Tips for Filing Taxes When Married

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Key Takeaways

  • If you are married on December 31, you can file a joint tax return for the entire year.
  • Both spouses are liable for all taxes due and any errors in a joint return.
  • The standard deduction is lower and other breaks aren't available if you file separate returns.
  • A widow or widower can file a joint return in the year their spouse dies.

The IRS doesn't require that married couples file joint income tax returns simply because they've tied the knot. Spouses have the option of filing separate married returns or married filing jointly. Both statuses have their advantages and disadvantages. Learn a few tips to help you decide which option is best for you.

Married Filing Jointly

You and your spouse are eligible to file a joint tax return if you're considered to be legally married on December 31, the last day of the tax year. You can file a joint 2022 return in 2023 if you were legally married on Dec. 31, 2022 (the last day of the tax year for most taxpayers).

You'll be entitled to a larger standard deduction if you file jointly with your spouse, and the tax brackets for this status are also more generous. Married taxpayers who file separate returns are barred from claiming certain tax breaks. Still, they're only liable for the accuracy of the information on their own returns and for paying any tax due on their own separate returns.

Rules for Filing a Joint Return

"Legally married" is the important phrase here, and it's open to some interpretation. According to the IRS, you're married if you don't have a divorce decree or judgment issued by a court on or before December 31, even if you filed for divorce earlier in the year. Your divorce must be final by the last day of the year.

You can't file jointly if you are legally separated by court order, although it's not mandatory that you and your spouse actually live together. You can live apart as long as a court hasn't issued an order governing the terms of your separation.


A separation agreement entered into between spouses is considered to be a contract, not a court order like a legal separation is. You can still file jointly if you've entered into a separation agreement.

Both you and your spouse must also agree to file a joint return and you must both sign it.

Married Filing Jointly Increases Your Standard Deduction

Taxpayers have a choice between itemizing their deductions or claiming the standard deduction, but they can't do both. This rule applies to all taxpayers.

The standard deduction for the married filing jointly status is the largest available. For tax year 2022, the standard deductions are as follows:

  • $25,900 for married taxpayers filing jointly
  • $25,900 for qualifying widow(er)s
  • $19,400 for heads of household
  • $12,950 for married taxpayers filing separate returns
  • $12,950 for single taxpayers


Standard deduction figures are indexed for inflation, so they tend to increase slightly from year to year.

Tax Rates for Single vs. Married Filing Jointly

A taxpayer's filing status also determines tax brackets and which schedule of tax percentage rates are used. These brackets for taxpayers who are married and filing jointly for 2022 are applicable to the return you'd file in 2023:

Rates for Married Filed Jointly
Rate Income Bracket
10% $0 to $20,550
12% $20,551 to $83,550
22% $83,551 to $178,150
24% $178,151 to $340,100
32% $340,101 to $431,900
35% $431,901 to $647,850
37% $647,851 or more

Tax rates and brackets for married individuals who file separate returns are the same as those for single filers, except for the 35% and 37% rates. These brackets apply to married filing separate filers in 2022, the return you’d file in 2023:

Rates for Married Filing Separately
Rate Income Bracket
10% $0 to $10,275
12% $10,276 to $41,775
22% $41,776 to $89,075
24% $89,076 to $170,050
32% $170,051 to $215,950
35% $215,951 to $323,925
37% $323,926 or more


These spans of income covered by each tax bracket are also indexed for inflation.

These are progressive or "marginal" tax rates. A higher percentage doesn't kick in until your income reaches that particular income threshold, then only your income over that threshold is taxed at that percentage. For example, in tax year 2022, the first $20,550 for joint returns would be taxed at 10%, and only one extra dollar would be taxed at 12% if you and your spouse earned $20,551 or more.

The Risks of Filing a Joint Married Return

It might seem like a no-brainer to choose the married filing jointly status, given the tax brackets and standard deductions, but filing jointly comes with some drawbacks. Both spouses must report all of their income, deductions, and credits on the same return when they file jointly. Both accept full responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of that information. The IRS refers to this as being "jointly and severally liable."

Each spouse is responsible for providing documentation to prove the accuracy of the tax return if it's audited by the IRS. Each is held personally responsible for the entire payment if any tax that's due and owing is unpaid. The IRS doesn't divide the tax debt 50/50 between them.

The IRS does recognize that not all marriages are perfect unions, however, and it will sometimes grant exemptions from joint liability through innocent spouse relief, separation of liability, or equitable relief, depending on the personal circumstances.


The rules for these types of relief are complicated, so see a tax professional for help if you find yourself in this situation.

Married Filing Separately

Filing a separate married return provides relief from joint liability. Each spouse is only responsible for the accuracy of their own separate tax return and for the payment of any separate tax liability associated with that return. But married taxpayers who file separately lose their eligibility for certain deductions and credits, so they can end up paying more in taxes.

Nonetheless, filing separately can be advantageous in some situations, such as:

  • When you and your spouse combine the taxes due on your separate tax returns, the total is the same as, or very close to, the tax that would be due on a joint return; in this case, filing separately achieves the goal of maintaining separate responsibility for the accuracy of the returns and the payment of tax, but without any additional liability.
  • One spouse is unwilling or unable to consent to file a joint tax return.
  • One spouse knows or suspects that the other is omitting income or overstating deductions. The innocent spouse doesn't want to be held personally liable for the other spouse's tax or misrepresentations.
  • The spouses live apart or are separated but not yet divorced. They want to keep their finances as separate as possible.
  • The spouses live apart, and at least one of them would qualify for the advantageous head of household filing status if they didn't file together.

Qualifying Widow(er) Status When One Spouse Is Deceased

The tax code allows you to file a joint return with your spouse for the tax year in which they die. Then you might be able to file as a qualifying widow(er) for two more years going forward, or perhaps as head of household if you can meet certain requirements.

Head-of-Household Filing Status

Qualifying as head of household is subject to similar rules. Both filing statuses require that the taxpayer paid more than half the cost of maintaining their home during the tax year, but child dependents only have to live with the taxpayer for more than half the tax year, and some adult dependents qualify, too, although certain rules apply.

The taxpayer must be "considered unmarried" and cannot have lived with their spouse at any point during the last six months of the year to qualify as head of household, although death supersedes this last requirement.


Slightly different rules apply to the qualifying widow(er) and head of household filing statuses, and some can be complicated. Check with a tax professional to find out whether you're eligible before claiming either of these statuses.

The Bottom Line

Experts recommend preparing your taxes both ways to determine which option makes the most financial sense for you if you're unsure what's best for your situation. Personal issues should also be taken into consideration, such as if you're not sure your marriage is on firm ground. Consider consulting with a tax professional to make sure what's right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the minimum income to require a tax return for a married couple filing jointly?

You must file a tax return if you earn more income than the standard deduction. For married couples in tax year 2022, that standard deduction is $25,900. If you and your spouse earn more than $25,900, you will need to file a tax return.

What are the requirements to file a joint return as a married couple?

If you and your spouse are legally married and agree to file joint returns, then you can. You must be legally married by the end of the tax year (December 31, in most cases) to file a joint return for the tax year.

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  1. IRS. "Publication 501 (2021), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Click second "Filing Status," then click "Marital Status."

  2. IRS. "26 CFR 601.602: Tax Forms and Instructions." Page 14.

  3. IRS. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022."

  4. IRS. "26 CFR 601.602: Tax Forms and Instructions." Page 8.

  5. TaxSlayer Pro. "Married Filing Jointly Or Separate: What Status Is Best?"

  6. IRS. "Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Click "Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)."

  7. IRS. "Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Click "Head of Household."

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