Two options for filing your tax returns are available when you are married and not legally separated – married filing jointly and married filing separately. Filing a joint return means you won’t have to calculate each person's share of income and deductions. Additionally, you will be able to use itemized deductions, which may benefit both filers. When filing separate returns, each spouse must claim their own income and deductions, which often results in a higher tax liability for one or both filers.
Prepare the Return
If you decide to file a joint return, enter all income and expense items on Form 1040 or 1040A as you have done in the past. You do not have to separate your individual income and expenses. Both taxpayers need to sign and date the tax return.
Separate all income and expense items by each filer’s Social Security number as reported on the W-2s and other tax forms received, if you are filing separate returns. Each spouse must include all W-2 wages reported under that individual’s Social Security number on the tax return.
Determine whether you will claim the standard deduction or itemize your deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A. If one spouse itemizes deductions and you file separate returns, you both must itemize. This is a requirement set by the IRS and may result in a greater tax benefit to one spouse. For example, only one spouse will be able to claim a deduction for real estate taxes and home mortgage interest since only one person's Social Security number will appear on the tax forms for these deductions. The other spouse may then be left with relatively few deductions such as medical expenses, charitable contributions and miscellaneous deductions. Another problem is that medical expenses and other miscellaneous deductions are subject to limitations based on the taxpayer's adjusted gross income, which may make it difficult to itemize and come up with a decent deduction.
Sign and date your own return, if you are filing separately. Include your spouse's name in the personal information portion of IRS Form 1040. Include your spouse's Social Security number on line 3 of Form 1040. This will ensure the IRS will be able to verify income and expense items were not duplicated in the two tax returns.
The deduction for student loan interest on line 33 of Form 1040 is disallowed when married people file separate returns. Consider the effect this may have on your overall tax situation before filing.
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