most expensive way for a couple to file,” said Steven Gallo, a certified public accountant with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield.

The “averaging” effect of combining the two incomes can bring some couples out of a higher tax bracket, said Gail Rosen, a Martsinville-based certified public accountant.

“If you file separately, you do not get to use the `single’ rates that applied before you were married,” Rosen said. “Instead, each spouse must use the `married filing separately’ tax rates which are higher than the single tax rates.”

Gallo said the most impactful issue is the individual income of each spouse. If one spouse has significantly more income than the other, filing as “Married Filing Separately” will most likely result in a higher overall tax bill, Gallo said. This is because exemptions and standard deductions must be split between both taxpayers.

One time it could be beneficial to file separately is if one of you has significant subsidized student loan debt, Gallo said.

“Many of the repayment schedules are tied to the amount of income the debtor has, however, when the debtor is married and files a joint return, both spouse’s incomes are used to calculate the repayment rate,” Gallo said. “Sometimes a couple may be willing to pay slightly more in taxes rather than be required to make larger loan payments.”

There is also a potential for tax savings from filing separately if one spouse has significant amounts of medical expenses, casualty losses or “miscellaneous itemized deductions,” Rosen said.

“These deductions are reduced by a percentage of your AGI (adjusted gross income),” she said. “If these deductions are isolated on a separate tax return of a spouse, the spouse’s lower separate AGI, as compared to the higher joint AGI, can result in larger total deductions.”

You should also be aware that importantly, If you file a joint tax return, each of you are jointly and severally liable for the tax on your combined income, Rosen said. You may choose to file a separate return if you want to be certain of being responsible only for your own taxes.

This being said, each situation needs to be looked at on an individual basis.

“The best plan of attack is to prepare the return both ways and see how your specific circumstances play out,” Gallo said. “Most tax preparers using tax programs do this automatically but to be sure you should ask your preparer to do the comparison for you.”

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This story was first posted in May 2015.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.