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KiplingerMay 24, 2019
15 States With a "Marriage Penalty" in Their Tax Brackets
Of course, you marry for love...but the financial benefits of marriage are nice, too. Whether you're a newlywed or you've reached your golden anniversary, there are a number of money-saving advantages to being married: spousal Social Security benefits, lower insurance rates and the ability to contribute to your spouse's retirement savings, to name a few. But when it comes to federal and state taxes, there's a tax-law twist that can actually cost a married couple money--it's called the "marriage penalty."

A marriage penalty exists when a couple filing a joint return pays more income tax than they would if they were single. In its most common form, the possibility of a marriage penalty is triggered when, for any given tax bracket, the minimum taxable income for joint filers is less than twice the amount for single filers. As a result, when you combine each spouse's income on a joint return, it can push some of that income into a higher tax bracket. This happens most often when the spouses' incomes are similar. For example, two taxpayers each with $100,000 of taxable income in Minnesota would be in the 7.85% tax bracket and pay a total of about $15,700 in state income taxes if filing individually. But as a couple, their combined taxable income of $200,000 pushes them into the state's 9.85% tax bracket, where their total Minnesota income taxes will be about $19,700--a penalty of $4,000 for filing jointly. (A marriage penalty can also be caused by other imbalances in the tax law, such as standard deductions, exemptions or credit phase-out thresholds for married couples that are less than twice the amount for single filers.)

The tax-bracket marriage penalty isn't a huge problem on the federal level anymore. Thanks to the 2017 tax-reform law, only the top federal income tax bracket (37% rate) contains the marriage-penalty trap. However, the marriage penalty is alive and well in several states. So, before you tie the knot or plan on moving to a new state,

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