Filing an income tax return presents the opportunity to claim tax deductions that reduce taxable income and may result in a tax refund. When you file your return, you have the option of claiming a standard deduction provided by the government or the sum of your "itemized deductions," which include expenses such as property taxes, mortgage interest and donations to charity. Your standard deduction is determined by your tax filing status and two filing statuses are reserved for married people.
As a married person, you and your spouse can agree to file a joint tax return. Filing a joint tax return allows you to pool your income and deductions for federal tax purposes, which can be financially beneficial, especially if one partner earns significantly more than the other. The standard deduction for joint filers is $11,900 for the 2012 tax year. If you file a joint return and you don't have at least $11,900 in itemized deductions, you are better off taking the standard deduction.
You can choose to file taxes separately from your spouse if you don't want to mix your finances. If you and your spouse can't agree to file a joint return, you must file separate tax returns. If you choose to file a separate return, your standard deduction is $5,950 for the 2012 tax year, the same deduction available to single taxpayers.
Head of a Household
You may qualify to use the "head of a household" filing status even if you are married if you are considered unmarried by the Internal Revenue Service. According to the IRS, you are considered unmarried if on the last day of the tax year, your spouse did not live with you for the past six months and you paid at least half the cost of keeping up your home for the year. You also must file a separate return and your home must be the main home of a child you can claim as your dependent. Filers with the "head of a household" status have a standard deduction of $8,700 for the 2012 tax year.
Standard deductions can change from one tax year to the next, because the government adjusts deductions to according to price increases in the economy. For instance, the standard deduction for joint filers was $11,600 for the 2011 tax year and the deduction for separate filers was $5,800.
Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.