||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (November 2013)|
The marriage penalty in the United States refers to the higher taxes required from some married couples that would not be required by two otherwise identical single people with exactly the same income. Multiple factors are involved, but in general, in the current U.S. system, single-income married couple usually benefits from filing as a married couple, while dual-income married couples are often penalized. The lesser earning spouse or a nonearning spouse entering the paid workforce also faces a marriage penalty because of stacking effect problems (discussed below) due to the fiction of earned Income splitting. The percentage of couples affected has varied over the years, depending on shifts in tax rates.
- 1 Causes
- 1.1 Fiction of Earned Income splitting Layered on Progressive Taxation Rates
- 1.2 Stacking Effect
- 1.3 Deductions
- 1.4 Social security/Medicare burden and subsidy to sole breadwinners and nonearning parents
- 1.5 Relationship to reduction of government debt
- 1.6 Non-US Residents
- 2 See also
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Fiction of Earned Income splitting Layered on Progressive Taxation Rates
One source of the marriage penalty has its roots in combination of (a) the fiction of earned Income splitting and (b) a progressive tax-rate structure in income-tax laws – that is, the earner of a higher income pays a higher rate of tax on the last dollar of taxable income. This creates a paradoxical effect of Regressive taxation within marriage that counteracts the progressive rate scheme. If the fiction of earned income splitting is removed from the system, the progressive tax system is restored to integrity.
For example, the following chart shows the US federal tax rates for 2013
|Marginal Tax Rate||Single||Married Filing Jointly or Qualified Widow(er)||Married Filing Separately||Head of Household|
|10%||$0 – $8,925||$0 – $17,850||$0 – $8,925||$0 – $12,750|
|15%||$8,926 – $36,250||$17,851 – $72,500||$8,926 – $36,250||$12,751 – $48,600|
|25%||$36,251 – $87,850||$72,501 – $146,400||$36,251 – $73,200||$48,601 – $125,450|
|28%||$87,851 – $183,250||$146,401 – $223,050||$73,201 – $111,525||$125,451 – $203,150|
|33%||$183,251 – $398,350||$223,051 – $398,350||$111,526 – $199,175||$203,151 – $398,350|
|35%||$398,351 – $400,000||$398,351 – $450,000||$199,176 – $225,000||$398,351 – $425,000|
Under these tax rates, two single people who each earned $87,850 would each file as "Single" and each would pay a marginal tax rate of 25%. However, if those same two people were married, their combined income would be exactly the same as before (2 * $87,850 = $175,700), but the "Married filing Jointly" tax brackets would push them into a higher marginal rate of 28%, costing them an additional $879 in taxes.
In the most extreme case, two single people who each earned $400,000 would each pay a marginal tax rate of 35%; but if those same two people filed as "Married, filing jointly" then their combined income would be exactly the same (2 * $400,000 = $800,000), yet $350,000 of that income would be taxed as the higher 39.6% rate, resulting in a marriage penalty of $32,119 in extra taxes ($16,100 for the 39.6% bracket alone, plus the remainder is due to the higher phase out of the lower brackets.)
The regressive effect of earned Income splitting can also be seen in the way the greater earner in a marriage may benefit from joint filing. For example, consider two single people, one with an income of $100,000 (and therefore paying a marginal rate of 28%) and the other with no income (and therefore paying no income tax). By being married and filing jointly, the $100,000 earner reduces his/her bracket to the 25% rate, receiving a "marriage bonus" for a net tax savings of $364. The nonearner who goes to get a job now faces a 25% bracket on his/her first dollars earned, rather than the 10% bracket s/he would if single, and thus a "marriage penalty."
"Stacking effect" problems occur when two partners to a marriage have different levels of earned income, or one partner has no earned income. In this case, because of Income splitting, the greater earner gets to reduce his/her tax bracket because part of his/her income is "split" and fictionally becomes earned income of the other spouse; this is thus a "marriage bonus" for the greater earner. The lesser earner faces a higher tax bracket than s/he would being single because some of the other spouse's earned income is fictionally attributed to him/her and thus a "marriage penalty". This has an accelerating effect over time in a marriage, placing increasing incentives to allocate labor in the family such that one partner holds all earned income and the other does unpaid labor, such as childcare.
