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bobbinhood's avatar

Am I misunderstanding something, or are tax guidelines designed to punish married people?

Asked by bobbinhood (5894points) August 5th, 2011

I’m filling out my first W-4 as a married person, and I’m surprised by some of the things I’ve never noticed before. A single person with two jobs does not have to file for additional withholding unless he makes over 40k. However, if married people both work, they have to file for additional withholding if their combined incomes are greater than 10k. So, a single person is fine up to 40k, but two married people that are living off the same money are only good up to 10k. The tables and instructions on the back indicate that even if their combined income is only $10,002, if it is split evenly, they have to pay an extra $560/year in taxes. How does that make sense?

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12 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

Perhaps you are overlooking the married people deductions. The tax system actually favors married people over singles.

bobbinhood's avatar

Unless I’m missing something, you can deduct for your spouse if they do not work, but not if they do.

jaytkay's avatar

W-4 is for withholding, it is only an estimate. It is not exactly the tax you pay.

The actual tax you pay will be determined when you file your 1040, and you either get a refund or send them some more money.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Your first mistake is in assuming that anything about the tax system is locigal.

bobbinhood's avatar

@jaytkay I realize that. But the two should closely mirror each other. That’s kind of the point of having the sections for deductions, itemizing, and joint filing on the W-4.

bobbinhood's avatar

I also don’t get how the amount that is deducted depends on how the total income is broken up between the two spouses rather than simply on what the total income is.

jaytkay's avatar


If you are concerned about how marriage effects taxes, I think trying to to parse the W-4 is a waste of time. You need to look at the 1040.

For example, I ran a couple of scenarios through this online 1040EZ estimator

Single person
$40,000 income
Tax total $4,150.00

Married couple
$40,000 income
Tax total $2,300.00

The married couple is paying $0.45 for every $1.00 paid by the single person.

Cruiser's avatar

Just wait! The fun is really about to begin as the stuffed suits in Washington are trying to find ways to pay for this massive deficit and one prime target now is our mortgage interest deduction!. That will be a kick in the nuts heard around the world!

lillycoyote's avatar

The so called “marriage penalty” in the American tax structure has been for the most part corrected in recent years but it really depends on the couple. @jaytkay‘s link is great and you also might try using the IRS’s withholding calculator to both estimate what your taxes may be and to intelligently decide how you and your husband can best avoid either under or overpaying your taxes by withholding too much or too little under your new status as married people.

Hibernate's avatar

A while, here, people had to pay a lot of taxes because they were single or if they enjoyed the single life. Things changed but now most of them don’t even recall those times.

I like how @jaytkay explained it. Seems some things remained the same.

bobbinhood's avatar

Thanks, guys. Apparently I was hoping for too much in thinking that the instructions on the W-4 actually reflect the reality of what is owed.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@lillycoyote it was, but the marriage penalty fix was part of the Bush tax cuts and is scheduled to end when the Bush tax cuts do.

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