Throughout your life there will be certain significant occasions that will impact not only your day-to-day living but also your taxes. Here are a few of those events:
Getting Married – If you just got married or are considering getting married, you need to be aware that once you are married you no longer file returns using the single status and generally will file a combined return with your new spouse using the married filing jointly (MFJ) status. When you file MFJ all of the income of both spouses is combined on one return, and where both spouses have substantial income, that could mean your combined incomes could put you in a higher tax bracket. However, when filing MFJ you also benefit by being able to claim a standard deduction equal to twice that of the standard deduction for a single taxpayer. It may be appropriate for a couple planning a wedding, or even those who just got married, to estimate differences of filing as unmarried and filing married so there are no unpleasant surprises at tax filing time. It may be appropriate to adjust withholding to compensate for the MFJ status.
Be mindful that filing status is determined on the last day of the tax year, so no matter when you get married during the year you will be considered married for the entire year for tax purposes. Once married here are some tasks that should be done:
- Notify the Social Security Administration − Report any name change to the Social Security Administration so that your name and SSN will match when you file your next tax return. Informing the SSA of a name change is quite simple and can be done on the SSA’s website. Alternatively, you can call the SSA at 800-772-1213 or visit a local SSA office. Your income tax refund may be delayed if it is discovered that your name and SSN don’t match at the time your return is filed.
- Notify the IRS – If you have a new address, you should notify the IRS by completing and sending in Form 8822, Change of Address.
- Notify the U.S. Postal Service – You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service of any address change so that any correspondence from the IRS or state tax agency can be forwarded to your correct address.
- Notify the Health Insurance Marketplace – If either or both of you are obtaining health insurance through a government health insurance marketplace, your combined incomes and change in family size could reduce the amount of the premium tax credit to which you would otherwise be entitled, requiring payback of some or all of the credit applied in advance to reduce your monthly premiums. More complicated yet, if either or both of you are included on your parents’ marketplace policy, those insurance premiums must be allocated from their return to your return.
Here are a few tax-related items you should be aware of when filing a joint return:
- New Spouse’s Past Liabilities – If your new spouse owes back taxes, past state income tax liabilities or past-due child support or has unemployment debts to a state, the IRS will apply your future joint refunds to pay those debts. If you are not responsible for your spouse’s debt and do not want your share of any tax refund used to pay your spouse’s past debts, you are entitled to request your portion of the refund back from the IRS by filing an “injured spouse” allocation form. As an alternative, you can file separately using the “married filing separate” filing status; however, that generally results in higher overall tax.
- Capital Loss Limitations – If an individual has sold stock or other investment property at a loss, when filing as unmarried, each individual can deduct up to $3,000 of capital losses on their tax return for a possible combined total of $6,000, but a married couple is limited to a single $3,000 loss and if they file married separate, then the limit is $1,500 each.
- Spousal IRA – Contributions to “Spousal IRAs” are available for married taxpayers who file jointly where one spouse has little or no compensation; the deduction is limited to the lesser of 100% of the employed spouse’s compensation or $6,000 (2022) for the spousal IRA. That permits a combined annual IRA contribution limit of a certain amount (up to$12,000 for 2022). The maximum amount is $7,000 if you or your spouse is age 50 or older ($14,000 if you are both 50+). However, the deduction for contributions to both spouses’ IRAs may be further limited if either spouse is covered by an employer’s retirement plan.
- Deductions – The standard deduction in 2022 for a married couple (both spouses under age 65) is $25,900 and for a single individual is $12,950. So, if both of you have been taking the standard deduction, there is no loss in deductions. However, if in past years one of you had enough deductions to itemize and the other took the standard deduction, and after your marriage you’ll be filing jointly, you would either have to take the joint standard deduction or itemize, which likely will result in a loss of some amount of deductions.
- Impact on Parents’ Returns – If your parents have been claiming either of you as a dependent, they will generally lose that benefit. In addition, if you are in college and qualify for one of the education credits, those credits are only deductible on the return where your personal exemption is used. That generally means your parents will not be able to claim the education credits even if they paid the tuition. On the flip side, unless your income is too high, you will be able to claim the credit even though your parents paid the tuition.
