Ah, taxes! Second only to gas prices in the list of things we Americans like to blame for our money woes. Also: hella romantic!
That’s right, Bitch Nation, for today on the podcast we’re discussing the intersection of love and taxes. Specifically, the question of whether you should get married for tax purposes.
Popular wisdom dictates that getting married and filing taxes jointly will give you a huge discount on your tax bill. We’ve heard worse reasons to get married. But is this one really true?
As usual, the answer is… it depends! On your circumstances, your income, your property ownership, and a whole host of other matters. We are by no means tax experts (though our marriage expertise is beyond reproach), but we’re going to do our best to shine a light on the question of getting married for tax purposes.
Here comes the bride!
This week’s question
Today’s letter comes to us from Patreon donor Alyse. Alyse asks:
For long term partners, what are the financial benefits of getting married? Why not just continue to live with my significant other and not legally tie the knot? My partner seems to think that our taxes would be way lower if we were to get married, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there is the added safety net of being on your partner’s health insurance if you lose your job… but I’m not sure if that is enough to outweigh the financial consequences of divorce, etc. Along the same lines… is there a simple, cheap way to get a pre-nup? For two people who both have similar assets/incomes but just want to be on the safe side?– Wise alien visionary Alyse
- How To Get Married: Bureaucracy, Finances, and Legal Paperwork To Do Before “I Do”
- The Only Advice You’ll Ever Need for a Cheap-Ass Wedding
- I Was Happy to Marry a Poor Man. Then Things Changed.
- I Now Make More Money Than My Husband, and It’s Great for Our Marriage
- Other People’s Weddings Don’t Have to Make You Broke
- Traditional Wedding Gifts Can Burn in Hell Where They Belong
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Episode transcript (click to reveal)
This episode, like all of our episodes, is brought to you by our patreon donors. So this time, we’re saying thank you to Jack, Amy, Kirsten, Catherine, Ursula, Bridgitte, Elizabeth, Christine, Megan, Jackie, Alison, and Salome. And an extra-special thanks go to Zoe, Rachel, Denise, Moira, and Monica. Not that many people know this about them, but Zoe, Rachel, Denise, Moira, and Monica are in fact the original Animorphs. Yeah, these Patrons saved an Andalite prince and they’ve been fighting Yeerks for, like, as long as I’ve known them. And to be honest, I think K. A. Applegate kinda stole their lives. Rude, K. A. Applegate. Rude.
I got really interested in marsupial reproductive organs…
You know, like you do. Y’know, it’s quarantine…you start googling kangaroo vaginas…I’m about to blow your mind. Are you fucking ready? Are you ready for this?
Oh, I am sitting down. I am ready, tell me about those marsupial vags.
Kangaroos have 3 vaginas—
—and two uteruses.
And when their young are born, relative to their body size, they’re basically like a grain of rice, like they are ridiculously small.
And they can pause gestation, like anytime.
Oh my god.
They can be pregnant and have like, a zygote all ready to go and then just hit pause until the timing is right.
Oh my god. Human reproduction is fucking stupid.
Oh, don’t get me started on menses. Makes no sense! Almost no animals menstruate!
Exactly. And like while I wish we could quote unquote “shut that whole thing down” or press pause the way goddamn kangaroos do, like we can’t. But can you imagine—like all of my friends who were like, ugh I’m 8 months pregnant in August. This fucking sucks. I’m so hot and swollen and uncomfortable. Can you imagine if they were like, oh I’m just gonna like pause this whole thing at like, you know 8 weeks gestation, and I’m going to wait until let’s say January for the hot uncomfortable part of pregnancy.
We would get huge waves of children born based on the outcomes of presidential elections. Like. No. No, I’m just going to shut this thing down for a couple of years.
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In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
Well here’s the ‘sitch
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Bitches get riches
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And so can you
[laughs] Kang vag.
Anyway, I’m Kitty.
We’re the bitches in Bitches Get Riches.
