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Post-wedding life is blissful, no doubt. There are, however, a few logistics to figure out now that you’re officially married. One thing that’s always unavoidable? Taxes. You’re no longer just making tax decisions for yourself. Now you have to consider your spouse, their income, deductions, and all of that other stuff. Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some newlywed tax tips to keep in mind.
Update Your Legal Name
If you changed your name after marriage, you want to first make sure that’s reflected with the Social Security Administration. (This is actually the first step to legally changing your name so you’ll have to do this if you want to change your name anyway.) You want the name on your Social Security Card to match the name on your tax return. Your SSN will stay the same.
Visit your local SSA office to fill out an SS-5 form to get the ball rolling. If you aren’t changing your name after your wedding, you don’t need to file with the SSA.
How to File Your Taxes as Newlyweds
No matter what you have to change your tax filing status from single to married. However, that doesn’t mean you have to file jointly. You file either as married filing separately or married filing jointly. Easy enough! But which to choose?
Joint Filing v. Separate Filing
The decision to either file jointly or separately is one you and your new spouse will come together to decide—yes, you both have to choose the same status. There are pros and cons to both options.
Reasons to File Jointly
Many newlyweds choose to file jointly, which means you’ll file one tax return that includes all of your collective tax information. There are some real benefits to this
Tax rates are generally more favorable to married persons. That means it’s possible to actually earn more income as a couple and still stay in a lower tax bracket (versus you as a single individual). Tax brackets are larger for married persons than single persons.
It’s easier. When you file jointly, you only have to complete one tax return. So, you also don’t have to decide which of you takes each deduction.
All tax benefits are available to married individuals that file jointly. This isn’t true for couples who file separately. It’s possible that if you are trying to claim certain favorable tax benefits such as earned income credit, for example, you might not be able to if you file separately. It all has to do with total income.
Reasons to File Separately
There are still plenty of benefits available to those individuals filing with lower income (separate income is typically always lower than joint, of course). This, however, depends more on your state laws. So, you'll want to work with an expert who can help you best understand what you're working with.
You aren’t liable for your spouse’s financial missteps. When you file jointly, you and your partner are both equally liable for whatever information that tax return contains. So, if you’re partner fails to report income, for example, you could be held personally accountable for that, too. Similarly, if your spouse has defaulted on student loans or owes child support, you will also shoulder that burden via a joint refund. A separate return eliminates that risk.
There are certain financial benefits to filing with a lower income. Some healthcare expenses, for example, may allow you to deduct an amount only if it exceeds a certain percentage of your total income. Someone with a lower income would have an easier time reaching that percentage than someone with a higher income.
This is certainly not a decision to make lightly and also not one to make if you really aren’t sure you completely understand the benefits and downsides of each. Tax experts can help you make the best decision for your family and circumstances.
File a New W-4
Now that you’re married, you need to file a new W-4 to update your withholding allowances. This basically determines the amount of income tax your employer should withhold from your paychecks.
On the plus side, you will likely enjoy fewer deductions now that you’re in a more favorable tax bracket. It’s actually possible for couples filing jointly to earn twice as much money while remaining in the same tax bracket. That said, you need to make sure you don’t go overboard.
In the absolute simplest terms, the more allowances you have, the less tax is withheld. Your employer can’t account for your new tax liability, though. If you and your spouse both increase your allowances to a point that you don’t pay enough tax to cover your responsibility, you could face a penalty.
No matter what tax choices you decide on as a couple, figuring out what routes are truly most beneficial for you as a couple isn’t easy. This is taxes after all. Consult an expert who can help you make empowered and effective decisions together.