filing separately vs jointly
March 28, 2023

Filing Separately vs Jointly: Pros, Cons & More Details

Personal Taxes

The IRS offers a variety of tax incentives to encourage couples to file joint tax returns. However, choosing this filing status isn’t always the best option.

That’s why most couples must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of filing separately vs. jointly before the tax season starts. In most cases, choosing the Married Filing Jointly status is a more sensible option because it enables a couple to get a higher tax refund.

Claiming the Married Filing Separately status has advantages in certain contexts, so you must assess your situation carefully before choosing this option.

We’ll go through the pros and cons of filing taxes jointly or separately to help you decide which filing status is the right solution for you.

Qualifying for the Married Filing Jointly Filing Status

All taxpayers who married by December 31 of the previous year can choose the Married Filing Jointly status on their tax returns.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married before filing a tax return because the IRS gives couples who are legally married for a few days and or twelve months the same status.

You may be eligible for the Married Filing Jointly status even if you’re not legally married to your partner. However, you must meet your state’s common law marriage requirements and be able to prove that you live with your partner to qualify for the Married Filing Jointly status.

You may be eligible for this filing status under the following conditions:

  • If you’re married but don’t live with your spouse, provided you’re not legally divorced or separated.
  • If you’re not officially divorced, but you no longer live with your partner due to the interlocutory divorce.

Choosing the Filing Status

Couples that meet the criteria we mentioned above can decide which filing status they want to choose. The IRS lets taxpayers select one of the following five filing statuses:

  • Single
  • Head of Household
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with dependent child
  • Married Filing Separately
  • Married Filing Jointly

Keep in mind that a partner that opts to file taxes separately cannot choose the Single filing status. However, one of the partners can claim the Head of Household if they pay for half or more of the home’s upkeep and meets several other criteria.

Moreover, if one spouse dies during the year, the other can still claim the Married Filed Jointly status for that year.

Reasons to File Taxes Jointly

The Standard Tax Deduction is one of the most common reasons why married couples chose to file taxes jointly. In 2023, the standard tax deduction amount for Married Filing Jointly status is $27,700, while the deduction amount for the Married Filing Separately status is $13,850.

Couples that decide to file jointly will receive a double tax deduction amount offered to couples that choose to file taxes separately.

Meeting the eligibility criteria for tax credits will be easier if you choose the Married Filing Jointly status. Here are a few tax credits you can claim if you file taxes jointly:

Couples that generate less than $100,000 of taxable income can use Form 1040EZ which makes the filing process effortless.

The Disadvantages of Filing Taxes Jointly

The Federal Income Tax Bracket thresholds will be higher if you choose the Married Filing Jointly status. However, if one partner generates significantly more income than the other, choosing this filing status can offer some advantages.

The IRS considers both spouses equally responsible for any accrued tax debt, and choosing to file taxes jointly means that you’re assuming responsibility for your spouse’s tax liability.

Consequently, your tax refund might be lower than it would be if you opted to file your taxes separately through no fault of your own. Claiming too many tax credits on a tax return can slow down and delay its processing and you may have to wait longer than three weeks for the IRS to approve your refund.

Reasons to File Taxes Separately

Although the pros of filing taxes jointly outweigh the cons in most cases, some couples may benefit from choosing the Married Filing Separately status on their tax returns.

Let’s look at the most common reasons to choose this filing status:

  • A couple is in the middle of a divorce.
  • One spouse suspects that the other doesn’t report all taxable income.
  • Refusal to assume responsibility for the partner’s tax debt. 
  • Student loan applications (Filing separately may help reduce student loan payments)
  • Partner’s high medical bills.

Choosing to file taxes separately can help you save money if you or your partner have a lot of unreimbursed out-of-pocket medical bills. You can only claim medical expenses on a tax return if their overall value exceeds 10% of the adjusted gross income.

The IRS calculates the AGI for both filers if they file a tax return jointly, which might make you ineligible for this deduction if your joint medical expenses don’t exceed 10% of your family’s AGI.

Disadvantages of Filing Taxes Separately

One of the biggest downsides of this filing status is that you won’t be able to claim standard deductions if your spouse decides to itemize deductions.

In case you choose to file taxes separately, and a portion of your income comes from renting a property, you can only claim half of the standard amount of the deduction aimed to cover rental property losses.

The IRS Publication 555 indicates that in some states selecting the Married Filing Separately status results in the couple’s income being classified as the community income. This means that both partners must report the income they created during a year while married even though they reported their income on separate tax returns.

Another significant disadvantage of this filing status is that you cannot claim deductions available to couples that file tax returns jointly.

In addition, you can claim only half of the amount of the:

  • Personal exemption deductions.
  • Tax credits for retirement savings.
  • Itemized and standardized deductions.
  • Child and dependent tax credits. 
  • Capital loss deductions.

Consequently, your tax refund amount is almost guaranteed to be lower than it would be, if you choose the Married Filing Jointly status on your tax return.

When Does Choosing the Married Filing Separately Status Make Sense?

Opting to file taxes separately could be a reasonable choice if one spouse can claim itemized tax deductions that would significantly reduce their tax exposure.

Further, this filing status can be beneficial if you don’t want to be responsible for the accuracy of the information your spouse includes on a tax return.

If one of the partners fails to make timely child support payments filing taxes separately will ensure that the IRS won’t apply this debt to tax refunds of both parents.

Even so, situations where filing taxes separately is a better option than choosing the Married Filing Jointly status are rare, and more often than not, you’ll end up paying more federal taxes if you file taxes separately.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Same-Sex Couples Choose Married Filing Jointly Status on a Tax Return?

Same-sex couples can choose to file taxes jointly if the state where they live recognizes common-law marriages.

Should I Be Aware of the Information My Spouse is Including on a Tax Return if We Decide to File Taxes Separately?

The information you and your spouse provide on a tax return should match because you may unintentionally disqualify yourselves from claiming certain tax credits and tax deductions if you include contradictory information on each tax return.

Which Form Should I Use When Filing Taxes Jointly?

You should fill out the IRS Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040EZ, depending on your circumstances.

Can I Change My Filing Status After I File a Tax Return?

Couples that want to switch from Married Filing Separately to Married Filing Jointly status can file an amended tax return on the IRS Form 1040X up to three years after filing the original tax return.

Speak to a CPA

Most married couples stand to benefit from filing federal taxes jointly due to a series of deductions and credits the IRS offers to joint filers. 

Filing taxes separately might be a better option for you if you’re planning to apply for a student loan or collect tax deductions for medical expenses. Do you need assistance choosing a filing status? Visit or call 866-8000-TAX to schedule a free consultation with a CPA who can help you make the right decision.

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Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA and founder of Choice Tax Relief and Money Done Right. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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