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The Marriage Penalty is BRUTAL

March 26th, 2015 at 10:15 pm

The SO and I have finished our tax returns for 2014. Just for funsies, we ran the numbers to see what our taxes would look like if we were to get married.

The results were NOT pretty. Essentially, my income would push him into a higher tax bracket that would nix his traditional IRA deduction, and his standard deduction would nix my itemized [mortgage interest] deduction... and we'd wind up paying an extra $2822 in federal taxes every year. It does not matter if we file jointly or separately -- the two are within six dollars of each other.

Even taking into account the savings of putting him on my employer health plan, marriage would still be a major net loss financially (and I'm not sure if spouses get their own HSA match). We don't have (nor do we ever want) kids, so that issue would does not apply, and other quantifiable benefits (like the spousal estate tax deduction) only apply if one of us dies. And in the case of my untimely early demise, I'd much rather leave my assets (with the exception of the house) to my parents anyway, since they need and deserve it way more.

Social Security is another consideration, but that won't be relevant for a while. And you only need to be married for one year to get spousal benefits, so there's no rush unless someone is actually dying (and I suspect if we're still together three decades from now that we'll be married by then anyway).

So what would it take for the marriage penalty to go away? Paying off the house would get rid of the itemized mortgage interest deduction for me, and the SO could get enough salary increases to phase out of the traditional IRA range all by his lonesome. We might hit the Roth IRA phase-out range faster if married, but I think that possibility is a more remote one due to how high that threshold is.

Joint high(er) incomes don't scale favorably regardless, but if I quit my job (due to achieving FIRE) and my earned income drops, then marriage could turn beneficial if we live off his income alone... but we'd have to run the numbers if I want to employ tax strategies like Roth conversion ladders. If we both FIRE on combined assets, then income would be too low trigger the penalty.

But in the current situation, I can only come to the conclusion that it makes NO sense to get married. I really want to at the very least break even. I realize that this is horribly unromantic, but this is just the way my mind works. I'm relentlessly rational, and the SO is similar, so we fit. Smile

The next time my father nags me about not being married, maybe I'll just ask him to pay me three grand a year. That'll probably shut him up! Wink

2 Responses to “The Marriage Penalty is BRUTAL”

  1. doingitallwrong Says:

    Yeah, they were supposedly going to 'get rid of' the marriage penalty, but they only did it through the 15% tax bracket. There's less of a penalty for the higher tax brackets than there was pre-2001, if that makes you feel any better. Wink
    I'm not sure what you mean by "his standard deduction would nix my itemized [mortgage interest] deduction"? Or is it that the standard deduction for MFJ is lower than the total of his standard plus your itemized for Single? (That's not uncommon.)

    Dropping down to one income would most likely put you into the marriage bonus category, which is the inverse of the situation you're in now.

  2. Buendia Says:

    I did a similar thing and ran our numbers to see how the marriage penalty affects us... it IS brutal! But we ARE married! My understanding is that it has the most effect if both people make about the same amount (my husband and I have incomes within $3k of each other).

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