We’re the kind of people who taste flights of beer in a craft brewery the same way sommeliers taste French wines.
And we’re here to explain why you’re wrong for not appreciating barrel-aged, dry-hopped lager.
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So let’s get started.
Okay. Today’s letter comes to us from patreon donor Alyse. Alyse asks: For long term partners, what are the financial benefits of getting married? Why not just continue to live with my significant other and not legally tie the knot? My partner seems to think that our taxes would be way lower if we were to get married, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there is the added safety net of being on your partner’s health insurance if you lose your job… but I’m not sure if that is enough to outweigh the financial consequences of divorce, etc. “Divorce, etc” is such a loaded term.
Along the same lines…is there a simple, cheap way to get a pre-nup for two people who both have similar assets/incomes but just want to be on the safe side?
Alright, so this is a good question, right, because I I think comparative to people who are in our parents’ age range, the benefits and drawbacks of getting married have really, really shifted over the last half-century.
Oh totally. Like let’s start this with a history lessons with Kitty and Piggy moment. I think it was in the early 80s or late 70s when women could get a credit card by themselves. Before then if you were a woman in the United States and you wanted a line of credit, you had to have a man co-sign it.
I’m pretty sure it was ‘78.
Ducky, will you look this up and text it to us?
Yes. I love this! We have a production crew now. Ducky, look it up! So, if you were a woman and you wanted a line of credit, a line of fucking credit, which is just like the simplest thing to do these days as an individual, you had to have a man co-sign it. A father, a brother, a husband. If they wanted to start a business, if they wanted to buy a house, if they wanted to just have a freaking credit card, they could not have it by themselves. They had to have a male cosigner. Oh, okay. Hold on a sec, we’re hearing from Ducky!
Kitty & Piggy 5:17
Doot doot doot doot doot doot doot doot doot!
[old-timey radio voice] This just in: Not until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 could women get a line of credit by themselves.
All right, we were close. I was pretty close.
Yeah. Still. 1974! My mom was born in 1954, so like she was 20 before she could get a line of credit on her own. Wait. I did that math wrong. She was 30? [laughs] 20.
No, she was 20.
She was 20.
54 to 74 is 20 years. Don’t worry. We’re a financial podcast, we’re very good at this numbers stuff.
Exactly. Every time I can’t like calculate a tip in my head, my husband just screams “you run a finance blog!”
Math and finance, totally different things.
I think marriage is, I’m pretty sure, one of the things that is on the list of things that millennials are held responsible for killing.
Oh, it is!
And you know what, I say good for us, because it meant that we weighed the pros and cons and as soon as y’all were willing to give us credit cards that our husbands did not have to sign for, we’re like, mm actually, this also means I can get student loans, which means I can get education and that’s why more women than men for the first time ever, are graduating from college.
So you know what, we figured it out. We figured it out.
Yeah, exactly. All of which is to say that like marriage, financially speaking, is a much more equitable contract than it used to be. So I am really pleased that people like Alyse are able to ask this question where they’re like, you know what, is it even in my best interest to get married rather than oh my god, I have to marry my romantic partner because otherwise I’ll be destitute on the streets and I won’t have any access to all of these financial products and services and fucking rights that my mothers and grandmothers didn’t necessarily have. So I’m glad that this is a consideration people can make.
Desperation is not a very sexy component of a romantic relationship, like financial desperation is not—
Nothing kills the mood faster than well, I guess you have a penis so I can get that student loan I needed.
Oh, you know what just gets me so wet is access to a fair line of credit.
Yeah, you know, the first time my husband allowed me to open a bank account in my own name, tell you what, those panties, they dropped straight through the floor. Anyway, so options are great.
