In the spirit of political correctness, the IRS long ago did away with the old designations of “husband” and “wife” on individual tax returns, and replaced them with “taxpayer” and “spouse.” The result of this change has led to many headaches for tax practitioners.
It seems that every tax season, inevitably one client will come in to my office and the wife will have it in her craw that she shall be reported as the “taxpayer”; her husband should be “spouse.” Sometimes this demand comes with a reason, something like, “I made more money this year so I am the taxpayer.” Or often the wife (or spouse) is just upset about the unfairness of her husband hogging up that top line. The form was changed to be politically correct, so why not take advantage?
Unfortunately, try as they might, the IRS is not set up to allow married women to start taking the top line as “taxpayer.” The IRS Form 1040 instructions read, “if you filed a joint return for 2005 and you are filing a joint return for 2006 with the same spouse, be sure to enter your name and SSNs in the same order as on your 2005 return.” The reason for this statement is because if you switch the taxpayers’ order on the tax return, the IRS computers have trouble tracking it. The IRS computers track tax returns based on the social security number of the “taxpayer.” I have even heard of situations where a taxpayer passed away and when the spouse tried to file as taxpayer (as a widow) in future years, the IRS got confused. From my experience, I would not touch this with a 10-foot pole if a client asked. I get enough unnecessary IRS notices on behalf of clients without tempting them in this area.
So ladies, take note if you are single. When you get married and you file your very first tax return with your new spouse, make sure you get on the top line of that tax return, and maybe you can enjoy being the “taxpayer.” If you don’t take dibs right away, you will never get your chance.
For those of you already married, please don’t take it personally when you go to a tax preparer and they put the man’s name first, if that is how it has been done in past years. Just know we are trying our best to keep the IRS at bay. Maybe in the future the IRS will come up with a better solution. Maybe their computer system will improve to keep track of married filers better. In the meantime, if you are newly married and the order of your names on the tax return has caused the great debate of what constitutes a taxpayer and what constitutes a spouse, just know there is no right or wrong answer. May I suggest flipping a coin? Then stick with your designation for the rest of your marriage.