Your tax filing status can affect your standard deduction -- both when you file your taxes and when you fill out your W-4. If you're married, you can't file as a single person. Instead, you'll file as married filing separately, but the standard deduction for single people is the same as the deduction for married people filing separately. Depending upon your income, deductions and other financial factors, filing separately can help reduce your tax burden.
Standard Deduction Basics
The standard deduction is a standard amount taxpayers are allowed to deduct from their taxable income. This deduction is designed to cover basic living expenses, and the IRS sets rates every year. For single people and married people filing separately, the standard deduction is $6,100 as of 2013. For married couples filing jointly, the deduction is $12,200. Thus filing jointly doubles your deduction, but if filing jointly greatly increases your income, the deduction might not make up for this fact.
Joint Filing Issues
When you file jointly, your income will be combined with your spouse's to determine your total tax liability. If you have any itemized deductions or are eligible for any tax credits, these will also be combined. If one of you is at the top of a tax bracket, even a small increase in income due to your spouse's income can greatly increase your tax liability. If you both make large incomes, you could also be pushed into a higher tax bracket.
Separate Filing Advantages
Filing separately can keep both you and your spouse's income lower, minimizing your tax liability. If one spouse makes significantly less money than the other, filing separately could allow the lower-earning spouse to take advantage of certain deductions. For example, you're allowed to deduct medical bills that are in excess of 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. The spouse who makes less money might be able to deduct a significantly larger portion of such bills.
How to Decide
Most married couples file jointly. Business Insider reports that in 2009 -- the most recent year for which statistics are available as of publication -- only 4.5 percent of couples filed separately. If you have complicated tax returns, you might need the assistance of an accountant to determine the best strategy. However, you can also add up your incomes, compare your separate and joint incomes to your tax brackets and then calculate which strategy will leave you paying more.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.