So I want to actually start at the end because I think this is a really easy one to answer. A prenup, a prenuptial agreement, for those of you who don’t know is basically a contract that you have the option to enter into before you have a nuptial, a wedding, that basically says, you know, we are coming into this with unequal assets and we want to agree at the outset before we get married that instead of following our state’s default guidelines, instead we’re going to commit at the front to saying like, hey, I’m a beautiful princess who has fallen in love with a farm boy. If after a year you want to leave me, farm boy—if he is, in fact, doing the Lifetime movie thing and was just pretending to be interested in her for her money and it all comes out after year 1. You don’t get half of my castle, you don’t get to keep the royal titles, you don’t get any of my expensive sport ponies. That is stuff that I came into the marriage with. So I want to leave the marriage with it. And every state, the way that they do it is different, but in general, if you don’t have a prenuptial agreement, your state’s laws kind of act as your default prenuptial agreement. So unless you have really unusual circumstances, usually it’s people who have very lopsided assets, I think a prenup is unnecessary because the courts will facilitate the equitable distribution of any shared properties or incomes if in the event you are divorced. So, if you’re going in as equals, you really don’t need a prenup. I think that’s a very unusual case.
Totally. I also, you know, again working backwards on Alyse’s question. She says, you know, I’m not sure if the financial benefits are enough to outweigh the financial consequences of divorce. I just want to stress that divorce is a wonderful option for some people and we’re really lucky that we have this system where divorce is possible, but you know, no one enters a marriage looking forward to divorce, right? So I do think it’s mature to be like, but what if we get divorced? But I also don’t think you should let that prevent you from getting married in the first place, you know?
I agree. I think if if you’re really nervous about what happens if you get divorced, I think there’s two basic reasons for you to be thinking that. One is that you are ignorant and I don’t say that as a judgment, but like, you just don’t know. You literally don’t know, like, what would happen to our stuff, what would happen to our dog? What would happen to our house, to our kids? And that is easy to solve, right? Like so, look up your state. And I guarantee just plug it into Google and you will find people who will give you a break down, based on your state here is generally how the courts tend to divide things. So that’s one reason, ignorance. That’s so solvable. The other one is a general psychic disquiet that you may not be making the right choice. In which case like, please listen to that disquiet.
Yeah, trust your instincts.
You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to be in a rush to get married. I’m a big fan of like a long engagement. If you’re not sure, like get engaged and then just be engaged for a couple of years. Like there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it gives you, I think, a lot of the social legitimacy—
I think John Mulaney has a bit about like man, don’t you feel so lame when you’re like, can my girlfriend come? As opposed to like, hands off my wife! Which sounds so legitimate.
That’s my wife!
If what you’re seeking is kind of like a little bit more social legitimacy and to express the deepness of your commitment, a long engagement is a great option.
Yeah, my fiancé almost sounds as valid as my wife. More importantly though, look historically, we did not always have marriage equality among people who are not heterosexual and cisgender. There is a reason that there was a long, drawn-out political fight. There is a reason that people fought and suffered to get the right to get married.
That’s because like that right does convey a lot of privileges.
A lot of privileges. So our mutual friend Helen was in a situation where she was very young and very healthy and then one day she got the flu. And within 48 hours, she was intubated in the ICU and she was in a medically induced coma basically for 3 weeks. And at the time Helen was engaged. Unfortunately being engaged sort of legally—socially, it conveys a lot of weight, but legally, there’s almost nothing behind it.
So, because you’ve just agreed to enter into a contract but you’ve not actually signed that contract. So poor Helen was in a situation where the person that she trusted most in the world to make medical decisions on her behalf was definitely, absolutely her fiancé. However, because they were not yet legally married, that reverted back to her parents and she has a very strained relationship with her parents. Basically, one of the biggest things that you get as a married person is that you default to being that person’s next of kin. So if they die without a will, you’re going to get their money, you’re going to control their estate. If they are sick and unconscious after an accident or an illness, you get to make medical decisions on their behalf because it is presumed legally, I believe by every single state, that someone’s husband or wife is the person who is best equipped to speak for them when they are unable to speak for themselves. And if you look back into case law, one of the most common avenues that people who were campaigning for marriage rights would rally around was in fact that end-of-life decision making because it’s so weighty. It’s so much more than just being romantically attracted to someone or sharing your finances with someone, which is kind of the level Alyse is thinking about it at. If I don’t have autonomy, I trust this person more than any other.
