Married filing jointly is generally a favorable filing status. If you are married at the end of the year, you are entitled to file a joint return with your spouse. Certain tax benefits are only available to married people if they file jointly. For example, the $25,000 rental loss allowance, the credit for the elderly or disabled, IRA deduction for a non-working spouse, certain education credits, the earned income credit, and the dependent care credit, can only be taken advantage of if you file jointly with your spouse, except in some cases when you and your spouse did not live together for the last half of the year.
Married filing separately usually results in higher taxes for a married couple, but in certain cases it can be more favorable to file separately. One caveat to choosing to file separately is the fact that both spouses must either claim the standard deduction, or itemize deductions. If a couple files separate returns, and later changes their minds and wants to file a joint return, they can do so within three years from the due date of the return.
A taxpayer can qualify as head of household, and a larger standard deduction and more favorable rates than for single taxpayers, if the taxpayer is not married at the end of the year and they maintained a home for their child, parent, or other relative. If the qualifying person is your parent, they do not need to live with you, but any other qualifying person must have lived with you for more than half of the year. The taxpayer must be a United States citizen or resident for the whole year. If the taxpayer is married but did not live with their spouse for the last six months of the year, they can qualify as head of household if all the other requirements are met.
In the year of a spouse’s death, you are considered married for the whole year, and can file a joint return. For the next two years, you may be eligible to file as a qualifying widow or widower. The rates for qualifying widow or widower are the same as those for married filing jointly. There are three criteria that must be met in order to qualify. You must not have remarried yet. You must be entitled to claim a child, stepchild, or adopted child who lived with you all year, while you took care of more than half of the cost of maintaining your home. The final requirement is that you must have been able to file a joint return in the year of your spouse’s death, regardless of whether or not you did.
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