It’s important to have the right amount of federal income tax withheld from your earnings so that you don’t owe Uncle Sam money at tax time. Life events such as a change in marital status can change your tax withholding for the year. If you go ahead and change the number of withholding allowances you claim even before you get married, you may be able to avoid an unwelcome surprise when tax time rolls around.
Even if you get married on the last day of the year, the Internal Revenue Service considers you to be married for the entirety of the tax year. Instead of filing as a single taxpayer, you and your spouse must decide whether to file a joint return or each file a separate return. Usually, married couples come out ahead by filing jointly, although this may not be true in your particular case. It may pay for you to prepare your tax return both separately and jointly to see which filing status offers you and your spouse the most tax advantages and least tax liability. You can then file your actual return the way that works the best for your financial situation.
Use Form W-4 to claim the number of allowances you want withheld for federal tax purposes. Generally, the more allowances you claim, the less tax you will have withheld. An employer withholds the most federal taxes if you claim zero allowances. You may want to choose this option, especially if both of you work. Claiming zero allowances on your Form W-4 helps assure that you won’t have too little tax withheld and owe the government money when you file your tax return. If your spouse doesn’t work, enter one allowance for yourself and one for your spouse. This normally balances out so that you don’t get too huge a refund or end up owing more tax.
The number of exemptions you claim on your tax return reduces your taxable income. An exemption is money you earn that the IRS doesn’t tax. Getting married and filing a joint return automatically qualifies you for two tax breaks. If you and your spouse file a joint tax return, you can claim a personal exemption for yourself and one for your spouse. You can also claim an additional exemption for each dependent you claim on your return. Although your spouse is not considered your dependent, your child or other relative may qualify for you to claim as your dependent.
If you're a woman changing your last name, let the Social Security Administration know about your name change. Otherwise, it can cause you and your spouse problems at tax time. For one, if the name you put on your tax return doesn’t match the name under which your Social Security number is listed, it can delay any tax refund you have coming. According to the IRS, in cases where the tax deadline is drawing near, you should file a joint tax return using your maiden name so that it matches the name on your Social Security card. When you make the name change on your Social Security number record, use Form SSA-5. You will need to provide proof of your legal name change along with your completed application.
Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.