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Married Filing Separately

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What Is Married Filing Separately? 

Married filing separately is a situation where married couples separate their tax liability and file their tax returns separately. 

Deeper Definition

Married couples have a choice of filing their taxes jointly or separately. Married filing separately is a tax status married couples use when they choose to record their tax returns separately.

When filing an income tax return form, one of the boxes to be checked asks payers to disclose their filing status. There are five filing statuses recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS):

  • single
  • married filing jointly, 
  • married filing separately
  • head of household
  • qualifying widow(er)

Choosing the right tax status is important as it determines the amount of tax a person will pay, standard deductions they can take, and tax breaks that they are eligible for. Sometimes, a married couple may choose to file separately and find themselves in the lower tax bracket. While a couple may find it beneficial to file separately, they miss taking advantage of joint tax benefits such as lower tax bills.

There are instances where filing separately benefits a couple more than filing jointly. Such instances are:

  • A spouse has a high or unpaid student loan debt.
  • A spouse has a high medical bill.
  • Considering getting a divorce

For a couple to be eligible to file either jointly or separately, they must be married as of the last day of the tax year. For instance, if a couple filed taxes for the year 2019 as married, they must have been married no later than Dec. 31, 2019.

Married Filing Separately Example 

If one partner of a married couple, for example, owes $5000 in back taxes. The second partner will not be liable for this debt if they file separately. When a married couple files separately, they are responsible for only their tax due. On the other hand, when a married couple files jointly, each spouse is responsible for the entire tax due. That could be a problem if the couple is divorced. For instance, if a divorced couple files jointly and a spouse refuses to pay (or commits tax fraud), the other spouse is also held accountable.

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