Question: What is the marriage penalty?
Answer: The marriage penalty occurs when a married couple pays more federal income tax than two single taxpayers with the same total amount of income.
This phenomena occurs whenever there is a tax benefit for a married couple that is not twice the amount of two single taxpayers with the same amount of income. This occurs because:
- Tax rates are progressive with rates ranging from 0 to 37 percent. So unless the tax tables are always double for a married couple versus two singles, there will be a penalty.
- Phase out ranges. If a tax benefit for a married couple phases out at less than double two single taxpayers, the couple loses the benefit sooner.
While married taxpayers have the choice of filing jointly or as married filing separate, the married filing separate status does not provide the same tax benefit as does filing as two single taxpayers. As a result, these two taxpayers are being penalized for being married.