Oh, and by the way, we should end the story of our friend Helen with that she made a full recovery.
Oh right, she’s completely fine. She’s totally fine.
Yeah, she’s fine. They delayed their wedding by a couple of months for her to recover.
They delayed the ceremony, but you better believe my husband was their officiant and they went up on a rooftop alone together and just tied the knot because the gravity of the situation that she had kind of just barely survived just made the legal necessity of being married and following through on that plan as quickly as possible all the clearer. But yes, she’s doing well. Thank you, I’m sorry, I was going to leave everyone in that dark place!
Yeah, I didn’t want to leave people hanging. Like it’s a beautiful story, we all fucking wept at the wedding, it was beautiful. Anyway!
So I would definitely encourage our listeners to think about situations where like, hey if something happened to you, do you want your mom or dad making this choice? Because for a lot of people, and I think especially for queer people, that answer might really be no.
Mm-hmm. Totally, totally. And it’s not just for medical power of attorney or stuff like that. It’s also survivorship rights. If you are somebody who has a pension with your job, or if you get life insurance with your job, that automatically goes to your spouse if you die.
A lot of military benefits too.
Yeah, and that was another reason why, you know, to go back to my example of the LGBT rights movement, is that’s why they wanted to get rid of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell rule in the American military, so that LGBT service members could, you know, have their survivorship benefits revert to their same-sex partners. I can’t imagine anything more horrible than having your spouse die in the line of duty and having the government be like your love, your relationship, your dependence on each other was completely invalid and you get nothing, not even a letter of condolence.
You know, I always say marriage is this lovely privilege, it’s this right that we have. If you’re ever wondering if it’s worthwhile, like again, look at the people for whom it has not always been a right and a privilege.
Let’s talk about a couple of other sort of less life and death benefits of marriage. So, for example, Insurance, it really benefits you to be married. My house was robbed before my husband and I were married, and the renters insurance was in my name and the insurance company was like, oh you’re not married. So whatever property that was your fiancé’s that was stolen, like, that’s not covered. So were like you can’t meet your deductible. Whereas if we had been married at the time, like what’s his is mine what’s mine is his, like we would have easily met our deductible or the insurance company would have had to try another avenue for—
—try some other dirty trick—
—for denying us our compensation in that moment. Same goes for property. It’s much easier to jointly own a vehicle or a home, or the goddamn boat in my case, if you are married than if you are not. The legal default is that if your spouse owns something, 50% of it is yours, I believe that’s true in most states. Write to us at the email@example.com if I am incorrect.
Basically, Alyse, what we’re saying is that like, there are social benefits to being married, there are legal benefits to being married. There are also financial benefits to being married. Let’s talk briefly on those. So are the taxes lower for a married couple than they are for two people filing taxes separately?
It really depends in my experience. Filing taxes jointly as a married couple when we were lower-income benefited us greatly. As our incomes have increased, you know we’re both full-time employed, we don’t have any dependents, the dog and chickens don’t count. I think it depends a little bit on what your income level is, but I also like, I personally think the other benefits of marriage outweigh whatever the tax burden would be for someone who earns a comfortable income.
Yeah, I don’t think anyone is on the fence about getting married and going like, I don’t know, how do the taxes work out? Like that’s—nope. Don’t make the decision for that. However, I will say generally, you will likely pay lower taxes if you are married filing jointly rather than either married filing separately or just filing separately as an unmarried couple. This is generally called either a marriage penalty or a marriage bonus. It tends to come up more when one of you makes a lot more than the other. If one of you is working some amazing job where you’re making a quarter million dollars a year, and the other one is a barista pulling in 28 grand in a year. That’s really beneficial to both of you in a case like that, to file jointly, because basically by adding together and averaging out your incomes, the partner who would be paying taxes through the nose because he’s a very high earner would be paying less because his average would be brought down by his spouse who’s a barista—and I just realized that I unconsciously gendered the high earner as male.
