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Feature Articles: Taxes


Choose your correct filing status

Reviewed and adapted with special permission from the IRS by: Brenda Procter, M.S., State Specialist & Instructor, Personal Financial Planning, University of Missouri Extension


Your federal tax filing status is based on your marital and family situation. It is an important factor in determining whether you must file a return, your standard deduction and your correct amount of tax.


Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. If more than one filing status applies to you, you may choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.


There are five filing status options:


  • Single. Generally, if you are unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to your state law, your filing status is Single.
  • Married Filing Jointly. If you are married, you and your spouse may file a joint return. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry, you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death.
  • Married Filing Separately. Married taxpayers may elect to file separate returns.
  • Head of Household. You must be unmarried or separated and paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person.
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. If your spouse died during the previous two tax years, you have a qualifying child and you meet certain other conditions, you may be able to choose this filing status.


Also, newlyweds and the recently divorced should ensure the name on their tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration (SSA). A mismatch could unexpectedly increase a tax bill or reduce the size of any refund.

  • For recently married taxpayers, the tax scenario begins as soon as they are legally wed. If the bride takes her husband's last name but doesn't tell the SSA about the name change, a complication may result. If the couple files a joint tax return with her new name, the IRS computers will not be able to match the new name with the Social Security number.
  • After a divorce, a woman who had taken her husband's name and made that change known to the SSA should contact the SSA if she reassumes a previous name.


You can inform the SSA of a name change by filing Form SS-5 at a local SSA office. It usually takes two weeks to have the change verified. The form is available at local offices, at, or you can call 1-800-772-1213.


For more information about filing status see Publication 501 – Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information available on the IRS website at or by calling 1-800-TAXFORM (1-800-829-3676).

Source: IRS TAX TIP 2008-03 and IRS TAX TIP 2008-17


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Last update: Wednesday, February 08, 2012