One unintended feature of U.S. income tax law is that the combined tax liability of a married couple may be higher than their combined tax burden if they had remained single. This is often referred to as the marriage penalty within the law. Congress’ new tax law tempers marriage penalties a bit.
“Marriage penalties and bonuses have a significant impact on the combined tax burden of couples,” wrote Amir El-Sibaie, an analyst with the Center for Federal Tax Policy at Tax Foundation. “Penalties affect couples at very high and very low incomes, and bonuses affect many middle-income couples with disparate incomes.”
Changes that would eliminate marriage penalties and bonuses would drastically impact the current distribution of taxes paid. This is politically difficult to accomplish. As a compromise, in the recently-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress opted to incrementally reduce the effects.
While our nation’s tax laws remain extremely complicated, a few simple changes should bring some relief to married couples and families in 2018.
As an example, most federal income tax brackets for joint filers will now be double those for singles, thereby eliminating or reducing the marriage penalty for many people. (Married couples in certain high-income brackets will continue to experience higher rates than singles in the same brackets, however.) The new law also doubled the child tax credit to $2,000, and all dependents ineligible for the child tax credit are eligible for a new $500 per-person family tax credit (source: The Wall Street Journal).