General Rules


General Rules

For federal purposes, filing status determines the rate at which income is taxed; for Massachusetts purposes, filing status determines the personal exemption amount allowed. For federal purposes there are five filing statuses: single, married filing a joint return, married filing a separate return, head of household, and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Massachusetts offers all but the qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Generally, someone claiming this status federally will qualify for head of household for Massachusetts.

There are several different filing status options, and if more than one applies, taxpayers should choose the one that results in the lowest tax. Filing status also determines whether taxpayers are eligible for certain deductions, exemptions, credits, etc.

Note: A taxpayer's Massachusetts filing status may differ from that allowed on his federal return.


Head of Household

Unmarried taxpayers filing as head of household are allowed an exemption that is higher than the exemption allowed for single or married filing separately. Taxpayers must qualify and file as head of household on their federal returns in order to qualify and file head of household on their Massachusetts returns.

Taxpayers may file as head of household if they meet all of the following criteria:

  1. the taxpayer is unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year;
  2. the taxpayer paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year, and
  3. a qualifying person lived with the taxpayer in the home for more than half the year.
Special Rule for Parent - A Dependent Parent Does Not Have to Live with the Taxpayer:
Taxpayers may be eligible to file as head of household even if the parent for whom the taxpayer can claim an exemption does not live with the taxpayer. The taxpayer must pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for the entire year for the father or mother. Keeping up a main home means the taxpayer is paying more than half the cost of keeping a parent in a rest home or home for the elderly.
Taxpayers are unmarried on the last day of the tax year if they are legally separated from their spouses under a divorce or separate maintenance agreement.

Taxpayers are also considered unmarried if they meet all of the following criteria:
  1. the taxpayer files a separate return;
  2. the taxpayer pays more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the tax year;
  3. the taxpayer's spouse did not live in the home during the last 6 months of the tax year;
  4. the taxpayer's home was the main home of taxpayer's child, stepchild or adopted child for more than half the year or was the main home of taxpayer's foster child for the entire year;
  5. The taxpayer must be able to claim an exemption for the child. However, the taxpayer can still meet this test if not claiming an exemption for the child only because the non-custodial parent may claim an exemption for the child.
A qualifying person includes the following taxpayers:
  • child, grandchild, stepchild or adopted child who is single;
  • child, grandchild, stepchild or adopted child who is married if taxpayer can claim an exemption for him or her;
  • foster child if taxpayer can claim an exemption for him or her;
  • uncle, aunt, nephew or niece if he or she is related to taxpayer by blood and taxpayer can claim an exemption for him or her;
  • parent, grandparent, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, stepmother, stepfather, half brother, half sister, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law if taxpayer can claim an exemption for him or her.

Noncustodial and Custodial Parent:
The noncustodial parent is the parent who either has no custody or has custody of the child for the shorter part of the year.

Even if the noncustodial parent claims the child as a dependent, usually determined in a divorce, separate maintenance or custody decree, the custodial parent can still be eligible to file head of household. They should attach the written declaration, Form 8332 - Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents, to their tax return that states that the noncustodial parent is claiming the child as a dependent. The custodial parent would still be considered as meeting the qualifications to file head of household.

Qualifying Widow(er) - Federal Rules:

If a spouse dies during the tax year, the surviving taxpayer may elect to file married filing jointly for the tax year in which the spouse dies.

The surviving taxpayer may also be eligible for filing as a qualified widow(er) with dependent child for 2 years following the year of death of his or her spouse.

Qualifying Widow(er) - Massachusetts Rules:
If a spouse dies during the tax year, and the taxpayers had a Massachusetts taxable year that began on the same day, the surviving taxpayer may elect to file married filing jointly for the tax year in which the spouse dies.

Since Massachusetts does not have a filing status equivalent to the federal qualifying widow(er) with dependent child, a surviving spouse is eligible to file as Head of household for 2 years following the year of death of his or her spouse since a qualifying widow(er) must meet essentially the same qualifications as the head of household. Qualifying widow(er)s requirements are less broad than the requirements for head of household. i.e., a head of household can claim a parent as a dependent and does not have to be a widow(er).

If the spouse does not meet the head of household requirements in the 2 subsequent years, he or she would file single.


Married

Taxpayers who are legally married as of the last day of the tax year may choose to file either jointly or separately.

Common law marriages
are not recognized by Massachusetts law.

Married Filing Joint

Taxpayers may file married filing joint if the following two conditions are met:

  1. they must be legally married as of the last day of the year; and
  2. they must have a Massachusetts taxable year that begins and ends on the same day.

Both spouses are responsible for the accuracy of all information entered on a joint return and both must sign.

Married Filing Separate

Taxpayers who are legally married as of the last day of the tax year may choose to file married filing separately.

Married Taxpayers with Different Tax Years:
If taxpayers are married as of the last day of the year but have a Massachusetts residency tax year that begins and ends on different days, they must file married filing separately assuming each spouse has a requirement to file.

Example: Husband, a Massachusetts resident, and wife, a New Hampshire resident, both work in Massachusetts.  After they were married in June, 2012, the husband moved to New Hampshire to be with his wife. Taxpayers cannot file a joint return because their nonresident tax years are different. The wife lived in New Hampshire the entire year while the husband only lived there for 6 months.

