Finances

Taxing times

Tax time is upon us, and though by now I’m sure most of you have long since filed your state and federal income taxes – *cough!* – perhaps you might be thinking: what in the heck is happening coast to coast with federal taxes this first year that DOMA has been struck down, and what with so many states newly recognizing same-sex marriages, either performed in their own states or performed in others?

The Internal Revenue Service thought you  might be wondering that, too, and came up with this spiffy page to explain it all: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals of the Same Sex Who Are Married Under State Law.  Many of the questions and answers get a bit, oh, taxing for bears of little (tax law) brain such as myself. But most are straight forward like this one:

Q3. Can a taxpayer and his or her same-sex spouse file a joint return if they were married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages but they live in a state that does not recognize their marriage?

A3. Yes.

The IRS issued a ruling last summer clarifying this above point, and I remember noting at the time how swift and decisive the impact was of the Windsor decision. It’s just plain nice to see it again in print.

That’s the position on your federal taxes, though. State recognition of marriages performed in other states vary a good deal, as well you all married+recognized or you married+NOT recognized folks know. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say, as The Atlantic has, that the range of state recognitions or lack thereof constitutes “total chaos.”  But it is definitely a big ol’ mess, and in some states more so than others.

The Human Rights Campaign tackles this  sticky wicket, providing a state-by-state breakdown of the state vs. federal questions: Overview of State Income Tax Requirements. In addition to a helpful little synopsis, they’ve provided links to the various state government tax pages. The map below portrays the exceedingly complex variations afoot this year:

State requirements for married same-sex couples filing taxes in 2014, based on information provided by the Human Rights Campaign (PHOTO CREDIT: THE ATLANTIC)

State requirements for married same-sex couples filing taxes in 2014, based on information provided by the Human Rights Campaign [PHOTO CREDIT: THE ATLANTIC]

(Aside: who the heck knew that eight states don’t even have state income tax?! OK, all y’all who live in those states, to start with. But still!)

Now let’s say you’re clear on your state’s recognition of your marriage, and you’ve already dealt with the rigmarole of this year’s tax returns. Before you put away all those file folders and calculators and worn, nubby pencils, don’t forget that you have the opportunity to amend past federal tax returns to retroactively reflect your marital status, if doing so will be of benefit to you. The statue of limitations runs three years from the April 15 tax filing deadline. So you can file this year only to amend your 2010 tax returns, if you were legally married in your state that year (as my partner and I were, along with 18,000 others in California who were hitched before Prop8 went into effect). You’re welcome to retroactively amend your 2011 and 2012 federal returns as well, but don’t have to zip under the proverbial wire within the next week.

This piece at About.com does a good job of summarizing the whole back taxes amendment for same-sex couples deal. And this handy-dandy online calculator at TurboTax actually helps you figure out whether filing an amendment will be of help to you.

Hassle? You bet! And for everyone in states that require multiple different tax returns, it’s not just a pain in the arse, but a pain in the wallet. I know, after five years of my partner and me needing to file three separate returns annually: one joint return to the state and two federally. Our tax preparer (a lesbian mom, as it happens) certainly was happy about the extra business, and most definitely charged per return.  Sooner or later, as the collective wisdom goes, all this mess will be ironed out, and all 50 states’ law will align with federal recognition of same-sex married couples. Meanwhile, if you’re looking around for a new line of work, I might suggest tax preparation, with an LGBTQ law specialty. Won’t be necessary indefinitely, but these days, business is booming.

[FEATURED PHOTO CREDIT: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc]

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5 Comments

  1. Great info Polly, thanks! Don’t need it just quite yet, but next year we sure will and the state we live in now is one with a ban on same-sex marriage but apparently, according to that handy color coded map, we file jointly for both state and federal anyway. Saves me a bit of searching.

    • You are so welcome! I love the round-robin/ all-inclusive link posts (clearly, since I consult so many and pass them along so often). At this stage of same-sex legal/ fiscal relationship recognition, we are often in the position of informing those around us, including tax preparers.

      I bet in a state like yours many same-sex couples would imagine they couldn’t file. I was amazed to learn that there were several positions such states take on the matter!

      • You’re probably right, I’m guessing its not really common knowledge here. I’m still hopeful that CO will hop on the same-sex marriage wagon here soon and then we won’t have to worry about it anyway.

  2. CHOCK FULL of great information and helpful resources! Thank you!!

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