If you are married, most likely you’ve always filed a joint tax return with your spouse.
Most of the time, a joint return shows less overall tax than two separate tax returns do, because the married-filing-separately status has many tax disadvantages.
Fast-forward to the 2020 tax filing season, however—and nothing is as it was.
This year, four tax provisions will be key to determining whether you’ll be better off filing a joint tax return or separate tax returns for tax year 2020:
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was signed into law on March 11, 2021, excludes from tax the first $10,200 of 2020 unemployment benefits paid to an individual with 2020 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of less than $150,000.
Recovery Rebate, Round 1
The recovery rebate, round 1, is a refundable tax credit on the 2020 tax return, equal to
Your credit decreases by 5 percent of the amount your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds
The IRS gave you an advance payment of this credit based on either your 2018 or 2019 AGI and dependents. And now the IRS looks at your 2020 tax return and does the following:
Recovery Rebate, Round 2
This is a refundable tax credit on the 2020 tax return, equal to
Your credit decreases by 5 percent of the amount your AGI exceeds
The IRS gave you an advance payment of this credit based on your 2019 AGI and dependents. And now the IRS looks at your 2020 tax return and
Recovery Rebate, Round 3
This is a refundable tax credit on the 2021 tax return, equal to
Your credit phases out over the following AGI ranges:
The IRS will give you an advance payment of this credit based on your 2019 or 2020 AGI and dependents. If your first advance payment used your 2019 return information, then the IRS will send an additional payment based on your 2020 tax return if the IRS processes your 2020 tax return by August 15, 2021.
You then reconcile your advance payment(s) on your 2021 tax return:
Why Separate Returns Could Be Better
There are two main reasons you may have net lower federal tax with separate returns versus a joint return.
First, if your MAGI is $150,000 or more on a joint return, but the spouse who received the unemployment compensation earns under $150,000 on a separate return, then that spouse can take the full exclusion up to $10,200 (except possibly in a community property state).
Second, if one spouse has AGI of $75,000 or less, but your joint AGI is over $150,000, then that spouse can claim the dependents and get all the available round 1 and round 2 credits on the 2020 tax return as well as the entire round 3 advance payment.
When considering the above, keep two important notes in mind:
Important note. You may lose other deductions and credits on a separate return. The only way to know which is better in light of these temporary provisions is to run your tax returns both ways and see which puts you ahead. For example, separate returns can change your health insurance premium tax credit and perhaps some non-tax items such as your Medicare premiums.
As you can see there’s much to consider. If you would like me to check this out for you, please call me on my direct line at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
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Spencer Accounting Group, LLC does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations in these blogs. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances.
Keana Spencer is an Accountant, Entrepreneur, and Educator to her clients, with a strong passion. Keana has over 10 years of experience and through her practice, she is a source of knowledge and strategies to her clients.