One of the most important decisions you’ll make when you do your taxes is your filing status. There are five options, but in some cases, you’ll qualify for more than one. You’ll need to determine which filing status will best suit you.
Married filing jointly or married filing separately
If you were legally married as of December 31, 2017, you can file as married filing jointly or married filing separately for the tax year 2017.
Filing jointly generally gives a couple a better tax deduction. This can mean a lower tax bill or an increase in your refund, depending on your financial situation. If you decide to file as married filing separately, you won’t be able to claim education credits or earned income credit (EIC).
Some people choose to file their taxes under the married filing separately option if their spouse refuses to file a joint return or to protect themselves from inaccurate tax information reported by their spouse.
Head of household
If you were unmarried as of December 31, 2017, and paid more than half of the costs to run a home during the year while supporting a child or relative that meets the standards of the IRS, you may be eligible to claim the filing status head of household. In general, if you supported your own child, step-child, or sibling who lived with you for more than half of the year you probably qualify.
Under very specific circumstances, you can file as head of household even if you were married as of December 31, 2017. You can’t file jointly with your spouse and file head of household, however.
If you are not married according to your state’s laws, you can use the single filing status. If you are married but are legally separated, or if you are divorced, the single filing status may be the correct choice.
Qualifying widow or widower
This filing status allows people whose spouse died to continue to file their taxes under the married filing jointly status for two years after their spouse’s death. To use this filing status, you must have at least one qualifying dependent child.
If you don’t choose to itemize deductions, you’ll get the highest standard deduction and married filing jointly tax rates apply.
If you remarry during the two years following the year of the death of your spouse, you may not use the qualifying widow or widower filing status. The third year after the year of the death of your spouse, if you have not remarried, you must file under the single status.
If you have any confusion about which filing status would give you the lowest tax rate and most benefits, consulting a tax professional is an excellent idea. Tax laws are notoriously complicated and constantly changing. A tax professional can give you advice and even go through scenarios with you to help determine your best course of action. In many instances they will offer you a quick calculation for free. This no obligation quote usually only takes a few minutes, and is worth getting, even if the reason is to just check your behind yourself or someone else who normally does your taxes.
Taxes can be overwhelming. That's why we've created the Sunset Finance Guide to Tax Returns to provide you with more information.