Generally, filing jointly (one tax return instead of two) will give you a bigger refund or less taxes due. You can compare your estimated taxes for filing jointly vs. separately with TaxCaster.
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 standard deduction if your spouse is claiming itemized deductions
- The full benefit for itemized deductions, the Child Tax Credit, and capital losses (you'll get only half compared to married filing jointly)
If you file separately and live in 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 taxes.
Why would I want to file separately?
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.