Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017


One of the first considerations when you file your tax return is designating your filing status. Although this selection may seem straightforward, in some instances you have choices. There are four filing statuses: single, married filing jointly (including surviving spouses), married filing separately, and head of household

Filing Joint Returns

Married individuals must file as either married filing jointly or married filing separately. Marital status is determined as of the last day of the tax year; if individuals are married on the last day of the year, they are treated as married for the whole year. When divorce proceedings have been initiated, individuals are treated as still married until a final decree of divorce has been issued; couples who are living apart under an interlocutory decree are treated as still married.

To file a joint return, both spouses must generally be U.S. citizens or residents for the entire year. Otherwise, married-filing-separate status must be used. Certain elections are available to enable filing a joint return for a couple that wouldn’t otherwise qualify because either spouse was not a full-year U.S. resident.

Filing Separately or Jointly

The changes introduced by the new tax law for tax years 2018–2025 have substantially reduced the impact of the “marriage penalty” which, in certain situations, had the effect of causing two individuals to pay more tax as a married couple than they would have had they remained unmarried. Under the law in effect for 2017, a couple whose combined taxable income was in excess of $75,900 would pay more income tax as a married couple filing jointly than they would as two single individuals. This was because the tax rate brackets applicable to taxable income in excess of $75,900 for married couples filing jointly were less than double those for single individuals. For tax years 2018–2025, the marriage penalty will only apply to couples whose combined taxable income is in excess of $600,000.

Instead of filing a joint return, you and your spouse may file separate returns on which you would each report only your own income and claim only your own deductions and exemptions. If married, you should compute your tax liabilities both jointly and separately to determine which method will result in less tax.

All of these factors should be taken into consideration by married individuals in deciding whether to file jointly or separately

Filing as Head of Household

Individuals who qualify to file as “head of household” are entitled to a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than individuals who file using single status, although the difference in tax rates between single and head of household status will be significantly less for tax years 2018–2025 than it was in previous years.

To qualify as head of household:

  • You must be unmarried (or treated as unmarried) and not a surviving spouse at the end of the tax year.
  • Your home must serve as the principal place of abode for more than half of the year for either an unmarried child, grandchild, or stepchild; a married child, grandchild, or stepchild who qualifies as a dependent; or another relative who qualifies as a dependent.
  • You must contribute more than half of the cost of maintaining the household, including property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utility charges, upkeep charges, property insurance, domestic help, and food. These costs do not include clothing, education, medical and transportation expenses, vacations, or life insurance.

Filing as Surviving Spouse

If you are a widow or widower, you may file a joint return with your deceased spouse for the year in which he or she died, provided that you do not remarry within that year. If you do remarry within that time, you may file jointly with your new spouse if all other requirements are met.

Generally, a surviving spouse with dependent children is entitled to file a return using the tax tables for joint filers for the two years following the year in which his or her spouse died.

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