Married, Filing Separately

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I just finished doing our taxes. I figured them out both ways: married, filing jointly and married, filing separately. In the process, I discovered something that our government has changed since the last time we considered filing separately. It used to be that there were advantages to filing separately as a married couple. It now appears that those advantages only hold if you lived apart for the entire previous year.

I was not able to deduct an iota of my own student loan interest when I attempted to file separate returns, merely because we lived together. And when I tried to estimate how much of my Social Security benefits would be taxed if we filed separately, I found that my tax liability went from approximately 50% to approximately 85% if I tried to go it alone, even though my total income was much less than what it would have been if I filed jointly.

This tells me that the government has chosen to discriminate against married couples who want to keep their finances separate for whatever reason. You should not have to live apart from each other in order to get the greatest tax advantage. You should not be forced to mix your finances if you don’t want to, or if it is disadvantageous to do so.

On the one hand the government appears to be trying to force married couples to act married (i.e., as one) and on the other hand it appears to be forcing married couples to live separately in order to not be hit with the heaviest taxes. Make up your mind, IRS!

It is usually–but not always–more advantageous to file jointly, but married couples ought to be able to file separately and not lose their own benefits. My student loan interest is mine, damn it! And more of my Social Security benefits should not be taxed just because my husband made more money than he did last year.

Some people might say that trying to get the greatest tax advantage is like trying to have your cake and eat it, too. But in my opinion, each individual should be allowed to seek the route that eats up less of his or her own earnings. There used to be something called a marriage penalty; it seems to me that it still exists.

[Indeed, 42% of married couples are impacted adversely tax-wise just because they are married. For more information on the marriage penalty, go here and here.]

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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