Your Filing Status

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You have one and only one filing status. Your filing status is determined in large part by whether you were considered married at the end of the year.

What is a Filing Status?

A person’s filing status acts as a sort of switch. Filing status determines which tax rates and which standard deduction amounts apply to a specific tax return.

In other words, two people making exactly the same amount of income could have different tax calculations due solely to a difference in their filing status.

A person’s filing status is determined in large part by the person’s marital status on the last day of the year. People who get married during the year will be considered married for the whole year for tax calculation purposes. People who become divorced or legally separated will be considered unmarried for the whole year for tax calculation purposes. There are situations where married persons can be “considered unmarried” for tax purposes even if they are not legally divorced or separated.

Single Filing Status

You are unmarried. This includes people who are legally separated or divorced at the end of the year. Unmarried taxpayers who can claim a dependent should check to see if they qualify for the Head of Household filing status, as that will provide more tax benefits.

Head of Household Filing Status

You are unmarried, can claim a dependent, and have cared for a dependent for over half the year. Taxpayers claiming the Head of Household (HOH) filing status benefit from a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than single taxpayers. Not every single parent, however, qualifies for the Head of Household status, so read over the criteria carefully.

Qualifying Widow/Widower with Dependent Child Filing Status

You are unmarried because your spouse died within the last two years, and you have not remarried, and you have cared for a dependent all year.

Qualifying Widows and Widowers (QW) receive the same standard deduction and tax rates as taxpayers who are married filing jointly. In the year of your spouse’s death, you can file a joint return. For the two following years, you can use the QW filing status if you have a dependent. After two years, your filing status would be Single or Head of Household.

Note for Surviving Spouses: In the year that your spouse dies, you can file Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. For the next two years, you may file as Qualifying Widow. You must have at least one dependent. If you re-marry, you cannot file as Qualifying Widow, instead you would file using one of the Married filing statuses. Qualifying Widows have the same standard deduction as Married Filing Joint, and so this provides the same tax benefit as the Married Filing Joint status.

Married Filing Jointly Filing Status

You are married, and you are filing a joint return with your spouse. You are considered married if you are legally married on the last day of the year. In order to file jointly, both you and your spouse must agree to file a joint tax return, and both must sign the return. Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) provides more tax benefits than filing a separate return.

Married Filing Separately

You are married, and you and your spouse are filing separate tax returns. Married filing separately (MFS) taxpayers have the least beneficial tax treatment. But MFS status is the one way to achieve separate tax liabilities, which is a benefit not to be overlooked. Married taxpayers should carefully consider whether filing joint or separate returns will be most beneficial for their unique financial situation.

Note about Married Filing Separately: There are very good reasons for a husband and wife to file their tax returns separately. However, filing a separate return may require just as much cooperation between the husband and wife as filing jointly. Some good reasons for filing separately include:

  • One spouse wants to file taxes, but the other doesn’t.
  • One spouse is self-employed, and the other doesn’t want to be responsible for any tax problems.
  • One spouse owes taxes, and the other would get a refund.
  • You are separated but not yet divorced.

When you are filing separately, you must still cooperate and share tax information. If you both have children, you must coordinate who gets to claim the children as dependents. Finally, you must know if your spouse is itemizing deductions or taking the standard deduction. People who choose to file as Married Filing Separately do not qualify for several tax benefits and tax credits. It may be to your advantage to file jointly, or to get divorced so you can file as a single person.

Filing Status for Unmarried Taxpayers

Filing Status for Married Taxpayers

Filing Status Information from the IRS

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