Can You File Single if You Are Married?

Updated on April 9, 2024

At a Glance

  • Individuals have five tax filing statuses, including single and married filing jointly.
  • Getting married changes your filing status; you must file as married if legally married by the last day of the tax year.
  • Filing as single is for the unmarried or legally separated.
  • Filing jointly combines incomes, offering advantages like larger deductions and tax credits.

Filing federal income taxes is a must, and when doing so, you will have to decide on a filing status. Perhaps you are married, and people suggested that you file jointly, but you may want to file single instead.

Can you file single if you are married, though? This is a question you may have on your mind, and if you need to file your taxes soon, you need to know the answer. Luckily, this post is here to answer all your questions and concerns. Let’s get into it!

Single vs. Married Tax Filing Options

People who need to file their taxes have five filing statuses available: single, head of household, married filing jointly, qualifying widow/er with a dependent child, or married filing separately. Anyone is eligible for one or two statuses only, but as your life goes on and circumstances change, so does your filing status.

When you get married, your filing status changes and your tax situation will follow it too. The IRS has special definitions when using the married and single filing statuses is possible.

To file your taxes as married, you will have to get married legally either on the last day of the tax year or before that. This will make you qualify as married for the IRS. Meanwhile, filing your taxes under the single status involves being either unmarried or legally separated or divorced on the tax year’s last day, which is December 31.

What is important to know is that you cannot file as “single” if you are married. If you got married legally to another person, then you must file as married. This applies to same-sex marriages as well.

Anyone who is married is unable to file as single or head of a household, and the IRS will simply expect you to file as married if you got married legally by a foreign or state government. Once you tie the knot, your only two choices when filing taxes will be married filing jointly and married filing separately.

If you file jointly, this will allow you to file both your income and your spouse’s income on the same return. Meanwhile, filing separately will allow both you and your spouse to file separate returns, and it will be just the same as filing single. Bear in mind that a certain status will have different limits for credits, deductions, and tax brackets compared to others.

Differences Between Filing Married and Single

Income tax brackets represent one of the main differences between filing married and filing single. Usually, if you decide to file a joint return, the maximum and minimum income will be different for every tax bracket. Now that they combine their incomes, many married couples will see that they are in a lower tax bracket.

Conversely, married couples that decide to file separately will have to pay income taxes based on the same brackets just like they were filing single.

Furthermore, filing jointly can lead to a limit change for different deductions. Single filers and married couples filing jointly will have different deductions. The deduction may be doubled for joint filers in some cases.

Pros and Cons of Filing Jointly and Separately

Filing jointly and separately can both come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Knowing them will help you decide what route to take.

Filing Jointly

Many people decide upon filing jointly, and for many reasons. You can call joint filers the IRS’s favorites because they get a lot of advantages for this filing status. For instance, couples filing together will be able to enjoy one of the largest standard deductions annually. As a result, they can immediately deduct a very large amount of their income.

When filing jointly, couples can also get a lot of tax credits. Some of them include a Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Education Tax Credits, Earned Income Tax Credit, and exclusion or credit for adoption expenses.

Also, couples who file together generally have higher income thresholds that apply for specific deductions and taxes. As a result, they may qualify for some tax breaks and receive a higher income amount.

Filing Separately

However, filing separately can be great in situations when you want to save on your tax return. If you or your partner has large sums for medical expenses to claim, claiming most of the expenses can be very hard, especially if both you and your spouse have a high AGI. The IRS usually only lets you deduct these costs when they are more than 7.5% of your AGI in 2021.

Therefore, it may be better to file separately in such cases. After all, it will give you the chance to claim a higher amount of the available medical deductions as the threshold is applied to only one income.

Filing Separately vs. Filing Jointly

While filing separately may have a few advantages for certain couples, there are certain tax matters to consider before deciding to file separately. It is possible for some separate tax returns to get higher taxes, as well as a higher tax rate. Compared to joint filers, separate filers have a much lower standard deduction.

For instance, in 2021, married couples that filed separately only got a $12,550 standard deduction, whereas joint filers had a $25,100 one. Failing separately will also automatically disqualify you from some of the credits and tax deductions that joint filers have access to.

What’s more, separate filers are unable to take a deduction for student loan interest, and they are also stuck with a smaller IRA contribution deduction. When filing separately, the capital loss deduction limit is $1,500. Concurrently, on a joint return, the capital loss deduction limit is $3,000.

Deciding Whether to File Separately or Jointly

It can be very daunting trying to figure out whether to file jointly or separately, especially when you see the downsides of filing separately compared to filing jointly. Well, the best way to find out which option is better for you is to prepare both types of tax returns.

To do this properly, you should make calculations for both filing statuses and check the net balance of refunds due from both methods. Look over the results more than once. This way, you can assess the situation and eventually find out which option is more convenient for you.

If the calculations are a bit too much to deal with, you can always look for services that help you prepare your tax return and do the calculations on your behalf. Even better, they may recommend you the right filing status too.

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Final Thoughts

Filing single is not possible if you are married, but you have the option to file separately when you are married. Although filing separately is something both you and your spouse may want, it is important to keep in mind that it has some limitations, especially when compared to filing jointly. Before you make this decision, you should analyze how filing separately vs. filing jointly will work for you, and settle for the most convenient option. In the end, what matters the most is your well-being and comfort. Make sure to double-check your calculations to ensure you are making the right choice.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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