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Happy Valentine's Day! Here's Why You Shouldn't Get Married If You Earn About as Much as Your Partner!

Tax penalties for getting married hit low-income and high-income couples alike. And getting divorced is now more expensive too!

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomIn honor of the one day every year when even the most wonkish tax policy nerds can set aside the calculators and spreadsheets for a bottle of wine and some red roses, here's some cold, hard, unemotional data about the financial consequences of government-recognized matrimony.

The upshot: If you earn about the same income as your would-be spouse, your bank account will be better off if you don't get married.

According to a new analysis from the Tax Foundation, couples who earn roughly the same amount of money are most likely to face a tax penalty for getting hitched, and couples at both ends of the income spectrum are more likely to be penalized for tying the knot than middle-income earners.

For example, two people who each earn $15,000 and are jointly raising one child would end up paying more than $600 in extra federal taxes if they get married.

At the higher end of the scale, a couple that earns more than $250,000 jointly would have to pay an additional Medicaid surtax if they get married, but the same surtax only kicks in at $200,000 for individuals. Under the tax reform bill passed in December, tax rates for married couples are exactly double the tax rates for unmarried individuals (a significant change from the old tax code)—until you hit the top marginal bracket of 37 percent, which kicks in at $500,000 for singles but $600,000 for couples. That means most people won't see any significant marriage penalty at lower income levels, but couples earning well into the six figures could end up paying thousands in additional taxes after their wedding.

Besides draining away any romantic inclinations you might have been feeling today, marriage bonuses and penalties have real consequences for public policy and the economy. "These penalties and bonuses potentially affect people's behavior, especially whether to work," says the Tax Foundation's Amir El-Sibaie, who wrote the report.

Tax status isn't a deal-breaker for most couples deciding whether to get married, but financial incentives do matter in the search for love. Aside from wishy-washy greeting card nonsense about "meeting the right person," the most common reason never-married adults give for not being married is that they are "not financially stable," according to the Pew Research Center. Not surprisingly, low-income individuals are much more likely to avoid marriage for financial reasons, Pew found.

Low-incomes couple can get whacked by a secondary marriage penalty because some government welfare programs are means-tested differently for individuals than for married pairs.

And if your marriage falls apart? Well, the tax bill may have made your divorce more expensive too, by eliminating a deduction for alimony payments. Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, says that change "removed a powerful negotiating tool and turned it into a difficult stumbling block for spouses trying to settle a divorce."

But that's exactly the type of reform that Congress should have done more of when it rewrote the federal tax code late last year. Specialized deductions and exemptions—whether for having children, for paying alimony, or for putting solar panels on your roof—only distort incentives. The tax code should not be used for social engineering.

And the tax code should not treat married individuals differently from single people. Eliminating married couples' ability to file taxes jointly would be one way to solve the problem, says El-Sibaie. But, like other possible solutions, that's politically difficult.

Not everyone ends up paying more for the privilege of being married. Under current tax law, a couple earning $60,000 jointly would be on the hook for $8,560 in federal income and payroll taxes this year, according to the Tax Foundation's analysis. Getting hitched wouldn't reduce the payroll taxes, but it would allow this theoretical couple to pay $31 less in federal income taxes.

Of course, that's less than the cost of a marriage license in most states.

If even after all that, you're still determined to find a long-term romantic partner—well, the blockchain can help.

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  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Well I showed them. I married a woman who makes 1/4 of my salary. Take that, government.

  • timbo||

    I married a lamp shade that is bi-curious. Let's see uncle sam tax that mess.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    No need to shine the light on that hot mess.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    TIL $parky makes at least four times the minimum wage.

  • timbo||

    Someone please explain again why the government has any fiscal power over peoples' private choices of companionship or relationships.

    Rand Paul has been right all along that the gov has no place to determine legal status of marriage.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's horrible. There needs to be a simplification of all these legal rights of marriage. There are better ways then this.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Pretty sure that having one $40 contract that's recognized world-wide† and does 99% of what you expect it to do regarding all legal matters related to family is the simple way.

    But hey, you're free to suggest workable alternatives.
    ________
    †If you're straight.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Simple contracts between any set of people. Just simple giving of legal authority on issues like this. Like power of attorney type situations.

    Though, just do away with the tax shit. The government does not need to be encouraging it either way.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Oh yeah. In that case, no.

    I mean, y'all had your chance. You had a politically motivated minority that was desperately trying to find a legal way to secure all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. And you had a much larger politically motivated plurality busy writing a big FU into state constitutions.

    For that matter, those same state constitutional amendments that banned gay marriage? Over 20 of them also banned anything comparable. And while the "bans gay marriage" part was ruled unconstitutional, the part about the state not being able to create an alterative probably still stands (since it wasn't ruled on). So the states most likely to want to get out of marriage to stick it to gay folk would have to have another amendment to undo the first, and the bottom-line is that even in Alabama folks are realizing that gays marrying isn't a big deal, so there's just not going to be much public interest.

    So no. That ship sailed. And was burned at sea by social conservatives.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    No, we had a political minority that wanted its share of sweet, sweet welfare.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Response the first: Remind me again, when is it "keeping more of your own money", and when is it "welfare"?

    Response the second: Fuck off, slaver.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Why is marriage status even a question on tax forms?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Because the IRS wants to know if you're "looking".

  • Hugh Akston||

    I can't imagine why they care. They fuck me every day whether I'm single or not.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You a ho.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He would be a ho if he got paid for it, and a slut if he enjoyed it. But I suspect he is merely a rape victim, because he doesn't even have a safe word.

  • Hugh Akston||

    #metoo

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I wonder how much of the #metoo movement is status seeking of reproductive fitness.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    If I thought #MeToo would get me laid, I'd be accusing all you motherfuckers of groping me.

  • Vernon Depner||

    I never thought of it that way. If you have nothing to #metoo, that's a confession of unattractiveness, isn't it?

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    ^^^Winner

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Why are there even tax forms? Everything should be based on user fees and donations to welfare programs should be voluntary.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Of course.
    But those approaches do not offer nearly enough scope for the bossy congenitally unemployable to micro-manage everyone else's affairs.
    They can't manage their own, which they somehow see as an indicator they should manage other people's.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    They want to know if they can fuck your partner like they are fucking you.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Besides draining away any romantic inclinations you might have been feeling today, marriage bonuses and penalties have real consequences for public policy and the economy.

    Trust me, I'm perfectly capable of separating my 'romantic inclinations' from marriage. In fact, they're often mutually exclusive.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And if your marriage falls apart? Well, the tax bill may have made your divorce more expensive too, by eliminating a deduction for alimony payments.

    What about Palimony?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Having looked that up and seeing what it is, I can say that I pay palimony. But it's not tax deductible.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    IIRC, George Peppard was one of the first people to get hit with a Palimony suit.

  • Antilles||

    Actually, it was Lee Marvin...

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    I honestly hoped on outcome of the whole Gay Marriage thing was a serious question about why the hell government sanctions marriage in the first place. Of course, I was disappointed.

    The most common answer was "Because of tax purposes. Duh!"

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Give it time. My prediction was that it will (we're still early) get some jurisdictions taking a hard look at divorce law, which is way overdue.

  • EscherEnigma||

    And now a word from the opposition.

    Inheritance and estate planning. Much easier if married. Your spouse is able to avoid more taxes after you die.

    Speaking of death, how about them social security, Medicare and disability benefits? You can qualify based on your spouse for all sorts of things.

    Health insurance? Most family plans (or self+1 plans) are cheaper then two self-only plans.

    And of course there's hospitals. As us gay folks can tell you, hospitals can be utter dicks if you aren't legally family. Even more so if you're unconscious or otherwise not cognizant. You really want your not-legally-spouse to have to wait for a blood-relative to fly out to get the doctors to talk to you?

    Then of course there's all sorts of commercial/consumer benefits. Did you know that most auto-insurance policies will take a notch off the price if you're hitched?

    Trouble with the cops? If you're married, you can't be compelled to testify about privileged communications. If you're keeping it on the down-low, you can be held in contempt if you won't dish on your pillow talk.

    Kids? Sure, you can establish guardianship without being married, but it's way more expensive. And that's before we even talk about assumption of paternity, schools insisting on talking to the real parent, and so-on.

    Sure, most of this stuff isn't everyday stuff. Most of it is "in case of really bad day". But a really bad day can be made a whole lot worse when you're not married to your partner.

  • Hugh Akston||

    None of that has to be the case though. State marriage is a sizable rock in the Great River. If it wasn't there, institutions would develop to minimize those problems.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Yeah, I've heard this from y'all. But two things.

    But y'all were never able to (or maybe just never cared to) build a coalition around abolishing legal marriage and developing those work-around institutions. So I hope you understand why I'm super skeptical that there's a soul in America that's serious enough about abolishing marriage to actually make this happen. I mean really, the number of folks that are personally invested in making sure certain people can't say they're "married" shrinks every year. So y'all missed your shot.

    And that's ignoring the fact that unless you also reduced the marriage rights that can be secured, you'd probably end up with a "standard marriage contract" within a few years that did all the same stuff anyway. But instead of going to the county clerk, you went to a lawyer. And I'm not sure that's an improvement.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Who's this "y'all?"

