My fiancée and I plan on getting married in December of 2018.

She wants to go to the courthouse this month and get legally married immediately, so we can work on an adoption process with her child.

How would getting married this year impact our 2016 taxes?

She claims both children and head of house hold and typically gets around $8,500 back. Just curious if we should hold out until after the first to get one more larger return or if filing jointly would increase it at all anyway?

-- Update--

My Income Estimate: ~55k

Her Income Estimate: ~25k

Yes, we are in the US.

Lived together 4 years, engaged for 1 year.

  • 1
    I've cleaned this up a bit by reducing some of the less relevant personal info, but to get a better answer you will need to add some more information. In particular: what is your income, and what is her income? In the US (which I have assumed you are in as you say Head of Household), filing jointly means that you get some other tax advantages. Most importantly for many people is the fact that you file as a single income, with double brackets. That means if one of you has a higher bracket income than the other, your taxes will be reduced. Also, are you common law spouses under the law today? Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:33
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    @Grade'Eh'Bacon - Updated OP :)
    – SBB
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:41
  • Does your fiancée qualify legitimately to claim Head of Household? Specifically, does she herself pay more than half of her household expenses? (If you don't live together and you don't pay most of her expenses, then she does; if you do live together, with those income levels, I'd have a very hard time believing she does.)
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:46
  • 2
    I think that the IRS would look very poorly on that setup, for multiple reasons. If you're sharing accounts then she's not paying half the costs.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:51
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    As a Canadian, reading this question is funny. In Canada common law has the same tax affects as being married and there is no option to not choose common-law/married if a person is in that situation.
    – Lan
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 17:45

2 Answers 2


First off, the decision about marriage should be first and foremost about what is best for the both of you personally, rather than financially.

That said, my guess is that it's not in your financial interest to get married sooner, though you should look into it in more detail. Marriage has different effects financially depending on the differences between the two of your income levels. You should enter your current information into an online tax calculator and see what the difference is.

Two people with identical incomes, both going from Single to Married-Filing Jointly, would have similar taxes to before, if they are in the middle of the income brackets (say, $90k to $150k combined). Up to that point, there's not much of a difference. If you're at the low end or the high end, though, you may pay more in taxes if you have similar incomes, because at the high end the brackets aren't double for married-filing jointly, and at the low end you lose out on some things like Earned Income Tax Credit which for two children would have a maximum of $44k for single but only $50k joint.

Meanwhile, if you have disparate incomes, you could be advantaged OR disadvantaged, again depending on how things work out. If the income earned by each party is enough that neither of you can earn the EITC, and one of you is taxed at a higher marginal rate than the other, getting married effectively moves some of that money from the higher rate to the lower. For example, if one party has $105k taxable income and the other has $45k, the $105k party is paying 28% tax on the last $15k or so; married, you combine for $150k, which means you pay 28% on almost none of it.

This excellent Tax foundation article, Understanding the Marriage Penalty and Marriage Bonus, goes into a lot of detail on both sides of the issue, and has some good charts that might be helpful.

In your case, you don't list actual dollar amounts, but you say your fiancée gets about $8500 back; that makes me wonder if she's earning the EITC.

One other consideration is that, filing as Single-Head of Household, she gets almost $3000 extra tax-free income. You'll lose that extra exclusion when you get married; you'll get around $6k now and she gets $9k for a combined $15k exclusion, plus she gets higher income brackets all the way up even beyond the normal Single levels. So you'll be giving up $3000 times your marginal rate, and possibly more, if you get married. This doesn't mean it's impossible getting married now isn't a benefit; it just makes it less likely.

With the numbers you've added to the OP, it seems like you're better off waiting. She's getting $3k or so from the EITC, and if you get married you will lose all of that money, plus pay a bit more in taxes if she does qualify for Head of Household. I would recommend verifying that she does qualify for Head of Household, and not claiming it if she doesn't (as it would be a lie and risk being audited and having significant penalties), but regardless of that outcome the EITC by itself likely outweighs any other consideration. She also should strongly consider reducing her tax withholding if she's getting $8500 back; even ignoring the EITC and the refundable child credits, that implies she's still having thousands withheld from her paychecks that shouldn't be, giving the IRS a interest free loan.

  • The marriage was planned and has been in the works for the last year. It's just with the last minute changes that have pushed it back, we were just considering getting a jump start on the legal paperwork but wanted to see if it would impact 2016 taxes or start fresh in the new year.
    – SBB
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:05
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    You could have the religious ceremony but wait until the new year to file for a marriage license.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:06
  • @RoboKaren IIRC, you have up to 30 or 60 days to file for the marriage license after the religious ceremony. At least this was the case for us a few months ago (NJ, USA). Though December to January is within that time frame, anyway.
    – dberm22
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 23:02
  • So, on average, is there a marriage penalty or a marriage bonus? Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 14:53
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    @Trilarion That's an excellent question (for a question!). In short: probably a penalty. Tax rules were created more or less for a time when women earned nothing or a lot less than men; hence the not-double amounts. Now that many women earn close as much, or more, than their husbands, those families are paying more in taxes.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 15:08

TLDR: It's almost certain that you will pay more in taxes as a married couple.

As a single parent she is able to claim head of household which is almost as good as being married. She has a 9,300 standard deduction, you have a 6,300, as a married couple 12,600 resulting in a loss of 3K in deductions. This will probably net out at about 750 in less of a return.

She will move from a near poverty level income, and you from a fairly average income to an income in the 4th quantile, in other words a healthy household income. So you should expect to pay more tax. Although things will not change for the two of you, the IRS' view of your family will change dramatically.

You will also pay more from an elimination in EIC. Whatever she got last year will be gone as this phases out for couples with an AGI of more than 50,198 with two children.

  • Note that the tax brackets are different and better for married than for single people. He has a lot of income that will be shifted down to much lower rates after marriage. If we count only standard deduction, back of envelope total tax for both before marriage is 12,676 and 9,182 after. Lots of devils in the details here (they should work it completely both ways), but I think your TLDR is most likely wrong.
    – farnsy
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 3:45
  • With the elimination of the EIC alone, it will result in more tax.
    – Pete B.
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 14:51

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