The Highs and Lows of Joint Marital Tax Preparation
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) I've never been happier to see my 1099s arrive in the mail than I was this January. Finally, I wasn't going to have to do the mundane task of filing my taxes on my own. Unlike my past twelve years of solo tax preparation, I was now married. Together, in newlywed bliss, my husband, Ryan, and I would achieve a new first: joint marital tax preparation.
In retrospect, my tax filing glasses may have been a little rosy. But doing our taxes together, as it turned out, was a financial adventure, complete with the highs and lows of any fresh undertaking.
And getting to do taxes with Ryan was definitely a high. The closest I had come to tax-related human contact in the years I had filed on my own was a phone call with someone at New York's Department of Taxation who demanded money for a year that I hadn't lived in the state. This year, curled with our respective computers on the living room couch and surrounded by a mountain of papers, together, we tackled the IRS forms. It was an accountant's version of movie night.
An early high: I filed a home office deduction, which I hadn't the prior year, even though I worked almost exclusively from home. While living in sin, we had split the bills; he paid the mortgage on a condo he had bought years before we met (and I paid the groceries), so I had no house payment to deduct. This year, the mortgage payments went on our joint taxes, so I could deduct the 18 square feet where I keep my desk and save us a cool $35.
I was thrilled....until I started fiddling with our marital status under the basic info of our tax preparation software. And then I discovered a marriage penalty that dwarfed the home office savings.
Neither Ryan nor I gave any thought to the marriage penalty before we tied the knot. We weren't like our friends, Becky and David, who recently told us they decided to get married after realizing that because Becky had quit a well-paying job to get her doctoral degree in economics, they no longer faced a tax penalty.
"When we realized that my going back to school meant the marriage penalty had disappeared for us, we knew it was finally time for us to make it official," said Becky. (They would have gotten married soon anyway; the practical benefits of marriage were getting to the point where they outweighed the annual cost, she said).
It's not that Ryan and I are more romantic than David and Becky: we were banking on significant savings from my getting onto his health insurance when we got hitched. It's just that it never occurred to us that the IRS would benefit from our union.