Filing your first tax return as a married couple is no honeymoon.
Most wedding planning checklists end with the part about getting married. Once the honeymoon bags have been unpacked and the final thank you note has been mailed, all that's really left to do is sit back and debate which wedding presents to keep and which ones to toss.
However, come April, there's a whole new set of questions that need consideration. Will you and your new hubby file joint tax returns? Does the government have your new married name on record? And can the excess wedding gifts you donated to charity really count as a write-off?
Just because you've practiced how to write your married name in perfect penmanship doesn't mean the government is as clear and neat on things. Make sure the IRS has your new name by downloading a SS-5 Form at ssa.gov and taking it as well as your marriage certificate and your driver's license or passport to the Social Security Administration office. Also make sure your address is up to date to ensure all necessary IRS labeled correspondence gets delivered on time. (Guests, one the other hand technically have about a year to get their gift in the mail.)
Take sides when it comes to how you'll file. Filing jointly has its benefits particularly if one of you makes more money than the other. "When your salaries are averaged," explains Barbara Weltman in a recent Women's Health article, "the more meager of the two could sink the higher one into a lower tax bracket, saving you both money." If your spouse insists on filing separately, it may be due to the fact that the government groups married couples as a single entity and a red flag could land you both in hot water.
If you do decide to go it alone, dividing up your deductions can get tricky. The married filing separately (MFS) filing status is the least beneficial of all the filing statuses because it does not allow for common deductions such as student loan interest deduction and Child and Dependent Care Credit. Meanwhile, one MFS taxpayer cannot claim the standard deduction if the other spouse is itemizing so you've got to both be on the same page. Every couple needs to examine the pros and cons of how to file on their own and if the stress of it all becomes too much, you can always dig into that frozen wedding cake a few months early.
A bit of good news for couples married in 2008. Depending on your income level and any economic stimulus payment you already received, you could be eligible for additional recovery rebate credit money. Talk about going off the registry. This is one present you won't want to return.
Lastly, recycle that organizational wedding binder by stashing your tax records for future use. The standard statute for being audited is 3-7 years.