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We're in the US. I'm confused about how getting married affected our taxes. Last year (unmarried) I got $1200-$1400 in tax refunds.

This year we thought we would open TurboTax and test how filing jointly / separately would affect our returns. We always heard that you pay relatively less taxes married, so we expected filing jointly would give better returns than usual. She filed as unemployed last year. This year she had $23K in income with $1400 witheld federally.

Well, filing separately, Turbo Tax says I get $1400 back and she gets <$400 back. Filing jointly we get $1800 back. (No dependants) I realize there are lots of variables and this forum can't answer to our exact scenario. But I'm just curious if anyone can explain generally how this can happen.

My intuition about taxes is that when someone makes some small yearly amount like $23K would get a pretty significant % of income tax paid refunded. Clearly something can significantly change that.

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2 Answers 2

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All a tax refund means is that you had more tax withheld (or you paid more in quarterly estimated payments) than you actually owed, and the government is giving the excess back to you. When you got married, you either recalculated your withholdings, which made the amount of tax withheld more accurate, or you didn't adjust them and the changes in deductions and other factors made your tax owed closer to your withholdings.

So a smaller refund doesn't necessarily mean that you paid more tax. It just means that you didn't withhold more than you needed to.

If you want a larger tax refund next year, just increase your withholdings. Of course, you're really just loaning the government that money interest-free.

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In most circumstances, the existence of tax advantages to getting married and filing jointly is just a myth.

Tax advantages only come about when one of the spouses makes significantly less than the other. If both spouses make about the same, there is usually no advantage to filing jointly. Almost everything gets doubled up proportionally: total income, standard deduction, tax brackets, IRA and HSA contribution limits, etc.

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  • Actually not everything. Tax brackets do not get doubled up and for MFJ the tax brakets are much lower than "x2 of single", which leads to the infamous marriage penalty - MFJs pay more in tax than they would have been paying as two singles.
    – littleadv
    Jan 31 at 7:35
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    Other than the very top tax bracket (37%), all other tax brackets do get doubled up. Jan 31 at 15:50
  • @AxiomaticNexus could you explain "doubled up"
    – john doe
    Feb 4 at 14:23

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