NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Marriage Tax Penalty Sometimes A Bonus

August 10, 1999

Not all couples are penalized by higher taxes when they file jointly, tax experts point out. In fact, nearly as many couples profit from getting married as lose money to the government.

  • Under the current tax code, 48 percent of joint tax filers -- or 24.8 million couples -- will pay a marriage penalty this year averaging $1,141.
  • But 41 percent -- or 21 million couples -- will pay less than if they filed as singles, getting an average bonus of $1,274.
  • Two-earner families -- especially if both incomes are nearly equal -- are especially hard hit.
  • But families with only one earner come out ahead.

A Treasury Department study estimates that 64 percent of the country's 39 million two-earner couples will pay a marriage penalty this year, 28 percent will get a bonus and 8 percent will see the same tax bill they would if they were single.

Among the 12.4 million one-earner couples, 80 percent will get a bonus, while the remaining 20 percent will be taxed the same as if single.

The main reason for this pattern is the progressive nature of the tax code, which takes a larger percentage bite as income rises.

Source: Owen Ullmann, "Taxes Cut Both Ways," USA Today, August 10, 1999.


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