Same-sex marriage may wed some to a new tax bracket
If you were looking for the perfect way to celebrate your unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, running out this past Fourth of July weekend to get gay married certainly was it. Just note that while your Uncle Sam has decreed all married men and women are created equal, so have his bagmen over at the IRS.
While married same-sex couples can now share in a bunch of appallingly long-overdue legal and financial protections, I'm betting a higher tax bracket isn't what Adam and Steve had in mind. But now that the Supreme Court has said, "You can," there are a bunch of financial issues that crop up when you say, "I do."
The most obvious and painful one is that taxes on singles who make the same amount of money can go up by quite a bit when they marry. Let's say you both earn $85,000 a year. Filing singly next April, you'd be in the 25 percent bracket, and each pay $17,044 in tax, for a total of $34,088. With a combined income of $170,000, you're now in the 28 percent bracket when filing as married, with total tax of $40,671 — an increase of more than $6,500.
"Welcome to the club, same-sex couples," says Sandi Bragar, director of wealth management in the San Francisco office of financial adviser Aspiriant.
You may now tax the bride
For some couples, the tax bill will go down. If one partner makes $70,000 and the other stays home and earns no income, the tax tab drops from $13,294 to $9,578, a savings of more than $3,700. But regardless of what happens with your taxes, there are a good amount of significant financial benefits to being able to marry, as long as you plan around them, Bragar notes.
"It was very complicated for some same-sex couples who could be married for federal tax purposes, but not for some state purposes," Berger says. "Now everyone has the opportunity to file joint returns as married couple — but they don't have to. The great thing about the fact that all marriages are equal is that we all have the same rules now."
Same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by the IRS but not by their state will be able to prepare one joint federal and state return, whereas before they would have had to prepare as many as six returns.
Married same-sex partners also can now inherit a spouse's retirement account without having to immediately pay taxes, and they won't face paying taxes on employer health benefits extended to a partner. They can also take full advantage of estate and gift-tax laws.
"Married couples have the ability to make unlimited gifts to each other," Bragar says. "They can put their estate plans together and have a joint estate plan. They can do whatever they want, which is huge."
Married same-sex couples can now inherit a spouse's state pension, be included in health care decisions and be able to make more charitable deductions, too.
I thee deduct
The downside of it all is that, just like any other marriage, same-sex unions have to deal with managing household debt, investments, insurance and other assets, as well as a bunch of financial issues, such as inheritances for children from a previous marriage, Bragar adds.
You'll also need to decide if a prenuptial agreement is necessary. In that case, both parties need their own lawyers and want to finalize an agreement several months before the wedding, to avoid having an agreement voided because of undue pressure or influence, Bragar says. If you did rush out and marry since the Five (Out of Nine)Wise Souls ruled, you can work out a post-nuptial agreement, Bragar adds.
For any couple with a decent amount of assets, it's a good idea to sit down with a financial planner to go over all of your suddenly new wide-ranging options.
"It's exciting to have conversations with a couple and be able to look at the whole array of choices available to them," Bragar says. "Before, I'd see a couple in love who couldn't take advantage of everything available to me and my husband, and that was heartbreaking."
So, welcome to the world of matrimony, same-sex couples, and all the financial red tape that comes with it. But if you are goin' to the chapel, stop first at your CPA.
Brian O'Connor is author of the award-winning book, "The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese."