When You File Taxes Jointly, Whose Name Goes On First?

Technically, if you and your spouse file your taxes jointly, it doesn’t matter whose name you put down first on Form 1040. The form offers two spaces for the names of the spouses, and anyone can appear first or second. About 30 years ago, among heterosexual couples, almost all joint tax returns were filed with the man’s name first. But that number has now come down to about three out of four. In general, the South tends to be somewhat more conservative, resulting in more joint returns with the husband’s name first, while the number of women appearing first tends to be slightly higher in the North. But even the nation’s second couple, Kamala Harris and Douglas Emhoff file their joint tax return with the vice president’s name appearing second. 

It doesn’t matter whose name goes on first. There is a caveat to keep in mind, however.

You don’t want to make changes

Some families attempt to maintain a sense of equality in their relationship by taking up the idea of taking turns, each spouse goes first on the tax filing on alternate years. Whether you want to take turns each year or change the order of the names once every few years, it’s important to know that changes don’t sit well with the IRS. It may not be against the rules, but the systems in place at the IRS tend not to respond well. The IRS even issues instructions that ask you to keep the pattern stable from year to year, always putting your names and Social Security numbers down the same way.

You may have started putting the name of one spouse first years ago in recognition that they earned more than the other, were older, took responsibility for doing the taxes, or for whatever other reason. Still, it isn’t a good idea to rethink that decision and change the order after.

The IRS has computer systems that track filings from year to year based on what name and Social Security number appears first, and they can be thrown entirely by any changes. With the IRS being shorthanded and unable to respond to questions by filers, name order changes will likely result in your tax return getting lost in an IRS backlog black hole.

If you plan to file together as a married couple for the first time, it’s important that you carefully consider what order your names will appear in on the filing. Once you decide, it’s a good idea to stick with it to the end, no matter how your outlook on these matters changes over time.


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