[gasps] The patriarchy strikes again!
What if they were both women?
Retcon it. Or no no no no no—
Wait, it should be the princess and the farm gal!
Yes, it’s the princess and the farm gal!
Alright, the princess and the farm gal, they are getting married and one of them earns a ton and one of them earns very little. Averaging them out means that the higher earner is more likely to be placed in a less aggressively taxed bracket. So there are lots of calculators online that you can go and look up like, hey if you truly are completely on the fence and this is going to be the decision that makes or breaks you, I think you need to think more deeply about it. But if that is the case, I guess no judgments, you can go and plug in like here’s person A’s income, here’s person B’s income, and it will tell you whether you’ll end up with a marriage penalty where you end up paying more or a marriage bonus because you’re paying less.
Totally. Yeah, and again, like, I personally feel the benefits of being married, both financial, social, legal. Like, I personally feel that those outweigh the downsides, but yeah, those tools exist for you. Use a calculator, talk to a lawyer like, you know, get all the information you are going to need if you are on the fence about this. And on that note, I want to plug one of our articles, How To Get Married. We did an exhaustively researched, if I do say so myself, article on all the legal bullshit and bureaucracy you need to go through to make your marriage official. And for some people that’s going to take more bullshit bureaucracy and legal paperwork than others. If you are an immigrant marrying a citizen, if you are disabled, if one or both of you have children going into the marriage. Like, all of that is going to add an extra layer of paperwork and legal bullshit to go through. Evaluate the options you have based on the resources you have. Use those calculators. Talk to a lawyer. Find out if it’s right for your circumstances as a couple, it might not be. As is the case with disabled couples, it really doesn’t make sense to get married, which is why when we discuss marriage equality, we should really be talking about marriage equality for differently-abled people as well.
Because there are a lot of bullshit laws that really penalize them for trying to take advantage of the rights and privileges of all married people.
Yeah. Oh well, no, of course, like it goes without saying, right? That if a person is disabled, they need to live in abject poverty and they absolutely cannot have any assets or any comforts in life. They need to be like, just barely able to put food in their bellies and that’s when we’ll say, okay, fine. I guess you can have some protections and benefits.
What a great, great system, America. Great system.
But if you married, if you marry somebody who’s not disabled you should lose all of the benefits and rights you have.
Absolutely. Get ‘em out of there. Get ‘em gone.
Hashtag disability rights.
Everyone, we’re being sarcastic. See, now, this is why I was nervous about making transcripts of our episodes because I’m like, if you actually transcribe the things that we say—
And leave like the dripping sarcasm, or the laughter, or the auditory eye rolls out of it, it’s like, oh no, no, no, no, no, no. We don’t think that. That felt pretty comprehensive to me. Are you good with that?
I am good with that.
Listeners, if you want us to answer your question, go to BitchesGetRiches.com and click “Ask the Bitches.” Production of this podcast is directly tied to our total number of Patreon supporters, so if you want to hear more, join us at patreon.com/bitchesgetriches. And if you need a little more Bitches in your life (and who could blame you?), you can read our articles and follow us on social media at BitchesGetRiches.com.
Hey, is there anything else they should know?
Yeah. I’m sorry that I was a snob about reality TV. You were right all along. I am too deep into 90 Day Fiancé and you know, mens do not control me.
Good to know!
Kitty & Piggy
6 thoughts to “Season 3, Episode 8: “Should I Get Married for Tax Purposes? My Boyfriend Swears We’d Save Money, but I’m Not So Sure…””
A note on disability, because this is a major source of confusion: There are two types of govt disability benefits, SSI and SSDI. SSI is for low-income people and in the case of disability, this can mean people who have never been able to work. SSDI is something you pay into from earned wages, and it’s what you get if you work for 10 years, paying into SS, and then become disabled in a car accident or whatever. I am probably missing some nuances, plz correct as needed.
