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Federal marriage benefits? Not for everyone



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But those benefits disappear as taxpayers make more money because of the way the income tax brackets are structured, Perlman said.

For example, give that same unmarried couple a hefty raise. Now, one partner makes $225,000 and the other makes $75,000. Their combined tax bill, if they file as single adults: $71,861.

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If they were married and filed a joint return, with the same $300,000 in combined income, their tax bill would jump by $5,714, according to the H&R Block analysis.

Some of the biggest tax savings will go to same-sex couples in which one partner relies on the other for employer-provided health insurance,

By law, employer-provided health insurance is tax-free for the vast majority of workers, married spouses and dependent children. But if a worker’s unmarried partner is covered, those benefits, which can be worth thousands of dollars a year, are taxed.

Some wealthy same-sex couples could do well, too, if one spouse inherits a lot of money from the other. That was the central issue in the Supreme Court case that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

But the case that doomed DOMA was uncommon. Only the very rich pay federal estate taxes — less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all estates, according to the Tax Policy Center. That’s because estates of less than $5 million are exempt, and married couples can exempt estates as large as $10 million.

In the Supreme Court case, Edith Windsor of New York sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009. Under federal law, married couples can inherit unlimited amounts of money from their spouses, tax-free.

In 2009, Windsor had to pay federal taxes on the portion of the estate above $3.5 million — an exemption that has since grown to more than $5 million — because the federal government didn’t recognize her marriage. Because of the court’s ruling, she now gets the entire inheritance, free of federal estate taxes.

The court’s decision, however, left many questions unanswered. For example, taxpayers can generally go back three years to amend federal tax returns. If same-sex couples have been legally married for three years, can they amend past returns and get refunds?


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"That is a great question, and it’s one that is being asked all over the country," Perlman said.

Also, what if you were married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages but now live in a state that does not? Do you file your federal taxes as a married couple and your state taxes as single individuals?

Stay tuned, says the IRS.

"We are reviewing the important June 26 Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act," the agency said in a statement. "We will be working with the Department of Treasury and Department of Justice, and we will move swiftly to provide revised guidance in the near future."



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