Married in 2013? Six Tips for Filing Jointly for the First Time

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you tied the knot in 2013, there are a few things you and your spouse should consider before filing your taxes April 15. Experts weigh in on the top six things to keep in mind when you make your love IRS-official:

1. It doesn't matter when you got married.

Even if you got married at 11:55 p.m. Dec. 31, 2013, you can still file jointly, explains Kay Bell, tax expert for Bankrate.com.

"You don't have to have been married for the full year," Bell says. "As long as you were married for a few minutes in 2013, you're able to file jointly."

In other words, the IRS doesn't care when you got hitched. A couple that got married Jan. 1 will be entitled to the exact same joint filing deductions and benefits as a couple that married Dec. 31.

Married taxpayers filing jointly will get a standard deduction of $12,200 for 2013, and those married filing separately will get a $6,100 deduction, according to the IRS.

2. Build a spreadsheet of all your deductions and write-offs.

As a single person, your deductions may not have amounted to much, but now that you're married, it's time to put your heads together and see if the standard deduction is still right for you, says Erin Ballard, director of marketing for CreditCardInsider.com, a credit card comparison site.

"You both need to sit down and take a look at your charitable deductions, your business expenses, anything that you may be able to write off for last year," Ballard says. "If you think of something, jot it down in a spreadsheet."

If you didn't do this during 2013, it's OK, Ballard says. The important thing is that you start doing it as soon as possible and keep a running tally throughout 2014.

"It's much easier to keep a record as you go along rather than doing the end-of-year scramble every April, which is horrible."

3. Know that it's almost always better to file jointly.

Married and filing separately is not the same as filing as a single person, Bell explains.

"The old joke is that one return is easier for the IRS to process than two, so they make it to your advantage to file jointly," she says.

There are very few cases where filing separately is a better option than filing jointly, says Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at CCH, a Walters Kluwer company.

"If you are married filing separately you can't take advantage of certain tax breaks — in many ways you get penalized for filing separately," Luscombe says.

With that said, there are some instances where it can be advantageous. For example, if one spouse had significant medical expenses in 2013 that exceeded 10% of their adjusted gross income.

"It might be harder to get over that 10% threshold if you are married filing jointly, so in that case it would make more sense for the couple to file separately," he explains.

Also, keep in mind that filing jointly means joint liability — if you have any doubt that your spouse is being honest about their deductions or earnings, it's best to file separately.

4. You may need an accountant for the first time.

If you and your spouse have been comfortable filing individually without an accountant, filing jointly for the first time shouldn't complicate things too much, Luscombe says. But if you also bought a home or had a child in 2013, your tax picture may be more complicated and warrant professional help.

"Marriage alone doesn't really throw a wrench into things — it's when you get married and have children that things get more complicated," he says.

Ask yourself: How complicated is your tax life? How complicated is the tax life of your spouse? Bell suggests.

"If you married someone who has their own business, their own home, and they also give a lot to charity, then it's going to be a complicated return," Bell says. "It's time that you sit down and talk with a professional to look at what this combined lifestyle is going to do to you as a married couple. A professional can help you run those numbers and mitigate any future tax issues."

5. Take a look at your withholdings for next year.

It's time to go down to HR and fill out a new W4 form, Luscombe says. That's the form you fill out when you start a new job or have a major life change.

"If you are married you have the potential to claim an additional exemption," he explains. In any case, it's a good idea to at least go through the W4 again and see if you need to either lower or increase your withholdings. The idea is to match the amount being withheld to what you expect to pay in taxes so the two work out to be about the same."

A lot of recently married couples may find that their current withholdings aren't going to work for them — they may end up owing taxes at the end of the year when they previously got refunds, Bell cautions.

"Look at both incomes. Usually, the spouse that makes the most money should take all the withholdings, and the spouse that makes the least should take no exemptions," she explains.

6. Make sure you change your name with the Social Security Administration.

If you changed your name in 2013 and you failed to alert the Social Security Administration, this can throw a wrench into the timeliness of your filing — and your refund, Luscombe says.

"If your tax return reflects your new name but you didn't notify the Social Security Administration, when the IRS checks out your name and social, it's not going to match," he says. "It's going to get thrown back and you'll probably get a letter from the IRS asking you to explain and correct the problem."

Until the IRS gets an explanation for the error, your refund won't be processed. Thankfully, there's a quick fix — you can visit ssa.gov and make the changes yourself, Bell says.

"Ssa.gov will walk you through it," she says. "Take the five or 10 minutes to fix it now so that nothing slows down the process for you."

— By Kathryn Tuggle

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