Married, Change to or from Joint or Separate

Change to Married Filing Joint from Married Filing Separate:
A change from separate returns to a joint return may be made if the total tax shown on the joint return is paid at or before the filing of the joint return. The change to a joint return after filing a separate return must be made on an abatement/amended return within three years of the last date prescribed by law for filing of the separate return, and this period is determined without taking into account any extensions of time granted to either spouse.

Example:
4/15/13, husband files his 2012 return as married filing separate and shows $600 tax, paid in full;
4/15/13, wife files her 2012 return as married filing separate and shows $200 tax, paid in full.

11/15/13, husband and wife file an amended 2012 joint return showing their joint tax liability of $750.

The total tax shown on the joint return of $750 was paid on 4/15/13 ($600 + $200.) Taxpayers would be entitled to a refund of $50 ($800 originally filed amount; $750 corrected amount).

Change to Married Filing Separate from Married Filing Joint:
If a joint return has been filed for a tax year, the spouses may file separate returns before the due date of the original return, determined without regard to any extensions.

Example:
Husband and wife file a joint return on 3/15/13; they may change to married filing separate no later than 4/15/13.

Certain Deductions, Exemptions, Credits, Misc. Items Disallowed if Married Filing Separate:

  • Dependent Member of Household under age 12 Deduction per c. 62 s. 3(B)(8);
  • Earned Income Credit per c. 62 s. 6(h);
  • Education Savings Account, Coverdell (CESA) Deduction;
  • Excess Exemptions from 12% income per 3(A)(b);
  • Limited Income Credit per c. 62 s. 5(a);
  • No Tax Status per c. 62 s. 5(a);
  • Real Estate Tax Credit for Persons Age 65 or Older (Circuit Breaker) per c. 62 s. 6(k); and
  • Rollover (conversion) from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

Child Care Expenses Deduction for Child under Age 13 or Disabled Dependent, or Spouse:
Taxpayers may not claim this deduction if married filing a separate U.S. 1040 or 1040A return.

If taxpayers are filing a joint U.S. 1040 or 1040A return but are married filing separately for Massachusetts purposes, either spouse may claim the deduction for expenses he or she incurred, but their combined deduction cannot exceed the$4,800/$9,600 maximum amounts.

Rental Deduction Limitation for Married Filing Separate or Option to Allocate:
Per c. 62 s. 3(B)(9), Married Filing Separate taxpayers may only claim a maximum deduction of $1,500 each unless a statement from the other spouse is provided, allowing one spouse to take more than the $1,500 deduction. The statement must be signed by the consenting spouse and must list his/her name, address, social security number, and the amount of rental deduction taken by each spouse.

Same-Sex Joint Filers:
Beginning May 16, 2004, Massachusetts law permitted same-sex couples to be married. Thus, for Massachusetts personal income tax purposes, same-sex spouses have been entitled to file as married persons, jointly or separately. However, under prior federal law, same sex marriage was not recognized and same-sex couples were required to file as individuals.

Where elements of Massachusetts taxation derive from federal law, such as the definition of gross income, or state deductions that are based on a federal counterpart, same-sex spouses were required to perform special calculations for Massachusetts purposes to adjust the federal return information by taking the different marital status into account to arrive at the proper Massachusetts tax figure.

U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013):
As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, same-sex spouses may, in cases where applicable state law recognizes same-sex marriage, file their federal tax returns as married persons, jointly or separately. For Massachusetts personal income tax purposes, same-sex couples formerly combined two individual federal returns to come up with the Massachusetts figure to enter on the joint Massachusetts return. They will no longer need to do this, and will take the applicable Massachusetts figures directly from their federal form(s), the way other married couples complete their tax returns


Single

Single status applies if at the close of the taxable year, the taxpayer was:

  • unmarried; or
  • legally separated under a final judgment of the probate court.

Taxpayers may not file Single if:

  • their divorce or separate maintenance decree is not final;
  • they have a temporary support order;
  • taxpayer and spouse simply choose to live apart.

Deserted Spouse:
A spouse who obtains a judgment from the probate court that he or she is living apart from his or her spouse for justifiable cause may file a Massachusetts income tax return as a single individual.


Where to Report on Original Tax Return; What to Enclose:

  • Enter filing status on either Mass Form 1 or 1-NR/PY, Line 1 and fill in the appropriate oval. Enter spouse's Social Security number in the appropriate space at the top of the return under taxpayer's Social Security number. If married filing joint, both spouses must sign the return.

Documentation to Submit with Abatement/Amended Tax Return:

  • Copy of Form 1040 - U.S. Individual Income Tax Return;
  • Copy of Form 1040X - Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return;
  • If changing from married filing separate to joint, schedules supporting the increased or decreased line items such as W-2s;
  • If changing from married filing separate to joint, abatement claim must be signed by both spouses. Also, include whether one or both spouses have previously filed a tax return.
  • If legally separated, copy of a divorce decree, final judgment from probate court of legal separation, or support order.

 Massachusetts References:

Federal References:

  • I.R.C. §§ 1(a) - (d); 2(b); 6012; 6013(a), (b); 7703
  • I.R.C. Regulation 1.6013-1(a)
  • USCS § 7 (2004)
  • Rev. Rul. 2013-17
  • I.R.S. Pub. 17: Your Federal Income Tax and Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
  • IRS Pub. 501:Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
  • Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003)

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