When you choose married filing jointly, this means you and your spouse can file one tax return together. If your spouse died last year, you usually can still file a joint return for that year. Know that if you choose to file jointly, the IRS gives joint filers one of the largest standard deductions, which will allow you to deduct a significant amount of your income immediately.
Furthermore, if you file jointly, you can deduct two exemption amounts from your income. You’ll also qualify for several tax credits such as the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits, Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit. You’ll also be eligible for higher income thresholds for certain taxes and deductions.
When you choose married filing separately, you and your spouse file two separate tax returns instead of one joint return. This option is good if you only want to be responsible for your own taxes. However, be aware that filing a separate return may give you a higher tax with a higher tax rate. The standard deduction for separate filers is lower than for joint filers.
Make sure to seek advice from a tax professional to find out which status is right for you. You can also find the rules on this topic in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. It’s available on IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).