Becoming a married couple often means sharing everything, including a tax return. But while marriage may very well serve as a tax break for some people, you should know that you won't necessarily pay less tax when you're married. Whether or not getting married will benefit your taxes will depend on how much you and your spouse earn, and the credits and deductions you're eligible for jointly.
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Will getting married help your taxes?
Married folks get one major tax break: The standard deduction you can claim on a tax return is highest for couples filing jointly. That said, many married couples opt to itemize their deductions because doing so is more beneficial. If you own a home, for example, and pay a lot in mortgage interest and property taxes, you'll likely find that you're better off itemizing. That said, if President's Trump tax plan goes though, we could see the standard deduction rise from $12,600 to $30,000 for married couples filing jointly -- and that will impact whether you itemize or not.
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Regardless of how you take your deductions, you might get a tax break by virtue of being married if you're in a situation where one spouse earns considerably more than the other. But if you're a couple where both spouses earn roughly the same amount, you won't get that same benefit. In fact, you'll probably get hit with what's known as the marriage penalty, and pay more taxes as a result.
Know your tax bracket
To see whether you'll get a tax break as a couple, you'll need to understand what your tax bracket looks like before and after you get married. Here's how the current brackets break down:
DATA SOURCE: IRS.
Now before we go any further, you should be aware that President Trump is proposing a scaled-down system with just three effective tax brackets. If his plan goes through, you'll fall into either a 12%, 25%, or 33% bracket. But since that proposal hasn't passed yet, let's stick to what we know.
Based on the above, you can see how getting married might give you a tax break. Imagine you earn $30,000 a year and your spouse earns $95,000. As single filers, you'd be in the 15% tax bracket, while your spouse would be in the 28% bracket. Your combined income, however, would put you into the 25% tax bracket, and as a result, your highest dollars of earnings would be taxed at a lower rate than what your spouse was previously paying.
On the other hand, you could run into trouble if you and your spouse have similar salaries. If you make $115,000 a year and your spouse makes $125,000 a year, individually, you'd each be in the 28% tax bracket. But collectively, your joint income of $240,000 would bump you into the 33% tax bracket, thus subjecting your highest dollars of earnings to higher taxes. Ouch.
Lowering your taxes
If you're worried that getting married will cause your taxes to go up, there are things you can do to ease the pain. First, max out your retirement plan contributions for as long as you're able. Currently, workers under 50 can contribute up to $5,500 a year to an IRA and $18,000 to a 401(k). Workers 50 and older get a catch-up provision that raises these limits to $6,500 and $24,000, respectively. Unless you open the Roth version of either account, any amount you contribute is income you can exempt from taxes.
Additionally, the more credits and deductions you qualify for, the less money you'll pay in taxes on a whole. Even if getting married does result in a tax break, it still pays to research the credits and deductions that may be available to you.
If you're getting married in the near future, review your current tax bracket and see whether your nuptials will result in a tax break or the dreaded marriage penalty. This way, you can plan accordingly and avoid unpleasant surprises when the time comes to file your return.
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