- My wife and I weren’t able to file a joint federal tax return for the first 18 years we were married because, as a same-sex couple, the IRS didn’t recognize our marriage.
- Now we file as a married couple filing jointly. That means we pay less income tax and our bill for tax preparation is lower.
- Combining our income also allows us to pursue a unified tax strategy during the year to ease our tax burden.
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Most married couples choose to file a joint tax return. It’s easier and cheaper (if you use a tax preparer, as I do) to complete one return than two. In addition, the IRS grants numerous benefits to married couples who file jointly that spouses who file separately can’t claim.
After my wife and I were finally able to get legally married, we were ready to reap the benefits of filing a joint tax return as a married couple.
The long journey to a single IRS 1040 for a same-sex couple
For me, married filing jointly is a cause for celebration — and not just because it saves me money. It’s a benefit that I didn’t get for the first 18 years after my wife and I got married.
My wife and I were “married” in 1995. I put “married” in quotes because it wasn’t legal for us to marry at that time. The best we could do was to register as domestic partners in the City of San Francisco. Neither the State of California nor the federal government recognized our union. As far as the IRS was concerned, we were two single women with no legal relationship to each other.
In 2008, 15 years after we first met, we were able to get legally married in California. We held our wedding during a brief window between a court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal and a ballot initiative (Prop 8) that made it illegal again.
Until the Supreme Court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2013, our taxes fell into a strange no-man’s land.
Our marriage remained valid in, and was recognized by, the State of California, so we filed a joint California tax return. However, the IRS didn’t recognize our marriage, so we had to file individual tax returns as if we were single. This forced our tax preparer to create a complex workaround to make the state and federal returns work together. It was a complicated, confusing situation.
We were finally able to file a federal tax return jointly as a married couple in 2013.
In 2009, two New York Times reporters estimated the “cost of being gay” at $467,562 over a lifetime without the benefits of marriage. Once the federal government recognized our marriage, we immediately started to realize some of those financial benefits.
For example, the cost of my health insurance, which I get through my wife’s work, became a tax-deductible expense. Filing a joint tax return is another money-saving benefit of being married that I always appreciate this time of the year.
The benefits of filing your taxes jointly
There are lots of benefits for married couples who file jointly rather than separately. My wife and I don’t qualify for some of them, such as the earned income credit or child and dependent care credit. However, filing jointly has allowed us to take advantage of the student loan interest deduction, a credit that isn’t available to married spouses who file separate tax returns.
In addition, for many of the years that we have been able to file a joint tax return, one of us has earned significantly more than the other. Filing jointly lowers our overall tax bracket and reduces the total amount we owe as a couple.
Our joint filing status also allows us to strategize together on income tax withholding. My wife works at a job that takes out taxes and gives her a W-2. I’m self-employed and all or most of my income is on 1099s, so I pay estimated taxes throughout the year.
To help me out, my wife has her employer take out extra taxes from her paycheck. This offsets some of the self-employment taxes we owe on my income and means that I don’t have to pay as much in estimated taxes. This, in turn, makes it easier for me to manage my business finances and reduces the chances that we will face a big tax bill on April 15.
Filing a joint tax return seems like a mundane thing, but it’s something I don’t take for granted. I’m glad that my wife and I now get to take advantage of this and many other money-saving benefits of being married.