Ask the taxgirl: Filing Single When You’re Married

Taxpayer asks:

Can you file single if you are married? Short info I am still in school only have 1 more year then I am done. My insurance ran out so my husband and I got married for the insurance. We were engaged and already had a date. Just had to bump it up to get covered. So how many laws could I possible be breaking?

Thank you for your time,

Taxgirl says:

Easy answer: no. Your filing status is determined as of the last day of the tax year. So if you’re married on December 31 under the laws of your state, you’re married for tax purposes. Exceptions apply for same sex marriages (the feds don’t recognize these), widows and widowers, annulments and married persons who live apart but meet very tailored criteria.

But another question: why would you want to file single? Generally speaking, it tends to be more advantageous to file as married filing jointly.

If, however, you have concerns about filing with your spouse or if you have a financial situation that lends itself to not filing jointly, you can file as married filing separate. It’s similar to filing single with one enormous exception: both spouses must agree to itemize (or not) on their return. One spouse may not elect to itemize if the other spouse takes the standard deduction.

I’m not sure which laws you’re worried about breaking but if it’s financial aid related (which is what I’m guessing from your question), check with your school’s financial aid office. They should be able to help. If it’s tax related, I’m not terribly worried so long as you haven’t previously file a false return. If you have, it’s not the end of the world: it can be fixed. Contact a tax pro if this situation is trickier than you’ve indicated or if you still have questions.

Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation.

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11 thoughts on “Ask the taxgirl: Filing Single When You’re Married

  1. I am surprise you didnt recommend Married Filing Separately. She seem to be more concern about her finances on her education. With the increase of fraud, you neeed to be extremely careful . Please call the IRS 1800 829 1040. The laws says what your status on December 31. If you are “legally” separately from your pouse of 6 months or more, you are considered single or separately married. This is for people who is legally separately or because one of them (spouses) owes money to the IRS, student loans or Child Support. Also you can with a form attached to your tax return if you are filing Married Filing Jointly for Injure Spouse Form 8379, this is for the spouse who is considered “injured” by the other spouse who owes money to the IRS, behind in Student Loans, CHild Support or some Federal finicial activity. so that the innocent spouse is protected from debtness that the guilty spouse may .

    But if any time, you can download a publication the IRS has which is Publication 17 or 15.

  2. I’ve heard about a “marriage penalty” in which a lot of people are actually worse off married than single from the tax point of view. Has that changed? Do you happen to have any good resources I can read about this?

  3. As mentioned, incorrectly filing tax returns can turn into a sticky situation. What many taxpayers don’t realize is that the IRS is becoming smarter in their investigative work. The IRS has increased its budget for using new technologies that help them do their research and look for any major discrepancies. Taxpayers just need to be extra careful these days about actually filing their tax returns and doing so correctly to avoid any potential issues.

  4. Hi,

    I just read your answer to filing single when married. I just want a clarification on this. Many people who are married claim Single on their W-4 form because they end up paying a lot of money at the end of the year. Is this legal?


  5. Sherry, the form W-4 is only used to figure your withholding on your employer’s side. It doesn’t affect your total tax (as your filing status does) and only affects your withholding.

  6. if you let your husband do your taxes for the last 12 years and you found out he was filing single instead of married filing seperately because he owed back child support and he was worried they would take my refund to cover his debt isnt that wrong? i am in the process of filing for a divorce what can i do to protect myself? i dont want to get in trouble when he thought we could file single since he owed the state………

  7. Hi so I recently returned to school but before that my husband filed his taxes as single and claimed our daughter i did not file any taxes ,… now my financial aid is telling me that i have to file in order for them to disburse my aid what should I do? Do I have to file an amendment or should i file single ?

    P.S The previous year we filed married filing jointly

  8. We got married in 2010 but have been filing single. We thought it was no big deal but now I’m reading we may get in trouble! We are definately filing married joint taxes from now on! I’m scared now! What do I do? It was financially better for us to file single that we just never changed anything. I have kids from a previous marriage so I got credit for them and he got credit for our son.

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