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Choosing the Correct Filing Status – Married Filing Separately (MFS)

If you are married and decide not to file a joint return with your spouse, you must file Married Filing Separately.

There is, however, one exception to this rule: A married taxpayer can be considered unmarried by law, if he/she maintains a household for a child, and the spouse was not a member of the household for the last six months of the taxable year. Such a taxpayer would not be required to file MFS, but will be able to file as Head of Household.

Although filing a joint return generally produces lower taxes, the opposite is sometimes the case, and to maximize the tax advantage in such circumstances, married couples may decide to file separately for a particular year. Married taxpayers, therefore, have the option of filing Married Filing Separately, and can consider this option if:

• Each spouse wants to be responsible for his/her taxes only.
• Both spouses agree not to file a joint return.

When you file MFS, you report only your own income, exemptions, credits, and deductions.

You should consider carefully before choosing this option, because Filing MFS usually puts you at a disadvantaged position, and usually means paying more taxes than filing MFJ. This is so because MFS has the highest tax rate. Filing MFS also disqualifies you from most of the credits/deductions that are available for the other filing statuses.

If you file MFS, you are required to enter your spouse’s full name on line 3 of Form 1040, and also your spouse’s Social Security number in the heading section of Form 1040.

You can change a MFS return to a MFJ return within three years, by filing an amended return. You cannot change from MFJ to MFS however.

The primary objective of this article is to empower taxpayers to learn to do their own taxes. For information on how to choose the correct filing status, grab yourself a copy of “Doing Your Own Taxes is as Easy as 1, 2, 3,” ($6.98) on

Milton G Boothe is an IRS Enrolled Agent with over twenty years of tax and financial accounting experience, including several years at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is also a British certified Chartered Accountant. He is currently employed in private tax practices where he helps people resolve their tax problems, minimize their taxes, and routinely represents the interests of taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. As an Enrolled Agent (EA) Boothe is a federally-authorized tax practitioner who has technical expertise in the field of taxation and who is empowered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to represent taxpayers before all administrative levels of the IRS for audits, collections, and appeals.
Milton G Boothe is also the author of several tax publications, wherein he encourages people to empower themselves by learning to do their own taxes.

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