Wedded to a Tax Penalty

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Each year when my husband and I, both federal employees, do our taxes, we calculate the difference between what we pay as a married couple (whether filing jointly or separately) and what we would pay if we could file as single people.

This year, the marriage penalty for us was more than $6,000. Many years it has been in the $4,000 to $5,000 range. Over more than 30 years of marriage, that is a substantial penalty. In fact, I think we could have sent our daughter to college on the additional taxes we have paid as a result of being married.

I do not mind paying the amount of taxes that I pay. In fact, I would not mind paying higher taxes. What I do mind is paying significantly more than my colleagues at the same salary level who are unmarried. In fact, I know that for some people in long-term committed relationships, the tax penalty has served as a deterrent to getting married.

As a policy matter, this penalty certainly seems misguided for a society that supposedly places a high value on marriage. I am not sure why there is not greater outrage about the marriage penalty, but I imagine that most people who are affected are simply not aware of it because they haven't done the math.



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