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My spouse and I are both graduate students in F-1 status for the last year 2014. I thought we could file a joint federal tax return, but now, as per this link on IRS website, it seems non-resident aliens (NRA) like us are not eligible to that. The only alternatives seem to be:

  1. Married Nonresident Aliens Filing Separately: As per previous link, IRS says:

    If you are married nonresident alien, but your spouse is not a U.S. citizen or residents, you must use the Tax Table column or the Tax Rate Schedule for married filing separate returns when determining the tax on income effectively connected with a U.S. trade or business. You normally cannot use the Tax Table column or the Tax Rate Schedule for single individuals.

    What exactly is a "Tax Table Column"/"Tax Rate Schedule", and how do I know which to use and how to use it? Is there anyway to figure that out without consulting a tax accountant?

  2. File separately. In that case, would it not be the case that the tax refund amount is substantially lesser than Option 1? Also, I've filed my 2013 return in which I'd shown my wife as a dependent (after she got her SSN) - so, would that not confuse the IRS since I'm alternatingly filing refunds in 2 different statuses?

  3. Finally, what options do we have for State taxes (Iowa in our case) - does the same restriction still apply?

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What exactly is a "Tax Table Column"/"Tax Rate Schedule", and how do I know which to use and how to use it? Is there anyway to figure that out without consulting a tax accountant?

Look at the instructions to form 1040, page 76.

Re #2: Yes, married filing separately leads to less refunds in most cases.

You cannot claim your wife as dependent if you're filing MFS. Your previous year tax return is incorrect. You can claim exemption for your spouse if he/she doesn't need to file a return.

Finally, what options do we have for State taxes (Iowa in our case) - does the same restriction still apply?

State residency rules usually are not related to Federal rules. Check here for Iowa rules.

  • In last year's return, she was shown as a dependent - I'm guessing thats OK... – TCSGrad Apr 3 '15 at 3:55

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