By: Olivia Cunningham DiAgostino
You know that filing taxes is going to be a struggle when your tax preparer continuously shakes their head and says things like “This is very complicated,” “I’ve never seen this before,” and “I’m going to have to make a spreadsheet.”
In all fairness, my taxes were especially difficult this year: after five years of simply filing online, I found myself married and dealing with the paperwork from six jobs, three states, and two universities. Throughout this, though, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m here to share the rundown on how to file taxes as a newly married person - especially if there are other complicating factors, like graduate school or a move.
Decide how to file
The first step is deciding what “category” to file your taxes as. Your tax status is determined by your marital status as of December 31 – so January marriages don’t count, even if you’re filing in April! You and your partner can choose to file as married filing jointly or married filing separately. According to Turbotax, in almost all situations filing jointly with your spouse will be more advantageous than filing separately – it’s easier to qualify for certain deductions and credits this way. You also have to decide who will be the primary filer; it’s best if this person is the same year-to-year; in our case, that person is me because my work schedule is more flexible.
Should you itemize?
In my opinion, the single biggest thing to figure out whether you’re doing your taxes on your own or through a service like H&R Block, is whether you’re going to take a standard deduction ($12,600 for a married couple filing jointly in 2017) or itemize your deductions.
Whichever number is bigger will be subtracted from your income, so the higher the deduction, the less taxes you’ll pay. In general, couples will claim a standard deduction until they own a house, since that’s likely the first big purchase that will push you over the standard amount. Things that can be itemized include:
If you’re itemizing, though, you’ll have to prove that you spent the money as you claim, so save your receipts throughout the year!
Whether you decide to DIY, use a tax software, or talk to a professional, get organized before you even begin. Around the end of January, you should start receiving W2 forms from your employer, as well as documentation from freelance work, side hustles, health care, and educational institutions, if applicable. Collect this all in one place; this year, since things were extra-complicated, I made a checklist (suggested items you’ll need are available online, such as this list from H&R Block) and taped it to a folder, where I collected the items as they came in. Some institutions may provide tax forms online only, so you’ll need a printed paper copy if someone else is helping you file.
When to find a professional
While it can be cheaper and more convenient to do your taxes on your own using an online tax-preparation software, when things get complicated, it can be absolutely worth it to defer to a professional. An accountant or tax preparer will be able to help you maximize your return and can provide helpful financial suggestions for the future.
Remember, getting a small return is actually a good thing: More of your money has been going right into your pocket throughout the year. Due to complications with my freelance work and my husband’s interstate move, our taxes aren’t quite done yet. But I’ve learned a lot about personal finance and I’m confident that working with a professional will pay off.