The US tax code allows taxpayers to claim deductions (such as charitable contributions, mortgage interest, or payments for state taxes) on their income. Taxpayers can choose either an automatic standard deduction or else can choose to itemize their deductions. Two single people filing separate returns can each choose the deduction policy that benefits them more, but a married couple filing a single return will both be forced to use the same method. For example, if one person has no significant deductions then that person can take the standard deduction ($6,100 as of 2013). A different person who has, for example, $10,000 in charitable contributions would be better off itemizing his deductions since the standard deduction is $6,100 (single, 2013 tax year).If the two people are allowed to file separate tax returns, then each can claim the deduction policy that benefits them the most, and their total combined deduction would be $16,100 ($6,100 + $10,000). But if the two people are combined on one "Married, filing jointly" tax return, then they would be forced to choose either itemizing their deductions ($10,000 combined) or else using the standard deduction ($6,100 per person or $12,200 combined). Either way, the married couple would receive less deductions than two otherwise identical single people with exactly the same income.
Social security/Medicare burden and subsidy to sole breadwinners and nonearning parents
In connection with other taxation issues in the United States, one concern is that these marriages are subsidizing one-earner/one-nonearner parent couples in Social Security and Medicare benefits. For example, in social security and Medicare, two-earner couples pay taxes that create a surplus or at least pay for their own benefits (and receive reduced benefits such as reduced survivor benefits), while one-earner couples pay insufficient taxes that create a deficit and receive an extra, unfunded benefit of 50% or more in Social Security (i.e., a total of 150% or more), and 100% or more in Medicare (i.e. a total of 200% or more).
This problem is exacerbated by the fact Social Security and Medicare taxes are collected only on wage income, passive income such as capital and property earnings are exempt, and benefits are progressive. This means that the chief tax burden for the programs is carried by two-earner families with wages that range between the mid-range and the cap and these families also receive fewer benefits than any other family structure or set-up.
Proposals to "raise the cap" will continue to place an extra burden on 2-earner families where each partner has earned income (not capital gains or other property-based income that is exempt from the tax).
The Affordable Care Act added a tax on passive income and capital gains to support Medicare but it is not known if this is sufficient to prevent the heavy burden faced by two-earner families in subsidizing sole breadwinner families and especially the burden faced by two-earner families with wages between the mid-range and the cap. No such tax is yet imposed to support progressivity in Social Security benefits.
Relationship to reduction of government debt
The International Monetary Fund has called for the United States, Portugal and France, all countries with significant sovereign debt, to eliminate their practices, including Income splitting, that charge 2-earner families higher taxes over patriarchal families (whether married or not).
The marriage penalty can be even worse in cases where one spouse is not a citizen or resident of the United States. In this case that spouse cannot be required by US law to pay US taxes. However, since the US person is still required by law to file taxes on worldwide income, this leaves two choices. The US person can either file as 'Married Filing Separately' (or 'Head of Household' if they have at least one qualifying person who is not their spouse), or else try to convince their spouse to voluntarily pay US income taxes on their income by filing a joint return. The first alternative requires using the 'Married Filing Separately' or 'Head of Household' tax brackets, which are less beneficial than 'Married Filing Jointly'. The second choice allows that person to use the more favorable 'Married Filing Jointly' tax brackets, but also requires paying tax on the non-US person's income, which would not be required for two otherwise identical single people.
- Income splitting
- Shared Earning/Shared Parenting Marriage
- Taxation in the United States
- Kiddie tax
- Druker v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
- Revenue Procedure 2013-15, sec. 2.01, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Dep't of the Treasury (Jan. 2013).
- Howard M. Iams; Gayle L. Reznik, Christopher R. Tamborini (2009). "Earnings Sharing in Social Security: Projected Impacts of Alternative Proposals Using the MINT Model". Social Security Bulletin Vol. 69 No.1. U.S. Social Security Administration Office of Retirement and Disability Policy. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- "Taxation and the Family: What are marriage penalties and bonuses?". The Tax Policy Center. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- Yukhananov, Anna (September 23, 2013). "IMF warns of slow progress achieving gender equality". Reuters. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
-  See sub-heading 'Non-resident Alien Spouse' under the 'Considered Unmarried' heading on page 22 (it's in the 3rd column).