What is a Joint Return?
A joint return is a tax return filed on the behalf of a married couple. Filing a joint return means that both parities share the tax liability. A joint return is also referred to as married filing jointly.
Only legally married couples can file a joint return. In order to file a joint return for any year you have to have been married on or before the last day of the year. If your spouse dies, the widowed spouse can still file a joint return for that year. However, going forward they would have to file a single return. If you get divorced at any point in the year you cannot file a joint return for that year.
Couples filing a joint return may benefit from:
- Lower tax rates
- Higher standard deduction
- All information for a couple reported on one return, rather than having to file individually
Joint Return Scenarios
Joint Return: Newlyweds
Jason and Isabel were married on New Year’s Eve of 2016. When it came time to pay their 2016 taxes, they discussed what kind of tax return they should file with their accountant. He suggested a joint return. Even though they weren’t married for very much for 2016, they were still married on the last day of the year and they qualified for a joint return. However, if Jason and Isabel had been married at midnight, it would have been considered a 2017 wedding and they would have had to file single for 2016.
Joint Return: Widowed
Joel recently lost his wife of 10 years. When he goes to file taxes for the year, he can still file a joint return. However, after this year he would no longer qualify for a joint return. He does have a few options on filing returns. Joel can file as single, head of household or surviving spouse. He can discuss with his accountant which would provide the most benefits for him and his dependents.
Joint Return: Divorce
Ivan and Jessica were married for most of 2016; however, they divorced in November of 2016. Even though they were married for a majority of the year, they must both file single tax returns for 2016 and going forward until they remarry.