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Taxes for unmarried couples: The basics

Unlike married couples, unmarried couples can't file joint returns, but this is usually not a disadvantage due to the "marriage penalty." Prior to the recent tax law, the standard deductions and tax brackets for married folks were larger than, but not double, the single filers' deductions and brackets.

That meant that they would have to pay more than double the taxes they would owe if they were two single filers. The tax law taking effect changed this for all but the two highest tax brackets. However, it should be noted that the law is scheduled to revert back to its early form in 2026.

Claiming head of household status

If you live with your single partner, you may also claim "head of household" filing status if you support a child. This allows you to take child and dependent care credits. See IRS Publication 17 for information on the "head of household" status and to see if you're qualified to claim it.

If your income is below the limit, you can also take the earned income tax credit, which offsets your income tax liability and can sometimes supplement your income by allowing you to get back more than you actually paid.

Note that your partner can be claimed by you as a dependent, if you provide most or all of his or her support and if he or she meets the criteria for being a "qualifying relative." In other words, it's possible to be considered a "relative" without an actual blood or familial relationship.

Jason Howe and Adrian Perez hold their one-year-old twin daughters Clara and Olivia at a playground in West Hollywood, California. (Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Jason Howe and Adrian Perez hold their one-year-old twin daughters Clara and Olivia at a playground in West Hollywood, California. (Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Who gets the deductions?

If you and your partner have bought a house together with a mortgage loan, you will face the issue of who will get to claim the deductions for interest and property taxes. (To do this you must itemize deductions.) One option is to split the deductions in half. The other option is to allow one partner to claim all the deductions. This will usually make more sense for the household as a whole if one of you has a significantly higher income, because the deductions will create more tax savings for the one with the higher tax rate.

Dive Deeper: Living together: What it means for your personal finances

This content was created in partnership with the Financial Fitness Group, a leading e-learning provider of FINRA compliant financial wellness solutions that help improve financial literacy.

Read more information and tips in our Taxes section

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