The Cost of Getting Married

Taxes can go up after tying the knot, especially for low-income couples.


Marriage has long been advocated as a way to counteract poverty, since something about making a lifetime commitment seems to help generate wealth. That's one reason some people advocate public policies that encourage walks down the aisle, from subsidized marriage counseling to tax credits. But recent research by professors at Saint Mary's College and the University of Notre Dame found that in some cases, current tax policies penalize marriage, especially among low income couples.

A single mom with an income of $21,000 and two children, for example, can receive earned income and child tax credits of $5,460. If that single mom dates a single dad with the same financial profile, they would each receive $10,920 in tax credits. But if they got married and filed jointly, they would jointly receive only $3,400. That means marriage would cost the couple $7,520 a year.

The researchers say policymakers should change the tax code so it doesn't impose a cost on people who choose to get married.

Couples in higher income brackets can face a similar problem: Two high-earners can push themselves into a higher tax bracket than the one they would face individually.

For more on the financial impact of marriage, see: " Marriage's Financial Pros and Cons."