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Taxes for unmarried couples: The basics

Unmarried couples can’t file joint tax returns. Here are some tax time basics for couples who have not tied the knot.

Video Transcript


- 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 owe if they were two single filers.

The new tax law changed this for nearly every tax bracket except the top two. However, the law is scheduled to revert back to its early form in 2026.

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 a child and dependent care credits.

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.

Your partner can be claimed by you as a dependent, if you provide most or all of their support, and if they meet the criteria for being a qualifying relative. In other words, it's possible to be considered a relative without an actual biological or familial relationship.

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 when you 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.

Stay financially fit, friends.