The draconian asset limits apply only to SSI. So a lot of the time when people hear about disabled marriage inequality, they go “uh, my uncle collects [SSDI] disability and this isn’t true”, which is why I feel compelled to note.
I’m in a long-term relationship with my partner (just reached 25 years!) and have chosen not to marry. We did (ok, I did) consider getting married specifically to make our taxes easier (1 return instead of 2). At the time, this would have benefited us financially as my boyfriend made significantly more money than I did. But, time went by and my income increased. With our 2020 tax returns, had we been married, we would have received a $1000 refund. Because we were not married, we received $4000 back (combined). Also, if we were married, our combined income would not allow us to invest in our Roth. So, remember, your income is not static forever and what works in your benefit now can (and probably will) change as you progress in your careers. There are ways to legally sidestep the medical aspect as well. You can sign a healthcare proxy that designates who makes medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
Entertaining as always, was nodding along as always and then you talked about prenups and I went “NOOO!” – I really wished for a more differentiated take, so here goes. Depending on where you live (!) a prenup is a good choice for almost everyone. It can even be very romantic! I plan to get one, even though there is no wealth gap between us. Prenups can cover a bunch of complicated issues – like your investment strategy if one of you gets a pension and one is a freelancer. Especially for children of divorce it can be a very thoughtful process to say “I want to make these decisions while we are in love and want the best for each other”. It can be very helpful to know who gets the dog in case of separation – for both parties, because it cannot be used as a painful lever in the divorce. Where I live, you could for example decide that any real estate aquired during the marriage is truly 50/50 owned and the future handling of it can be pre-set, meaning if you die and you AND your spouse have kids from prior marriages, you can decide your partner has life long renters rights and afterwards it gets sold no matter what. All kinds of conflicts and squabbles can be at least softened by a good prenup. If you are at all interested, you should get a consultation and find out what is possible and legal where you live.
How does the system work in the USA compared to Canada for common-law taxes? In Camada if you live common-law, you have to report your taxes jointly. Not sure of marriage change things much compared to this?
And also, wouldn’t having a will and living will solve the medical directive issue? You don’t need to get married to designate a power of attorney.
I have to agree with ZANK above. Absolutely get a prenup. There are way too many variables that happen in life for you not to protect yourself and your significant other. You make the prenup with the best of intentions so that things are easier 15-20 (hopefully never) years in the future and it’s decided that you and the S.O. can’t be together anymore.
I’m not married but I absolutely intend on getting one if I ever do. No matter my income, assets, etc.
One big benefit of being married that isn’t in the episode or the comments so far is that if one of you is a higher earner and your earnings record entitles you to more than double your spouse’s social security benefit, then the lower earnings spouse is able to claim a larger amount at retirement age than they would be able to claim on their own. If they have not been employed or have been underemployed (as is often typical when women care for children or elders, our earnings records are penalized AND we live longer than men do AND we tend to be caregivers in our prime earning YEARS), this can really impact your social security earnings record. Example: Your earnings record entitles you to $1,000 a month Social Security at full retirement age. Your partner will get 2,000 a month. No advantage. If, however, your partner is entitled to $3,000 per month and you were married, you can now claim $1,500 a month instead of $1,000 a month. Together your social security benefit would be $3,000 + $1,500 instead of $3,000 + $1,000. Also if you are trying to take care of your partner, if the higher earning partner dies, your spouse may be entitled to a higher benefit as a survivor than they would have been entitled to based upon their own earnings record.
Note on credibility: I work in a financial field. I remain stubbornly unmarried. I figured out the difference in what additional amount my partner would receive if we were married due to my higher earnings record over the projected amount of time we would claim it, calculated how much that was actually worth, and then just bought a life insurance policy for that amount.