Legally married couples may choose to file their taxes together, under the "Married, Filing Jointly" status, or may choose "Married, Filing Separately." Generally, the Married, Filing Separately status is less convenient and offers fewer tax benefits, but there are some instances in which this choice may be beneficial.
Some choose to file separately for state tax reasons, or if the spouse with the lower income can qualify for tax breaks such as the medical expense deduction -- breaks that are not available with the couple's higher combined income.
If you file Married Filing Separately, you will be ineligible to claim a number of different tax benefits, including:
- Student loan interest deduction
- Credit for Elderly and Disabled
- Child and Dependent Care Credit
- Earned Income Credit
- Lifetime Learning Educational Credit
- American Opportunity Credit
When married couples file their taxes separately, both spouses must either itemize deductions or take the standard deduction -- they may not file both ways. For the current tax year, a married person filing separately can claim a standard deduction of $6,200.
Some couples file separately because they don't want to assume legal and financial responsibility for each other's tax obligations. If you file a joint return, the IRS can pursue either spouse for any amount of taxes owed, no matter who had the income. If you suspect that your spouse may owe from evading past taxes, you may want to file a separate return. By filing separately, you will avoid liability for such unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.