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The [Financial] Case Against Marriage?

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By Rick Kahler MS CFP® http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler CFP“Two can live as cheaply as one.”

This old saying is mostly true. However, when it comes to death, divorce, and taxes; two people are probably better off financially if they don’t marry. Intentionally or not, many federal and state laws reward couples who choose to live together without marriage.

Insurance and Tax Examples

Laws relating to Worker’s Compensation insurance are one example of this. Someone whose spouse has died in a work-related accident may be eligible to receive a monthly benefit, paid for the rest of his or her life. However, most state laws provide that the benefits end if the recipient remarries. This puts a real cost to remarrying.


Consider as an example a woman who at age 50 loses her husband to a work-related accident and receives a settlement of $2,000 a month for life. Assuming she will live another 35 years and could invest the proceeds in a 3% bond, the present value of that income stream is $520,000. That means a person would need $520,000, invested at 3%, to give a monthly income of $2,000 for 35 years.

Therefore, if this woman fell in love and wanted to remarry two years into receiving the payments, the remaining 33 years of monthly payments she would forfeit has a value of $502,000. This puts a rather quantifiable cost on one’s social, emotional, and religious values.

Tax Code

The tax code also encourages couples to remain unmarried.


Take a couple who both earn high incomes. Suppose each has taxable income of around $400,000, which is the breakpoint where the 39.6% tax bracket begins. As two singles, as long as their taxable income is $400,000 or less, they both remain in the 35% tax bracket. However, if they marry, their joint income goes to $800,000 while the 35% tax bracket only expands to $450,000 for couples. That means they now pay an additional 4.6% in federal income taxes on the excess of $350,000, or $12,600. Some may be quick to dismiss that amount as trivial, given their income level, but the point is still that marriage for them brings a tangible cost in higher taxes.




Prior Marriages

Those with previous marriages may find another disincentive to marriage in the challenge of passing on assets to children upon your death or if the new marriage should end in divorce. If leaving assets to children is a priority, you will probably need to negotiate a prenuptial agreement with your finance. This is especially important for couples with unequal assets.

A prenuptial agreement is a real romance killer. It highlights the reality that every marriage is a business deal, with the added emotional weight of negotiating the divorce settlement before there is a wedding. Some couples find it easier to live together without marriage and keep their assets largely separate.

The Un-Marrieds

For couples that decide not to marry, the potential tax planning is ripe with opportunity.  Such couples can do anything that the tax code or state statutes prohibit married or related parties from doing. This provides some great tax savings and asset protection opportunities.

For example, spouses cannot be the trustees of each other’s irrevocable or asset protection trusts, but unmarried partners absolutely can.

Choosing not to marry is becoming especially popular with older couples. This is because many older people with previous marriages have accumulated two things: assets and children. They find marriage less compelling when they and their new partner won’t have children together.


Younger couples who do plan to have children still recognize that marriage is important. For many reasons, marriage isn’t going out of style any time soon. Few of those reasons, however, are financial ones.


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6 Responses

  1. To marry or not to marry?

    This isn’t a decision to make on financial grounds, but the choice certainly has financial consequences.

    My ME-P above, about laws that provide financial incentives not to marry drew a great many comments. The points several commenters made are included in this follow-up.

    The example I cited from the federal tax code was for a high-earning couple. Yet tax laws for married couples don’t just affect the wealthy. Those with lower incomes can pay a tax penalty for marriage, as well.

    The Earned Income Credit, intended to provide help for low-income taxpayers with young children, is one example. A single mom with modest earnings would probably qualify for a substantial credit. She could also file as a head of household to get a higher standard deduction ($9,100 for 2014, as opposed to $6,200 for a single taxpayer). If she remarried, she might lose part or all of the credit, and the joint standard deduction for her and her spouse would be $12,400.

    Or suppose one of a couple had significant employee expenses or medical costs. These, together with mortgage interest, might add up to $14,000 in itemized deductions. As a married couple filing either jointly or separately, they would have just $1,600 more than their standard deduction. If they were unmarried, one partner might be able to itemize the $14,000, while the other took the $6,200 standard deduction for a single person.

    Remarriage might also make it harder for your kids to get into college. Students whose parents are divorced may be able to apply for financial aid based on just the custodial parent’s income. If that parent remarries, though, the stepparent’s income is likely to be considered as well.

    On the other side of the coin, there are many ways that state and federal laws do support marriage

    Social Security is one area that clearly favors marriage, as unmarried partners don’t qualify for survivor benefits. Minor children, however, can be eligible for survivor benefits even if the parents aren’t married. The application process is significantly more complicated, because it’s necessary to prove the deceased parent’s relationship to the child.

    In other ways, unmarried partners are at a disadvantage. They don’t automatically inherit property, qualify for pension plans or retirement accounts, or have the right to make end-of-life decisions or authorize medical care.

    For this reason, couples who opt not to marry need to take conscious action to deal with the financial aspects of their relationship. Wills are essential. So are medical powers of attorney. Partners should make careful and deliberate decisions about day-to-day money matters like whether to have joint bank accounts or to own their home as joint tenants. They also need to consider whether to designate each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, pension plans, and retirement accounts.

    Couples who choose marriage shouldn’t ignore the financial consequences, either. Those in second marriages, for example, need to be sure their estate planning provides fairly for children of previous marriages.

    Like so many other big life decisions, whether to get married is a choice best made with the heart rather than the head. Your beliefs about what is important and how you want to live certainly outweigh any financial or tax concerns.

    Yet the money matters, too. Because our laws don’t always keep up with the changes in our culture, it’s up to you to make sure the financial side of any relationship is what you and your partner want it to be. Taking responsibility for providing for yourself and your family includes making conscious financial decisions together.

    Rick Kahler MS CFP®


  2. Well actually,

    Married couples gain financial leverage by sharing things like expenses, assets and health-care coverage. As a result, they increase wealth by 4 percent a year simply as a result of being married, so says a 2006 study by the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University.

    For couples who divorce, the same study found, wealth a decade later is three-quarters lower than for couples that remain married.



  3. Financial Costs of Cheating

    That extramarital affair is costing you a fortune


    Cheating on your partner comes with a higher price tag than you would imagine.



  4. Tax downsides to marriage

    There are tax benefits to nuptials, but some drawbacks exist as well. They don’t mean you shouldn’t get hitched; just consider them unwelcome gifts, along with that third toaster oven and the cheap fondue set.

    First, once you sign the joint return, you are fully responsible for every number that’s in it. If your spouse fudges a figure, you’re equally liable for the consequences.

    Also, it might be harder to reach the higher minimum percentages of income necessary to be able to deduct medical or miscellaneous expenses, given the combined income, unless one or both of you had significant expenses.

    And finally, if there’s a garnishment for an unpaid loan or child support against a spouse, a refund could be delayed or blocked.



  5. And now, the PROs

    Marriage can help reduce the tax burden for married couples who file jointly. Depending on the incomes, so-called marriage “penalties” can be avoided. If the taxpaying spouses have substantially different salaries, the lower one can pull the higher one down into a lower bracket, reducing their overall taxes.




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