How To File Your Taxes If You Got Married in 2020

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Getting married is exciting, but filing taxes as a married couple can be very confusing. Many couples — even those who have been married for a few years — often question whether they’re doing everything right or whether they should be filing jointly at all. But just like anything else, filing jointly gets easier with practice.

So how do your taxes change when you go from single to married? What things should newlyweds consider after their big day?

Find Out: 10 Biggest Tax Questions for Married Couples

Married Filing Jointly vs. Married Filing Separately

One interesting thing about getting married and filing your taxes is that if your nuptials take place at the end of the year, even on the last day, you’re still considered married for the entire year.

One of the first things you’ll need to do when filing is to choose what your filing status will be. For most people, married filing jointly will be the best choice and will save money on taxes. Married filing separately typically means you’ll lose certain so-called “marriage bonuses.” There are some exceptions, however, when filing separately will result in a larger return.

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Your best bet is to use an online tax preparation program to do your taxes using both filing statuses. That way, you can use hard numbers to easily compare which filing status is more beneficial for your situation.

Additionally, however, there are certain changes you should be aware of when you go from filing taxes as a single person to filing as a married couple.

Check Your Withholding To Avoid Surprises

One thing a lot of folks don’t think about is that they might need to adjust the withholding on their paychecks when they get married to avoid a surprise hit when the tax deadline arrives. Getting married and having a dual-income household could mean that your tax rate will go up along with your combined income. If you don’t adjust your withholding using the W-4 form, you might end up owing a big tax bill come tax day.

Your best bet is to figure out what your withholding should be via the IRS tax withholding estimator and then to adjust your amount as soon as you can.

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Read: Why Your W-4 Is More Important Than You Realize

Name Changes

If you’re changing your last name when you get married, you’ll need to update all the government records with your new name. Make sure the Social Security Administration is notified of your name change. If you don’t, your taxes could be rejected because the name and Social Security number on your return don’t match. If you haven’t legally changed your name, file your taxes with your previous last name.

Also, don’t forget to update your address if you moved when you got married. You can do that in advance by notifying the IRS with Form 8822, or just update it when you file.

Some Will See a Marriage Penalty or Bonus

Some people will receive a higher tax bill when they get married than they would have if they filed separately. This often is referred to as the “marriage penalty” — when a couple has similar incomes, the combined income from the joint return will bump them up into a new tax bracket, resulting in higher taxes.

The flip side of the coin is that in some instances, when there is a big difference in income, a joint return can actually mean a marriage bonus of sorts.

For example, Spouse A earns $105,000 a year and falls into the 24% federal tax bracket as a single filer, based on 2020 tax rates. Spouse B earns half that — $52,500 — and pays 22% as a single filer. When they marry and have a combined income of $157,500, they fall into the 22% bracket. That’s a savings of 2% for Spouse A, which equals $2,100.

When you get married, you’ll see a lot of changes happening in your life, and taxes are no exception. You’ll need to update your information, figure out how to file, adjust withholding and more. It can be daunting, but once you’ve done it that first year, it gets easier.

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Jami Farkas contributed to the reporting for this article.

Last updated: Mar. 18, 2021

About the Author

Peter Anderson has a Bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Minnesota and has been writing about financial topics for over a decade on his site, BibleMoneyMatters.com, as well as being featured on sites like Forbes, Time Business & Money, and NPR. He has a passion for helping people to make informed decisions with their money, and focuses his writing on general personal finance topics, investing and retirement.

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