Buying a Home – Buying a home, especially your first home, can be a trying experience. Without a landlord to take care of repairs and upkeep of the property those tasks will become your responsibility as a home owner. When you rent, you are responsible for making a rental payment which is not tax deductible. On the other hand, when you own a home, in addition to being responsible for its maintenance, you have to make homeowner’s insurance, mortgage, and real property tax payments. While routine upkeep costs aren’t tax deductible, the interest on the mortgage and the property taxes you pay may be tax deductible, providing you with a significant saving in income tax. However, if the standard deduction amount for your filing status exceeds the total of all itemized deductions the law allows you to claim, you won’t get a tax benefit from the home mortgage interest and property tax payments. So, when figuring if you can afford a home be sure to take into account whether you’ll benefit from those home-related tax savings.
Also consider the long-term benefits of home ownership. Homes have generally appreciated in value in the past, so you can look forward to your home gaining value, and when you sell it, the gain up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple) can be excluded from income if the property has been owned and used as your primary residence for any 2 of the 5 years just prior to the sale.
Many taxpayers don’t feel the need to keep home improvement records, thinking the potential gain will never exceed the amount of the exclusion for home gains ($250,000 or $500,000 if both filer and spouse qualify) if they meet the 2-out-of-5-year use and ownership tests. Here are some situations when having home improvement records could save taxes:
(2) The home is converted to a rental property, and the cost and improvements of the home are needed to establish the depreciable basis of the property.
(3) The home is converted to a second residence, and the exclusion might not apply to the sale.
(4) You suffer a casualty loss and retain the home after making repairs.
(5) The home is sold before meeting the 2-year use and ownership requirements.
(6) The home only qualifies for a reduced exclusion because the home is sold before meeting the 2-year use and ownership requirements.
(7) One spouse retains the home after a divorce and is only entitled to a $250,000 exclusion instead of the $500,000 exclusion available to married couples.
(8) There are future tax law changes that could affect the exclusion amounts.
Everyone hates to keep records but consider the consequences if you have a gain and a portion of it cannot be excluded. You will be hit with capital gains (CG), and there is a good chance the CG tax rate will be higher than normal simply because the gain pushed you into a higher CG tax bracket.
Having or Adopting Children – Besides the loss of sleep, changing diapers, middle of the night feedings, and constant attention, a new born also brings some tax benefits, including a maximum $2,000 child tax credit which can go a long way in reducing your tax liability. If both spouses work, you will no doubt incur child care expenses which can result in a maximum (can be less) credit of between $600 and $1,050 for one child or twice those amounts for two or more children. The credit amounts are based on a maximum child care expense of $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more multiplied by 20 to 35 percent of the expense based upon a taxpayer’s income. (The amounts noted apply for 2022; there were temporary increases in the credits as part of Covid pandemic relief for 2021. Congress may extend the enhanced credits.)
Of course, the medical expenses are deductible if you itemize your deductions but only to the extent the medical expenses exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Although rarely encountered, the expense of a surrogate mother is not deductible.
If you adopt a child under age 18 or a person physically or mentally incapable of taking care of himself or herself, you may be eligible for a tax credit for qualified adoption expenses you paid. The credit, which is a maximum of $14,890 for 2022, is not refundable, but if the credit is more than your income tax, you can carry over the excess and have 5 years to use up the credit. If the child is a special needs child, the full credit limit will be allowed for the tax year in which the adoption becomes final, regardless of whether you had qualified adoption expenses. The credit phases out for higher income taxpayers.
It is also time to begin planning for the child’s future education. The tax code offers two tax favored education savings accounts, the Coverdell account allowing a maximum contribution of $2,000 per year and the Qualified State Tuition plan, more commonly referred to as a Sec 529 plan, which allows large sums of money to be put aside for a child’s education. There is no federal tax deduction for contributing to either of these programs, but the earnings from the plans are tax-free if used for qualified education expenses, so the sooner the funds are contributed the greater the benefit from tax-free earnings.
