Generally, filing jointly will give you a bigger refund or less taxes due. When you file separately, your tax rate is higher and you won't be able to claim:
- Education benefits
- Earned Income Credit (EIC)
- Child and Dependent Care Credit (usually)
- Adoption Credit (usually)
- The same benefit married filing jointly couples get for personal exemptions, itemized deductions, the Child Tax Credit, and capital losses (all of these deductions are reduced by half)
- The standard deduction if your spouse is claiming itemized deductions
On top of that, if you live in the community property states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, you have to deal with community property allocations and adjustments, which adds extra work and complexity to your tax preparation chores.
Tip: Only taxpayers who were still legally married as of December 31, 2019 are able to file as married, whether jointly or separately.
Filing jointly means you file one tax return. When filing separately, you file two tax returns.
You can compare filing jointly vs. separately with TurboTax's free calculator TaxCaster. It will give you the estimated tax differences when filing either way. It’s up-to-date with the latest tax laws and can estimate your 2020 taxes as well.
The main reason you'd want to file separately is to protect yourself from inaccurate tax information reported by your spouse, or in cases where your spouse refuses to file a joint return (or refuses to file, period) and you don't want to get in trouble.
When you file separately, your refund can't be seized to pay off your spouse's debts. However, filing jointly as an innocent or injured spouse can head off refund seizures as well.
With all that in mind, you can try it both ways to see which filing status works out better for the both of you. Make sure to also consider your state return: in some cases, the taxes saved on the state return more than makes up for the money lost on the federal, or vice-versa.
You can try the different ways with TurboTax's free calculator TaxCaster. It will give you the estimated tax differences when filing either way. It's up-to-date with the latest tax laws and can estimate your 2020 taxes as well.
If you decide to file separately, we suggest you use TurboTax CD/Download for Windows or Mac, as you can file up to 5 returns within the program. If you use TurboTax Online, you'll have a separate fee for each return.