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April 28th, 2010 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know

     
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The state just cashed my income-tax check, which means I’m out beer money for the next couple of months. Which brings me to my question—why is it that single people pay more in taxes (both state and federal!) than married people filing jointly? —J

When you look at that tax rate for “married filing jointly” and think about how sweet it would be to pay only that much, don’t forget that the couple who get that sweet rate must support two people on that income, not just one. Even the most frugal spouse adds to household expenses. And while it’s tempting to think you can just park them under the sink and feed them table scraps while you enjoy the tax write-off, in real life it never works out that way. Trust me.

Anyway, one reason the tax code goes easier on couples is because, until recently, it was widely seen as too hard on them. Somewhere in the Boone’s-Farm-addled memories of your youth, you may recall hearing about something called the “marriage penalty.”

The gripe was that the standard deduction for a married couple was less than double that for a single person: two single people could deduct more from their taxable income than they could as a couple filing jointly.

Conservatives squeaked that this was disincentivizing the sacred institution of marriage, and since the lives of married conservatives (like those of Republicans and the elderly) are sufficiently bereft of joy that hassling your congressman sounds like a pretty good way to kill an afternoon, the “marriage penalty” was eliminated as part of the 2001 Bush tax cuts.

Shortly thereafter, 9/11 happened and everyone promptly forgot about the whole thing. At least, they did until you ran out of beer. And when men have no beer, haven’t the terrorists already won?

 
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