How Long Must You Be Married Before Filing Jointly?

by Cam Merritt
Next up: Filing a joint return.

The Internal Revenue Service has no official "waiting period" between when you get married and when you're allowed to begin filing joint tax returns. Instead, it all depends on the timing of your wedding compared with the end of the tax year. Depending on when you get married, you might have to wait a year before filing jointly.

Rule

Under the Internal Revenue Service's rules, if you were married on Dec. 31 of a given year, then you are considered to have been married for that entire year. So even if you didn't get married until the last day of the year, you can still file that year's taxes on a joint return. In fact, if you were married on Dec. 31 -- regardless of when you married -- you must either file a joint return or file as "married filing separately." Filing separately typically results in a higher tax liability but means you aren't responsible for your spouse's claims or tax burden. Filing as single is not an option.

Before April 15

Under IRS rules, if you get married on Jan. 1 or later but before you file your annual tax return, you cannot file that return jointly. The tax returns that are typically due on April 15 are for the preceding year -- the one that ended three and a half months earlier. You may be married now, but if you weren't married when that year ended, you will have to file your taxes as single.

Forms

Married couples usually file jointly using the standard tax return, Form 1040, or the "short form" return, Form 1040A. You can use the abbreviated Form 1040EZ to file a joint return only if you meet nine criteria: both you and your spouse are under age 65; neither of you is blind; you have no dependents; you don't claim any adjustments to income; you don't claim any tax credits, except for the earned income credit; your taxable income is $100,000 or less; your income was only from wages, salaries, tips taxable scholarships, unemployment benefits, Alaska oil trust fund payments, and interest; you had no more than $1,500 in taxable interest; and you don't owe any employment taxes for a household employee.

Proof of Marriage

You don't have to notify the IRS that you're married or send a copy of your marriage license to begin filing a joint return. Generally, you can just start filing jointly, and the IRS will take your word for it. Should your return be selected for an audit, though, the auditor may want to see proof of marriage. Also, when you file your taxes, the IRS' computers check the names and Social Security numbers on the return against those on file with the Social Security Administration. If they don't match, the computer spits out your return, which may delay your refund or lead to a call from the IRS. So if either you or your spouse, or both of you, changed your name when you married, notify Social Security of the change.

About the Author

Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.

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