North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Ohio, Virginia, New York, Vermont, South Carolina, Georgia, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland all have a marriage penalty in their individual income tax bracket structure. Washington also has a capital gains tax where the threshold is the same for married couples as well as individuals. The term marriage penalty refers to the additional tax burden married taxpayers face compared to single filers. Even though marriage is largely a matter of the heart, there are often unavoidable federal and state tax implications for those who tie the knot. A married couple’s income may be subject to a penalty of up to 12% if they have children and up to 4% if they don’t. This model assumes taxpayers use standard deductions and report only wage income.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a major driver of marriage penalties for low-income individuals, phases out much faster when the taxpayer has a child (15.98 percent instead of 7.65 percent). Let’s work through a specific example to show you how much a marriage tax penalty could cost you. To keep things more universal, we’ll use the Federal tax brackets, even if it only applies to the highest income bracket.

  1. To get a better understanding of how combining income with your spouse can impact your taxes, take a look at the 2020 and 2021 federal tax brackets and rates.
  2. Working with an adviser may come with potential downsides such as payment of fees (which will reduce returns).
  3. First, the principle that “similarly situated individuals [should] face similar tax burdens.”[8] Second, a proportional tax system subjects all income to the same relative liability (e.g., 10 percent) irrespective of filing status or income.
  4. However, the second earner, who unmarried would have faced a 0 percent marginal tax rate as a single, now faces the 22.6 percent marginal tax rate on the first dollar of income earned.
  5. Allowing a deduction for state income taxes paid is a fairness measure.

On top of that, the $10,000 cap is also viewed as a marriage penalty by some, given that the dollar limit applies to both single taxpayers and married filers alike. Most tax provisions, such as the standard deduction and tax brackets, are higher for married couples filing jointly, given that their tax returns reflect earnings for two people. Currently, however, all tax brackets for married filers are exactly double those for single filers, except for the top 37 percent marginal rate, in which case the tax bracket for married filers is just 20 percent wider than for single filers. As such, marriage penalties at the federal level are generally only felt at very high income levels. A marriage tax penalty occurs when a married couple incurs a higher tax rate when filing jointly than they would if they were filing separately.

Change the name on your Social Security card

Economists, tax specialists and even ordinary people have long known that public policies can make marriage very unattractive. At the lower end of the income spectrum, marriage can lead to a significant loss of entitlement benefits. At the high end, couples who marry may face substantially higher income taxes. This problem is exacerbated by the fact Social Security and Medicare taxes are collected only on wage income, passive income such as capital and property earnings are exempt, and benefits are progressive. This means that the chief tax burden for the programs is carried by two-earner families with wages that range between the mid-range and the cap and these families also receive fewer benefits than any other family structure or set-up.

Marriage tax penalty or marriage bonus?

Even with these simplifying assumptions, the shape of marriage penalties is quite complicated. Child tax credits, the earned-income tax credit and the alternative minimum tax all play a role. Unfortunately, you won’t taxes marriage penalty be able to avoid a marriage penalty by filing separately. In fact, you might be worse off if you choose married filing separately because you can lose access to some of the credits and deductions mentioned earlier.

If it moves forward, the proposal could deliver bigger 2024 tax refunds to millions of married taxpayers. The SALT deduction subsidizes high-tax states at the expense of residents in low-tax states. Because of the deduction, income is not taxed equally at the federal level. States can raise $10,000 of revenue with up to $3,700 coming from the federal government. The effective subsidy creates an incentive for states to set spending and tax burdens higher than they otherwise would.

Marriage Penalty

Assume that well-off, but not rich, taxpayer marries someone with a similar amount of income. The two spouses between them are limited to a maximum deduction of $10,000. They are paying $34,000 in state income taxes between them, but can only deduct $10,000. If they were not married, they could deduct $10,000 each for a total of $20,000. For marriages that occurred at any point last year, you’re required to file your 2020 tax return as a married couple, either jointly or separately. (However, filing separate returns as a married couple usually provides no financial benefit.) If you plan to marry this year, you’ve got a year to prepare for filing your 2021 return.

There are no easy solutions to the marriage and second-earner penalties. Each option contains its own set of advantages and drawbacks which scholars and policymakers must grapple with. The fact that Bittker’s seminal report on taxation and the family in 1975 is still a relevant publication today points to the reality that there are far more questions in this area of tax policy than answers. If one spouse earns significantly more than the other, there may be tax benefits to be had as part of the higher earner’s wages may be “absorbed” by the lower income spouse. After 2023, the SALT cap would revert back to $10,000 per filer, regardless of filing status, until the end of 2025, when the deduction limit will expire, along with many other provisions from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

For instance, Republicans traditionally push against higher taxes for wealthy individuals, but some view the SALT limit as a way to ensure taxpayers in wealthy states don’t receive bigger tax advantages than residents of lower-tax states. Filers cannot go back in time and work more or save more in 2023 to take advantage of lower tax rates. The bill would also have no effect on marriage rates because it applies retroactively. The marriage tax differs depending on where people live and what entitlement programs they enroll in.

Other Tax Implications of Marriage

The deadline this year for filing your 2020 federal tax was delayed to May 17 (state returns may have different deadlines). So far, the IRS has issued 56.5 million refunds averaging $2,902 each, according to data through March 26. Most wealthy countries give up on the second goal, favoring couples with two earners over couples with only one.

For example, if the United States created a perfectly flat individual income tax with no provisions such as the Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit, marriage penalties and bonuses would be eliminated. Likewise, if the United States kept its current progressive individual income tax, but eliminated the ability for married couples to file jointly, there would also no longer be a penalty or bonus for marriage. One unintended feature of the United States’ income tax system is that the combined tax liability of a married couple may be higher or lower than their combined tax burden if they had remained single.

So, married couples can earn as much as $81,050 together and qualify for a marginal tax rate of 22%. A single person earning just $86,375 — roughly $5,000 more — would fall into the next bracket up, with a marginal tax rate of 24%. In the early 1950s single taxpayers supporting children in their households rather than spouses asked why they could not split their income on a joint return with their children.

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