Getting Divorced – If you are recently divorced or are contemplating divorce, you will have to deal with or plan for significant tax issues such as asset division, alimony, and tax-return filing status. If you have children, additional issues include child support; claiming of the children as dependents; the child, child care, and education tax credits; and perhaps even the earned income tax credit. Here are some details:
- Filing Status – As mentioned earlier your filing status is based on your marital status at the end of the year. If, on December 31, you are in the process of divorcing but are not yet divorced, your options are to file jointly or for each spouse to submit a return as married filing separately. There is an exception to this rule if a couple has been separated for all of the last 6 months of the year, and if one taxpayer has paid more than half the cost of maintaining a household for a qualified child. In that situation that spouse can use the more favorable head of household filing status. If each spouse meets the criteria for that exception, they can both file as heads of household; otherwise, the spouse who doesn’t qualify must use the status of married filing separately. If your divorce has been finalized and if you haven’t remarried, your filing status will be single or, if you meet the requirements, head of household.
- Child Support – Is support for the taxpayer’s children provided by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. It is not deductible by the one making the payments and is not income to the recipient parent.
- Children’s Dependency – When a court awards physical custody of a child to one parent, the tax law is very specific in awarding that child’s dependency to the parent who has physical custody, regardless of the amount of child support that the other parent provides. However, the custodial parent may release this dependency to the noncustodial parent by completing the appropriate IRS form.
- Child Tax Credit – A federal credit of $2,000 is allowed for each child under the age of 17. This credit goes to the parent who claims the child as a dependent. Up to $1,400 of the credit is refundable if the credit exceeds the tax liability. However, this credit phases out for high-income parents, beginning at $200,000 for single parents.
- Alimony – For divorce agreements that are finalized after 2018, alimony is not deductible by the payer and is not taxable income for the recipient. Because the recipient isn’t reporting alimony income, he or she cannot treat it as earned income for the purposes of making an IRA contribution.
- Tuition Credit – If a child qualifies for either of two higher-education tax credits (the American Opportunity Tax Credit [AOTC] or the Lifetime Learning Credit), the credit goes to whoever claims the child as a dependent even if the other spouse or someone else is paying the tuition and other qualifying expenses.
Death of Spouse – Losing a spouse is difficult emotionally, and unfortunately, can be accompanied by a number of tax issues that may or not apply to the surviving spouse. Here is an overview of some of the more frequent issues:
- Filing Status – If a spouse passes away during the year, the surviving spouse can still file a joint return for that year if the surviving spouse has not remarried. However, after the year of death the surviving spouse will no longer be able to jointly file with the deceased spouse and will have to use a less favorable filing status.
- Notification – If the deceased spouse is receiving Social Security benefits the Social Security Administration must be immediately notified. Likewise, payers of pensions and retirement plans of the deceased spouse need to be advised of the spouse’s death.
- Estate Tax – Where the deceased spouse’s assets and prior reportable gifts exceed the current lifetime inheritance exclusion ($12.06 million for deaths in 2022), an estate tax return may be required. However, the lifetime inheritance exclusion can be changed at the whim of Congress. Even when an estate tax return isn’t required because the value of the deceased spouse’s estate is less than the exclusion amount, it may be appropriate to file the estate tax return anyway, as there could be an impact on the estate tax of the surviving spouse when he or she passes.
- Inherited Basis – Under normal circumstances the beneficiary of a decedent’s assets will have a tax basis in those assets equal to the fair market value of the assets on the date of death. Thus, generally a qualified appraisal of the assets is required. However, for a surviving spouse this can be more complicated depending upon whether the state of residence is a community property state and how title to the property was held.
- Changing Titles – The title to all jointly held assets needs be changed into the survivor’s name alone to avoid complications in the future.
- Trust Income Tax Returns – Many couples have created living trusts that, while they are both alive, don’t require a separate tax return to be filed for the trust and can be revoked. But upon the death of one of the spouses, this trust may split into two trusts, one of which remains revocable and the other becomes irrevocable. A separate income tax return for the latter trust will usually have to be prepared and filed annually.
These are just a few of the issues that must be addressed upon the death of a spouse, and it may be appropriate to seek professional help.