5 Filing Statuses and How to Pick One
by Susannah McQuitty
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Choosing your filing status is typically one of the first—if not the first—questions on your tax return. Seems simple enough at first glance: You’ve got single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, and then—wait.
Why are there two options for married couples? And what’s up with this “head of household” status? Can’t you be the head of your household and be married?
It doesn’t hurt to review what each status means, especially because it could mean the difference between an okay refund and a big refund.
What was your status for the previous year?
Remember as we go through these filing statuses that the status you choose for your tax return is for the previous year. For example, if you got married in January of 2019, you would still file as single because you weren’t married in 2018.
“Single” here would actually be better defined as “unmarried.” You can be in a relationship, and even live with your significant other, and still file as single. That’s because taxes are determined by the financial situations that follow from being either married or unmarried in a legal sense.
The single filing status has the smallest tax breaks because you’re only responsible to provide care for yourself. If you claim dependents, though, you may be able to file as head of household.
Head of household
Since unmarried filers with dependents have more financial responsibilities than single filers with no dependents, the IRS created the head of household status. Filing as head of household usually results in lower taxes by way of a higher standard deduction, more credits and deductions, and higher tax breaks.
We’ve got some qualifications to look at, though. You can only file as head of household if:
- You are single or unmarried.
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home.
- You had a qualifying child who lived with you in the home for more than half the year or a qualifying relative for whom you’ve provided at least half the year’s living expenses.
Bigger tax savings? Yes, please.
Married Filing Jointly
Now we’re moving into the married filing statuses. So why are there two of them, again?
Well, as a legally married couple, you can either file your taxes together on one tax return or file on two separate returns. If you file on one, you’ll select married filing jointly and get a bigger standard deduction.
Filing jointly usually saves you taxes over filing separately, and you both can be held responsible for tax, interest and penalties due on your return.
Married Filing Separately
If you are married but you don’t want to file on one return with your spouse, you can file as married filing separately. You’ll only report your own income, credits, and deductions, which also means that your standard deduction goes back to the single amount.
You won’t qualify for the same tax breaks as married filing jointly taxpayers do, so separate returns usually result in a higher combined tax. There are cases, however, where filing separately can provide a net tax savings; if there’s a large discrepancy between each spouse’s income, for example, it may be more beneficial to file separately.
Widow or Widower
If your spouse passed away during the tax year, you can file a joint return and report both yours and your spouse’s financial information. Then, for the two years following, you may be able to file as a qualifying widow or widower.
This status is a tax break in its own way, because it gives the widow or widower the same tax advantages as the married filing jointly status. In order to qualify, though, you must meet the following requirements:
- You did not remarry.
- You qualified to file married filing jointly with your spouse in the year your spouse died.
- You pay more than 50% of the expenses of maintaining the household.
- Your home is the principal home for a qualifying child.
- You can claim a qualifying child as a dependent.
Whatever you file as, file with 1040.com
Now that you’ve got a grip on the very first question, you’re home free to file your taxes with 1040.com! We keep it straightforward and easy to understand, including explanations of the different statuses right next to the question itself. That’s just one example of how we’ve made filing your taxes easier than ever—so why wait? Sign up and get your taxes done today!
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