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Married Filing Jointly: Advantages, Tax Credits and Who Qualifies

Filing a joint tax return is the most popular choice for married taxpayers, and it can often come with the most benefits.
Bella Avila
By Bella Avila 
Edited by Sabrina Parys Reviewed by Michael Randall

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What is married filing jointly?

Married filing jointly is one of five filing statuses taxpayers can chose from. If you file a joint tax return, you and your spouse report your combined income, credits and deductions. This also means that both people are responsible for any tax due.

The other filing status married couples can choose when filing Form 1040 is married filing separately. Most married taxpayers choose to file a joint return since it can give them access to more tax credits and larger tax deductions.

You qualify for married filing jointly status as long as you were married by Dec. 31 of the tax year you’re filing for.

Who can use the married filing jointly status?

In most cases, people who are married can use this status, but certain life circumstances may affect your eligibility to file a joint tax return.

  • Divorce: If you were married but your divorce or separation was legally finalized during the tax year, the IRS considers you unmarried for the entire tax year, and you can’t choose married filing jointly as your filing status

    Internal Revenue Service. Publication 501 2023. Accessed Feb 27, 2024.

  • Annulment: If your marriage is annulled, you must file an amended tax return for certain years affected by the annulment. But note the statute of limitations, which is three years after you filed your original return or two years after you paid the tax, whichever is later.

  • Death of a spouse: If your spouse died during the tax year or before filing your tax return, the IRS considers you married for the whole tax year, and you can choose married filing jointly as your filing status. If you remarry the year of your spouse's death, you can't file jointly with your deceased spouse — you must file either jointly or separately with your new spouse.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If your spouse dies and you have a dependent, you might be able to file as a qualifying widower for two tax years following your spouse's death. This status allows you to reap the benefits of a higher standard deduction and a more favorable tax bracket than you would with a single filing status. Check with a tax preparer or CPA near you if you’re unsure of whether this applies to you.

Tax credits for people married filing jointly

One big advantage of filing a joint return is that you may qualify for certain tax credits you wouldn’t be able to claim under the married filing separately status.

Generally, you can’t claim the following credits using the married filing separately status.

  • Earned income tax credit. Low-to-moderate-income taxpayers may be able to claim up to $7,430 on 2023 tax returns filed in 2024. 

  • Child and dependent care credit. People caring for a child under 13 or a dependent with a disability can claim up to $2,100.

  • American opportunity tax credit. Taxpayers can claim this credit for qualified education expenses, up to a maximum of $2,500. 

  • Lifetime learning credit. This credit covers certain education costs up to a maximum of $2,000. 

There are some exceptions to this rule, so check the IRS credits and deductions page to see what credits you qualify for given your specific tax situation.

2023 standard deduction married filing jointly

Most taxpayers can choose between itemizing and taking the standard deduction on their tax returns. Joint filers get a higher standard deduction amount than single filers, heads of households and those married filing separately because they are allowed to combine their individual benefits.

The 2023 standard deduction for married couples filing jointly is $27,700. This applies to taxes filed by April 15, 2024, or by Oct. 15, 2024, with an extension. For 2024 (taxes filed in 2025), the standard deduction rises to $29,200 for married couples filing jointly.

Married filing jointly vs. separately

Although it’s typically beneficial for most married couples to file a joint tax return, the IRS recommends running the numbers for both scenarios — married filing jointly and married filing separately — to see which option gives you the lower combined tax bill.

You may consider filing separately from your spouse if:

  • You have an income-based student loan repayment plan. Filing separately could lower your adjusted gross income (AGI), which could lower your monthly bill. However, you’ll want to consider this carefully and do the math. Certain education tax credits aren’t available to married couples filing separate returns.

  • You have large, unreimbursed medical bills. Since you can only deduct medical bills that exceed 7.5% of your AGI, you might be able to deduct a greater amount by filing separately and reducing your AGI.

  • You and your spouse have a specific tax situation. If your spouse has overdue taxes that you don’t want to be held liable for, if you’re in the middle of a divorce, or if you feel your spouse is being dishonest about tax information, filing separately could make sense for your situation. 

You might consider talking to a tax pro if you’re unsure which filing status would work best for you and your spouse.

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