There are a variety of status under which you can file your taxes, and understanding the difference between each can help you determine which status you should file. At tax time, you can use all the help you can get to make the process as simple and smooth as possible.
What are the Tax Classifications?
You can choose to file your taxes under one of five different classifications: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or qualifying widower with dependent child. You can only choose one, so if there are multiple statuses that match your situation, you should opt for the one in which you will receive the largest tax benefits.
Single – Filing as a single person can seem pretty straightforward, however there are a few situations that can affect a single status. If you have been legally separated by even the final month of the year, you are considered a single person for the entire tax year. If you are unmarried and have no dependents, you qualify to file single. Annulment and divorce are situations in which you’d also file as a single person. However, if you are single with a dependent, or have been widowed within the year, you’d have to change your status to either head of household or widowed.
Married – As with the single status, the requirements to file married are relatively simple. Legally married couple who live together, even for a small part of the tax year can file as married. Common law couples can file as married provided their union is legal in the state in which they reside. If you aren’t living with your spouse, but are not legally separated or divorced, you must still file as married.
Widowed –If you were widowed during the tax year and you did not remarry, you can file jointly with your deceased spouse for that year. For the next two years following, an unmarried widow can file as widowed with qualified dependents. If you remarry during the same year that your previous spouse passed away, you should file as married with your current spouse, and married filing separately with the spouse who is deceased.
Filing Jointly – married couple have the option to file a joint tax return, in which the household income is processed through one single return. This requires both spouses to sign and date the tax return form. The joint filers share the responsibility of paying any owed taxes as well as deductions, credits, and exemptions. There are a few clauses in which joint responsibility would not be required, such as innocent spouse relief, separation of liability for those who have not live together for the tax year, or equitable relief. In cases where a spouse cannot sign the joint return, such as military deployment, the primary filer can sign as a proxy for the other spouse as long as a written explanation is included.
Determining which status to file under can seem complicated, however it’s a crucial step in completing income tax returns. Once you’ve researched the benefits each status can provide you, you will be able to make an informed choice about how you need to file and what the requirements for each status are.