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The Tax Foundation is the nation’s
leading independent tax policy
research organization. Since 1937,
our research, analysis, and experts
have informed smarter tax policy
at the federal, state, and local
levels. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit
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Marriage Penalties and Bonuses
under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
• A marriage penalty or bonus is the change in a couple’s total tax bill as a result
of getting married and thus filing their taxes jointly.
• Marriage bonuses typically occur when two individuals with disparate
• Marriage penalties occur when two individuals with equal incomes marry; this
is true for both high- and low-income couples.
• Marriage bonuses can be as high as 21 percent of a couple’s income, and
marriage penalties can be as high as 12 percent of a couple’s income.
• While research shows that marriage penalties and bonuses do not have much
effect on whether a couple will marry, they do impact how much each spouse
It is possible to completely eliminate both marriage penalties and bonuses,
but it would require a significant overhaul of the tax code that drastically
changes the current distribution of income taxes paid.
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One unintended feature of the United States’ income tax system is that the combined tax liability of
a married couple may be higher or lower than their combined tax burden if they had remained single.
This is called the marriage penalty or marriage bonus.
Marriage penalties and bonuses have a significant impact on the combined tax burden of couples.
Marriage penalties affect taxpayers at very high and very low incomes, and marriage bonuses
affect many middle-income couples with disparate incomes. Taxpayers with children