For federal purposes, your filing status determines your income tax rate. For Massachusetts purposes, your filing status determines how many personal exemptions you're allowed. For federal purposes, there are 5 filing statuses:
- Married filing a joint return
- Married filing a separate return
- Head of household
- Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
Massachusetts offers all but the qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Generally, if you claim this status federally, you qualify for head of household for Massachusetts.
There are several different filing status options. Filing status also determines whether you're eligible for certain deductions, exemptions, credits, etc.
Your Massachusetts filing status may differ from that allowed on your federal return.
You can file as single if, at the end of the taxable year, you were:
- Legally separated under a final judgment of the probate court
- Widow or widower whose spouse dies before the beginning of the taxable year
You can't file as single if:
- Your divorce or separate maintenance decree is not final
- You have a temporary support order
- You and your spouse simply choose to live apart
If you get a judgment from the probate court that you're living apart from your spouse for justifiable cause, you may file a Massachusetts income tax return as single.
If you're legally married as of the last day of the tax year, you can file either jointly or separately. Massachusetts law does not recognize common-law marriages.
Married filing joint
You can file as married filing joint if you meet these conditions:
- You and your spouse were legally married as of the last day of the year and were residents of Massachusetts for the same period of time during the year
- You may also file jointly if your spouse died during the year
Please note that a joint return isn't allowed if both you and your spouse weren't Massachusetts residents for the same portion of 2020.
You and your spouse are both responsible for the accuracy of all information entered on a joint return, and both of you must sign.
Taxpayers who are legally married as of the last day of the tax year can file as married filing separately.
If married taxpayers have a Massachusetts residency tax year that begins and ends on different days, they must file married filing separately, assuming each spouse is required to file.
Married filing separate taxpayers may only claim a maximum deduction of $1,500 each, unless a statement from the other spouse is provided, allowing 1 spouse to take more than the $1,500 deduction. The consenting spouse must sign the statement and list:
- Their name
- Their address
- Their social security number, and
- The amount of rental deduction taken by each spouse.
Deductions, exemptions, credits, misc. items disallowed if married filing separate
Married filing separate taxpayers may only claim a maximum rental deduction of $1,500 each, unless a statement from the other spouse is provided, allowing 1 spouse to take more than the $1,500 deduction.
The consenting spouse must sign the statement and list:
- Their name
- Their address
- Their social security number
- The amount of rental deduction taken by each spouse
- Dependent Member of Household under age 12 Deduction per c. 62 s. 3(B)(8)
- Childcare expenses deduction for a child under age 13 or disabled dependent, or spouse. You can't claim this deduction if you're married filing a separate U.S. 1040 or 1040A return. If you're filing a joint U.S. 1040 return but are married filing separately for Massachusetts purposes, either spouse may claim the deduction for expenses he or she incurred. The combined deduction cannot exceed the $4,800/$9,600 maximums.
- 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)
- Rollover (conversion) from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA
Changing from filing joint to filing separate, and vice versa
If you're changing from married filing joint to married filing separately, you and your spouse may file separate returns before the due date of the original return even if you already filed a joint return for the tax year.
If you're changing from married filing separately to married filing joint, pay the total tax shown on the joint return at or before filing the joint return. You will be entitled to a refund if you previously paid more than the corrected amount.
Changing to a joint return after filing a separate return must be made on an abatement/amended return within 3 years after you last filed a separate return. This period is determined without taking time extensions granted to either spouse into account.
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.
You may file as head of household if you meet all of the following criteria:
- You're unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year. You're unmarried on the last day of the tax year if you're legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance agreement.
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year
- A qualifying person lived with you in the home for more than half the year (See IRS Publication 501 regarding a Qualifying Dependent.)
You're also considered unmarried if you meet all of the following criteria:
- You file a separate return
- You pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the tax year
- Your spouse didn't live in the home during the last 6 months of the tax year
- Your home was your child's, stepchild's or adopted child's main home for more than half the year or was your foster child's main home for the entire year
- You can claim an exemption for the child. However, you can still be considered unmarried if you're only not claiming an exemption for the child 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 you can claim an exemption for them
- Foster child, if you can claim an exemption for them
- Uncle, aunt, nephew or niece if they're related to you by blood and you can claim an exemption for them
- 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 you can claim an exemption for them
Please note your exemption is limited to $1,000 for 2020 per qualifying dependent.
A dependent parent doesn't have to live with you for you to be able to file as head of household. You must pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for the entire year for the parent. Keeping up a main home means you're paying more than half the cost of keeping a parent in a rest home or home for the elderly.
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. 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.
Additional Resources for
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
If your spouse dies during the tax year, and you and your spouse had a Massachusetts taxable year that began on the same day, you may file married filing jointly for the tax year in which your spouse dies.
Since Massachusetts doesn't have a filing status equivalent to the federal qualifying widow(er) with dependent child, you can file as head of household for 2 years after the year your spouse died. If you don't meet the head of household requirements in the 2 subsequent years, you would file as single.
Reporting on your original tax return
Enter your filing status on either Mass Form 1 or 1-NR/PY, Line 1, and fill in the appropriate oval. Enter your spouse's Social Security number in the appropriate space at the top of the return under taxpayer's Social Security number. If you're married filing joint, both spouses must sign the return.
Documents 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, attach schedules supporting the increased or decreased line items, such as W-2s
- If changing from married filing separate to joint, both spouses must sign the abatement claim. Also, include whether one or both spouses have previously filed a tax return
- If legally separated, a copy of a divorce decree, final judgment from the probate court of legal separation, or support order
Page updated: March 16, 2021