Trying to figure out whether you and your spouse should file a joint tax return or separate returns? As is often the case with tax questions, the answer depends on your particular tax picture.
In general, your decision will depend upon which filing status results in the lowest tax. But bear in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is jointly and severally liable for the tax on your combined income, including any additional tax that IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. This means that IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount. Although there are provisions in the law that offer relief from joint and several liability, each of those provisions has its limitations. Thus, even if a joint return results in less tax, you may choose to file a separate return if you want to be certain of being responsible only for your own tax.
In most cases, filing jointly offers the most tax savings, particularly where the spouses have different income levels. The “averaging” effect of combining the two incomes can bring some of it out of a higher tax bracket. For example, if one spouse has $75,000 of taxable income and the other has just $25,000, filing jointly instead of separately for 2023 can save $1,972.50 in taxes.
Note that filing separately doesn’t mean you go back to using the “single” rates that applied before you were married. Instead, each spouse must use the “married filing separately” rates. These rates are based on brackets that are exactly half of the married filing joint brackets but are still less favorable than the “single” rates. This means the “marriage penalty” (which requires some marrieds to pay at a higher tax rate on the same total income than they would pay if each filed as a single) isn’t eliminated by filing separate returns. Although Congress has provided relief from the marriage penalty in the tax rates, those changes don’t provide a complete solution.
There is a potential for tax savings from filing separately, however, where one spouse has significant amounts of medical expenses. Medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
If a medical expense deduction is isolated on the separate return of a spouse, that spouse’s lower (separate) AGI, as compared to the higher joint AGI, can result in larger total deductions. For example, if one spouse has $19,500 in medical expenses and the spouses’ joint income is $260,000, then the jointly filing spouses can’t deduct any of the medical expenses, because 7.5% of $260,000 is $19,500 (and $19,500 − $19,500 = $0). But if the separate income of the spouse with the medical expenses is $140,000, the deduction increases to $9,000 on a separate return, because 7.5% of $140,000 is only $10,500, and $19,500 − $10,500 equals $9,000.
Other tax factors may point to the advisability of filing a joint return. For example, the child and dependent care credit, adoption expense credit, American Opportunity tax credit, and Lifetime learning credit are available to a married couple only on a joint return. And you can’t take the credit for the elderly or the disabled if you file separate returns unless you and your spouse lived apart for the entire year. Nor can you deduct qualified education loan interest unless a joint return is filed. You may also not be able to deduct contributions to your IRA if either you or your spouse was covered by an employer retirement plan and you file separate returns. Nor can you exclude adoption assistance payments or any interest income from series EE or Series I savings bonds that you used for higher education expenses if you file separate returns.
In addition, social security benefits may be more heavily taxed to a couple that files separately. The benefits are tax-free if your “provisional income” (your AGI with certain modifications plus half of your social security benefits) doesn’t exceed a “base amount.” The base amount is $32,000 on a joint return, but zero on separate return (or $25,000 if the spouses didn’t live together for the entire year).
The decision you make for federal income tax purposes may have an impact on your state or local income tax bill, so the total tax impact has to be compared. For example, an overall federal tax saving by filing separately might be offset by an overall state tax increase, or a state tax saving might offset a federal tax increase.
Unfortunately, we can’t give you any hard and fast rules of thumb for when it pays to file separately. The tax laws have grown so complex over the years that there are often a number of different factors at play for any given situation. However, there is one approach guaranteed to come up with the correct decision. We can simply calculate your tax bill both ways: jointly and separately. Then the approach that leads to overall tax savings could be used. We are happy to run the numbers for you to make sure you pay the minimum amount of taxes possible. Call us to arrange for a consultation or if you have any additional questions.
Are you planning to refinance the mortgage on your home and wondering about the tax rules regarding the refinancing? This article will discuss whether you can deduct the interest you will pay on your new mortgage, the points that you pay, and other fees that you may pay in connection with the refinancing.
Interest deduction on refinanced mortgage. Interest on a refinanced mortgage will be deductible, within the limits discussed, if it falls into one of the following categories:
Your old mortgage was taken out after Dec. 15, 2017. Debt that results from the refinancing of debt that was incurred after Dec. 15, 2017 to buy, build, or substantially improve your main or second home, and that is secured by that home. But interest on this debt is deductible only to the extent that the amount of the debt from refinancing doesn’t exceed: (a) the amount of the original debt that has been refinanced, and (b) $750,000 ($375,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).
Your old mortgage was taken out after Oct. 13, 1987, but before Dec. 16, 2017. Debt that results from the refinancing of debt that was incurred after Oct. 13, 1987, but before Dec. 16, 2017, to buy, build, or substantially improve your main or second home, and that is secured by that home. But interest on this debt is deductible only to the extent that the amount of the debt from refinancing doesn’t exceed: (a) the amount of the original debt that has been refinanced, and (b) $1 million ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Note that for the $1 million ($500,000) limit to apply, the refinancing debt has to be incurred before the expiration of the term of the old debt.
Your old mortgage was taken out before Oct. 14, 1987. Debt that results from the refinancing of debt that was incurred before Oct. 14, 1987-no matter how the proceeds of the mortgage were used-and that is secured by your first or second home. All of the interest you pay on this debt is fully deductible, as long as the term of the old mortgage hasn’t expired, and the amount of the debt resulting from the refinance doesn’t exceed the amount of principal remaining on the old debt immediately before the refinancing.
Interest on refinanced “home equity loans” isn’t deductible, 2018 – 2025. “Home equity debt,” as specially defined for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction, means debt that: (1) is secured by the taxpayer’s home, and (2) wasn’t incurred to acquire, construct, or substantially improve the home). From 2018 through 2025, there’s no deduction for the interest on home equity debt, no matter when the home equity debt was incurred. And interest on debt resulting from the refinancing of such home equity debt isn’t deductible.
Beginning with 2026, home equity debt will be deductible, as will the debt resulting from a refinancing of home equity debt. However, the interest that can be deducted will be limited to loan amounts of the lesser of $100,000 ($50,000 if your filing status is married filing separately) or your equity in the home.
Points. In general, points that you pay to refinance your home aren’t fully deductible in the year that you paid them. Instead, you can deduct a portion of the points each year over the life of the loan.
To figure your deduction for points, divide the total points by the number of payments to be made over the life of the loan. Then, multiply this result by the number of payments you made in the tax year.
For example, if you paid $3,000 in points and you will make 360 payments on a 30-year mortgage, you can deduct $8.33 per monthly payment. For a year in which you make 12 payments, you can deduct a total of $99.96 ($8.33 × 12).
However, you may be entitled to a larger first-year deduction for points if you used part of the proceeds of the refinancing to improve your home and you meet certain other requirements. In that case, the points associated with the home improvements may be fully deductible in the year they were paid.
For example, say that you refinance a high-rate mortgage that has an outstanding balance of $80,000 with a new lower-rate loan for $100,000. You use the proceeds of the new mortgage loan to pay off the old loan and to pay for $20,000 of improvements to your home. Since 20% of the new loan was incurred to pay for improvements, 20% of the points you paid can be deducted in the year of the refinancing.
If you’re refinancing your mortgage for the second time, the portion of the points on the first refinanced mortgage that you haven’t yet deducted may be deductible at the time of the second refinancing.
Penalties and fees. A prepayment penalty that you pay to terminate your old mortgage is deductible as interest in the year of payment.
However, fees paid to obtain the new mortgage aren’t deductible, nor can you add them to your basis in your home to reduce the gain when you sell it. Examples of such nondeductible fees are credit report fees, loan origination fees, and appraisal fees.
Give us a call today to go over these rules with you in greater detail!