How do I file my special snowflake taxes?
February 12, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Can my husband and I file our Federal taxes jointly, and our State taxes separately?

I just got married this summer (yay!). My husband and I are both graduate students, he in Maryland and me in Massachusetts. We both moved from California to our respective states. He stays with me in the summer and on breaks, so he uses my address for some things, but his W-4 was filed with his Maryland address, and his W-2 only shows Maryland income and taxes. Last year he filed as a Maryland resident, and I filed as a Massachusetts resident. (Possibly relevant info: his stipend is about $10k more than mine, GD it.)

I would like to file our federal return jointly because it results in a much bigger refund, but I can't figure out if and how we can file our state taxes separately. I have been searching the IRS website and the respective state websites and can't find any information. Has anyone dealt with this before? Can someone with better searching skills point me in the direction of an answer?

I'm thinking about making an appointment at H&R Block, but they charge $40 per state return, and, well, we're grad students and don't have a lot of money. If I can figure this out on my own I would prefer it, but maybe this is the time to call on a professional?
posted by apricot to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not sure about your exact situation, but as a general rule you must file the same way on your state return as you do on your federal return. Exceptions to this are very rare.
posted by notme at 3:52 PM on February 12, 2012

I very much doubt that you can do what you're suggesting, but you probably don't need to spend money to find out for sure either. If you are a student at a major university it is likely that you will have a volunteer income tax assistance location nearby.

Check on this site.
posted by Winnemac at 4:21 PM on February 12, 2012

I don't know about the OP's situation, and I'm not clear why it would be to her advantage to file her state taxes separately, but married gay couples in California generally file jointly for the state and separately for the Federal tax, so it can be done that direction, anyway.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:42 PM on February 12, 2012

Thanks, Winnemac! There is indeed a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site at my university. I'll check them out this week.
posted by apricot at 6:46 PM on February 12, 2012

Not expert advice, but it seems like it's up to the states whether this is allowed, and I have the Massachusetts tax booklet next to me and just downloaded the Maryland one from here.

This sounds like Massachusetts permits it, and looking at the booklet I don't see anything that contradicts it. It does say clearly that you'll have to file the Massachusetts returns separately.

In the Maryland booklet, the chart and instructions under sections 7 and 8 specifically address "Married couples who filed joint federal returns but were domiciled in different states on the last day of the tax year" and "If you and your spouse file a joint federal return but are filing separate Maryland returns" - at a glance it looks like you can do it but there are extra instructions to follow? But probably worth checking out those tax assistance resources to be sure!
posted by songs about trains at 6:58 PM on February 12, 2012

Another n that this might be possible, of course with the caveat that you should talk to an accountant and/or the IRS. One year, my husband and I filed our federal taxes jointly and our state returns separately. In the middle of the year, I had moved out of state (NY to MA) for a new job (and got an apartment, car registration, the whole shebang), while he had completed the year in NY (and kept our old apartment, car registration, etc.). The only accurate way to file was for me as part-year in both states, and him full time in NY.

To accomplish this though, we did the federal taxes as usual in the joint manner, and filed them that way. Then to complete the NY and MA forms, we also each had to do our federal taxes as though we were filing separately (but we didn't file these mock returns -- they were just for calculations), since each state asks for figures from the federal 1040. It was of course annoyingly extra work, but it ended up getting us a better return, and it was the only way to be honest, so win win.

Randomly, another issue came up with my NY return that was unrelated to this whole thing, wherein I ended up on the phone with a NYS DOR guy for a while. He asked me about the unusual joint feb/separate state, but I just said that we had done so because "it was accurate to our situation," and that was sufficient. (the previous comment just came up, so yeah, I agree, it might be state-specific, and I was in the right states....ymmv)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:59 PM on February 12, 2012

That's very reassuring, Tandem Affinity! "Accurate to our situation" is the perfect way to put it, since we do have combined finances but maintain residences in different states. I was wondering how to deal with the AGI numbers in the state returns, and didn't think about running the numbers separately just for them.

I'll report back once I meet with the tax assistance people!
posted by apricot at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2012

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