retirement

The cost of being gay and married

The tax gap

The financial frustrations for same-sex married couples can begin well before retirement -- with taxes. In analyzing recent tax data from H&R Block, Bankrate found that a married gay couple earning $100,000 annually can pay as much as $7,727 more each year in federal taxes versus a married straight couple, depending on each person's income.

Federal tax liability

Heterosexual married coupleSame-sex married coupleDifference
Tax liability per year$11,858$19,585$7,727

This illustrates the difference paid by same-sex married couples in federal taxes if one spouse doesn't work and the other makes $100,000. Source: The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

The financial disparities vary in degree based on income, how it's split between the spouses and the number of deductions. There are some instances where federal tax law benefits gay married couples who file returns separately versus their heterosexual counterparts who file jointly and experience the so-called marriage penalty.

But more often, marriage provides a tax benefit, says Jackie Perlman, principal tax research analyst with The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

"Joint filing status is generally considered the best filing status," she says. "Higher earning partners' income will be shifted into a lower tax bracket."

Generally, the advantage of filing jointly becomes greater as the difference in the two incomes widens, she notes. That means couples with a nonworking spouse benefit the most from joint filing.

In the Haislip-Hansberry household, they file jointly for their state taxes but must file separately for the federal government. Ron Haislip-Hansberry believes their tax liability would be less if they could file their federal tax returns jointly as well.

The Higdon-Topaz family would just welcome the chance to see if filing jointly would help their federal tax liability. A Minnesota couple raising a 4-year-old daughter, they play what Jude Higdon-Topaz calls "structural game theory" every year with their taxes with the help of an accountant.

When they lived in Los Angeles, they had to take into account that the federal government taxed Chad Higdon-Topaz's health insurance premiums since they were covered by Jude Higdon-Topaz's employer. In other years, when their incomes were off by just thousands, the issue was who gets which deduction.

"A big question for us every year is who claims our daughter as a dependent? Who claims our house?" says Jude Higdon-Topaz.

The couple are elated that Minnesota will join the 11 other states and the District of Columbia that recognize same-sex marriage. Not only can they consider filing their state taxes jointly next year, it will allow Chad to join Jude Higdon-Topaz's state-sponsored health insurance, saving them $300 each month. Chad will also be entitled to Jude's pension if Jude predeceases him. The state law takes effect Aug. 1.

"Hopefully, I don't kick the bucket before then," Jude Higdon-Topaz says.

Jude Higdon-Topaz hopes a broad invalidation of DOMA by the Supreme Court leads to national recognition of same-sex marriages. That would have even further-reaching changes for the personal finances of gay married couples, including more options for filing state taxes, a spouse's accessibility to state-sponsored health insurance and pensions, and an expansion of homeownership rights.

"I want (the overturning of DOMA) to happen, especially for my gay brothers and sisters who live in places where you don't see an aggressive movement on gay rights," Jude Higdon-Topaz says. "I'm annoyed that the court is taking so darn long to figure it out."

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