    Johnson got a whopping 0 electoral votes, had 1/10th the popular vote of the second most popular candidate, and failed to tip the outcome in a single state. There are 3.5 libertarianish congressmen, which is more than their representation in most state legislatures.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As us gay folks can tell you, hospitals can be utter dicks if you aren't legally family.

    This was brought up constantly during the gay marriage debate, and I remain skeptical. HAS it happened? Yes, I have no doubt it has. Does it happen often? I strongly doubt.

    Here's my anecdotal experience as someone who spent way more time in hospitals between the age of 16 and 45 than a person should have: Never once was I ever questioned about my 'relation to the patient' during my many and varied visits. And during my brief, roller-coaster marriage, I didn't even share a last name with my wife. So had someone demanded ID, they'd have shown different surnames and different addresses. Way, way back in the old days (late 70s, early 80s) when nursing wards were run by a dour-looking woman named "Ratchett" and hospitals actually had "visiting hours" (remember those?), they could be a little more touchy about who you were and why you were there, especially if your loved-one was in the ICU.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And further, I'm no lawyer (or doctor) but there is a legal concept of 'caretaker'. There have been lots of cases that have nothing to do with gay marriage where an unrelated person needed to be present during the critical care of a patient. The idea that gays needed marriage* just to drop off some flowers for their partner has always seemed a bit dubious to me.

    *No, I'm not making the John-esque argument that this is a reason to deny gays marriage.

  • silver.||

    I also spent a lot of time in hospitals, although I was only the patient a few times. My family was chaos, so I don't share a last name with anyone in my state, much less my family. Never caused me a problem, even getting into a secure ER at 4am.

    Most of EE's argument rests on the existence of arbitrary social constructs that are inherently exclusive. I don't expect to get married, but I'd probably give a trusted friend power of attorney and other such rights. Why should I, or indeed anyone, be excluded from government-granted goodies?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Never caused me a problem, even getting into a secure ER at 4am.

    I suspect it was because when you walked in, your body language screamed "straight".

  • silver.||

    To be fair, a little confidence will get you into most places. My buddy and I got caught Urbexing an old factory that was being converted to lofts, and I just said we were taking pictures for a school project on industrial machinery. We'd apparently tripped a motion alarm. Got the boot but no booking. Pretend like you belong, fine art of faking it, et al.

    As a tangential aside, this same friend and I have been mistaken for a couple at least a dozen times. I don't appear straight, apparently. Not one bit.

  • EscherEnigma||

    The idea that gays needed marriage* just to drop off some flowers for their partner has always seemed a bit dubious to me.


    And if you think that's an honest portrayal of the issue, then I'm more then dubious that it's worth my time to talk to you.

    Looking down below...

    I suspect it was because when you walked in, your body language screamed "straight".


    Yeah. Not worth my time.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's clear you didn't really understand my comment and chose to pick out two jokes as the nexus of my point. Tells me all I need to know.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Nexus? Nah.

    But can you honestly tell me there's any point to talking about this with you? You said it yourself, you've heard, and dismissed, our stories and experiences before. So if you've already dismissed anything I have to say, why should I say it? So you can dismiss me again? Yeah, that sounds like a riot of a time.

    So let's just assume I tried to talk to you like you hadn't already made up your mind, you mocked my "body language", and call it a day?

  • silver.||

    EE, you call us on it when we do it, so I'll extend the same courtesy.

    Your snowflake is showing.

  • EscherEnigma||

    @silver
    "Your snowflake is showing."
    Cool story. Do you actually disagree with my assessment though? Do you think there is a point to rehashing this old argument with Diane Reynolds (Paul.)?

    'cause from where I'm sitting, it's just flogging a dead horse with someone that doesn't accept that it's a horse at all.

  • silver.||

    Do you think there is a point to rehashing this old argument with Diane Reynolds (Paul.)?

    Not at all. Sometimes we all need to let it go, especially when it concerns our personal passions. No reason to hate somebody for what is functionally a minor disagreement.

    DRP just hates the entire institution of marriage. Divorced people often do.

    He's also ribbing you, I think.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    So your typical ends justify the means argument.

  • EscherEnigma||

    @silver
    "No reason to hate somebody for what is functionally a minor disagreement."
    Hate is a strong word. The most anyone here has rated is "mild annoyance". I may have uncharitable thoughts regarding y'all, but you really don't rate nearly high enough for me to bother hating.

    "He's also ribbing you, I think."
    Possibly. Doesn't actually matter though. Conversation was pointless, so the only conversation that can happen is one that doesn't have a point.

    @NotAnotherSkippy
    I'm not sure what you're identifying as "ends justify the means" here, but sure, probably. I don't think I've ever been shy that I'm fairly utilitarian about most things.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You said it yourself, you've heard, and dismissed, our stories and experiences before.

