When married taxpayers file jointly, which is often done because of certain benefits available to couples filing jointly, both taxpayers are jointly and severally liable for the tax and any additions to tax, interest, or penalties that arise from the joint return, even if their marriage is later dissolved. Joint and several liability means that each taxpayer is legally responsible for the entire liability.
Thus, both spouses on a married filing jointly return are generally held responsible for all the tax due even if one spouse earned all the income or erroneously claimed deductions. This is true notwithstanding the provisions of a divorce decree regarding a former spouse’s responsibility for any taxes due on previously filed joint returns. However, in rare cases, a spouse may obtain relief from joint and several liability.
It’s considered by many taxpayers to be one of the most frightening events that could happen related to their everyday business affairs. What is this frightening event? An IRS audit, of course. But is a tax audit really that scary in real life? The numbers reveal that only 1% of all taxpayers experience an audit, and of this one percent, about one in five result in a meeting with the IRS.
Presently, the IRS audits half as many taxpayers as it did five years ago. However, the amount of tax recovered per audit has increased. The IRS uses an elaborate computer selection process, auditing only those returns which will almost certainly yield some adjustment.
In December 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST). Provisions included in this bill authorize the State Department to deny or revoke passports for individuals with delinquent tax debt of more than $50,000. The bill also resurrects the IRS private debt collection program and requires the IRS to use third-party entities to collect tax debt under limited circumstances. The IRS contracted with private debt collection agencies from 2006 to 2009, but then at the end of this period insisted it could more efficiently collect the debt itself, thus ending the private program.
IS IT BETTER TO FILE SEPARATELY OR JOINTLY WHEN MARRIED?
Under the tax laws, if you are legally married, when filing your tax returns, you have a choice of filing jointly with your spouse, or filing separately. The tax laws generally expect married couples to file jointly though they may legally elect to file separately.
Most times, it is more to the advantage of the filing couple to file jointly. Where married taxpayers file separately, most deductions and exemptions are generally halved for each tax return. In rare cases, married taxpayers may be able to file separately and claim higher deductions and get bigger refunds on their returns.