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My wife filed a separate return, and we now want to file jointly. I haven’t filed a return yet. My understanding is that her return needs to be amended in this situation. The 1040x instructions (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040x.pdf) say:

“If you are changing from separate to a joint return and your spouse did not file an original return, enter your name and SSN first.”

This seems to apply to my situation. However, the 1040 instructions (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040gi.pdf) also have something to say about name order:

“If you filed a joint return for 2014 and you are filing a joint return for 2015 with the same spouse, be sure to enter your names and SSNs in the same order as on your 2014 return.”

This also applies to me. We filed jointly last year, with my name first.

These instructions seem contradictory in my case, assuming that the order of names on the 1040x is supposed to match the 1040 (should it?). Which one would take precedence in this situation? What is the bad stuff that might happen if one of these instructions is violated? Internet sources say that changing the order of names from year to year could delay processing. Is that all? Is it the same for the 1040x instruction? If someone knows the answer, a citation would be appreciated (how do you know it?).

  • I can't give an official citation, but I think the way to reconcile the two statements is that the goal is to make a search by signer easier. Remember that this is advice, not formal requirement. Nothing will break if you change the order, but in some specific circumstances it's possible that doing so might make digging out the previous return a bit slower. It's a "help us help you" item. – keshlam Mar 7 '16 at 13:22
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It doesn't really matter. The problem it can cause would be the matching in the IRS system. But if they can't figure it out - they'll send you a letter for clarifications, and you'll clarify.

As long as everything is reported correctly and all the taxes paid, I suggest following the 1040X instructions to avoid confusion. The IRS is not required by law to accept the amended returns, so make it easier for them to process the amended one automatically without any exceptions. If it doesn't match the prior year - once the amended return is accepted, the matching will be the IRS problem, not yours.


That said, the fact that you filed jointly last year, and this year your wife filed on her own and is now amending to add you - might trigger some alarms. Nothing you can do about it at this stage, but it may attract attention.

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