    Nope.

    e. So if you've already dismissed anything I have to say, why should I say it?

    Didn't do that.

    So let's just assume I tried to talk to you like you hadn't already made up your mind, you mocked my "body language", and call it a day?

    The aspergers thread was yesterday.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But a really bad day can be made a whole lot worse when you're not married to your partner.

    You should see what can happen to a good day when you're married.

    I'm here all week. Now take my wife, please! That's no lady, that's my wife! My wife had her credit cards stolen, but I didn't report it because the guy who stole them spent less money than she did!

  • Don't look at me.||

    Not being married outweighs any and all benefits of being married.

  • Tony||

    I realize it's an ancient tradition, but being only recently allowed to participate in it, I can't for the life of me understand why someone would willingly share all his money with another person, no matter how much he likes boning her, and even more, be willing to part with half of it should things go south.

  • silver.||

    Damn, sometimes I actually agree with Tony.

    After fighting nonsense for months with my relative's exceedingly simple estate, I've decided that I'm never sharing half my assets with another person. We can have a joint bank account for common expenses, but having to liquidate a bunch of Pottery Barn furniture that neither of us even wanted for 20% of its cost sounds like a horrible time.

  • Tony||

    I cohabitate. I make more money. I own the house. He basically pays me rent, and we just sort of handle communal expenses very informally. I have all the credit cards, so expensive shit is down to me, but he'll buy yardwork implements since that's what he does while I'll buy furnishings since that's what I do. There are occasional arguments about money, but not nearly as many, I would think, as if he were allowed to dip into my bank account whenever he wanted.

  • Tony||

    Oh and I guess, should the time come, I get the stuff I bought and he gets the stuff he bought. Sounds simpler to me.

  • silver.||

    Right. You're adults.

  • Don't look at me.||

    People are dumb.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Tony, you and I are in full agreement on this.

    John was against gay marriage because he wanted to protect the Institution of marriage from the gays.

    I was against gay marriage because I wanted to protect gays from the institution of marriage.

  • Tony||

    And people on the correct side of the issue simply wanted the government to treat gay people the same way it treats straight people.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You do know I wasn't actually against gay marriage, right?

  • Tony||

    Then thanks.

    I'd also like to thank the large American libertarian institutions for all their support. Or did they ever get around to agreeing on the obvious after bickering about how to shoehorn social conservative bigotry into itself?

  • silver.||

    Well, I can't dispute that we just don't care about the non-issues that the religious Right adores.

    We won't support you or stop you. It could be a lot worse.

    That said, most libertarians I knew were for gay marriage just as a practical measure to deal with the various conferred benefits. Now everyone can decided to do whatever the hell they want (including religious folks withdrawing from their now-corrupt institution of marriage), just like they should've been able to do in the first place. We say "socially liberal," because, "socially don't care about behavior between two consenting adults," is less clever-sounding.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    So gay marriage was sold as the pragmatic solution to all of these other issues. Yet when you tell libertarians that you want to limit immigration into our lovely welfare state, well suddenly the pragmatic solution is out the door and they are TWO SEPARATE THINGS. Hard to reconcile that logical inconsistency.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Vernon Depner||

    There is no "marriage penalty". Married couples pay the same or less tax than a single person with the same income.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    So two ppl togethet pay less than two individuals apart? You're not very familiar with the tax code are you?

  • Vernon Depner||

    Obviously two people with incomes who are married pay tax on both incomes. They do not pay more than a household with one income of the same size. They pay the same or less.

  • EscherEnigma||

    This is really very simple.

    Dave makes $D.
    Mark makes $M.

    for the purposes of this conversation, T(X) = taxes paid on X.

    Now, when Dave and Mark are unmarried, they'll pay T(D) + T(M).
    Once they marry, they'll pay T(D+M).

    Now, for certain values of D and M, T(D) + T(M) is greater then T(D+M).

    And that is the marriage penalty.

    Generally speaking, the penalty only happens when the gap between D and M is small.

  • Vernon Depner||

    This is really very simple.

    Dick makes $50,000.
    Jane makes $50,000.
    Sally makes $100,000.

    Dick and Jane get married. Their household income is now $100,000. If they file jointly they will owe the same or less tax than Sally. There is no "marriage penalty". Married couples get tax breaks. That's why so few married couples file singly.

  • RoyMo||

    The thing this sort of argument forgets is that the chief benefit to marriage is that it is hard to get out of if you have children or property. This encourages people to marry as it allows both parties to make costly commitments to the partnership with some assurance that if they were mistaken in the other parties position they will be protected. This is why as you climb the income scale the inclination to divorce rapidly declines.

    Think of it as a standardized contract that parties can adopt that facilitates arbitration.

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