Tax Tips for Married, Divorced, Jobless Filers

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Life can throw more curveballs at you than Dizzy Dean in his prime. Touchstone events are not only sources of elation and anxiety, they often come with financial ramifications.

With tax season in full swing, it is important to see how changes to your status quo may impact your 2009 filing.

Marriage

For couples who exchanged "I dos" in 2009, how to file this year's tax return is a crucial decision.

"Newlyweds can choose to file as married filing jointly or separately based on their individual situation, but they cannot file as single," says Mark Steber, chief tax officer for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service ( JTX). "Usually using the 'married filing jointly' status provides the lowest tax liability and the highest standard deduction. However, if one of the filers has large deductions or expenses, the 'married filing separately' status may be more beneficial."

Among the tips Steber offers:
  • A couple's marital status is based on the last day of the year at 11:59 p.m., according to the Internal Revenue Service. Couples who take their vows on New Year's Eve will be considered legally married for the full tax year, even if they were only husband and wife for a few seconds before the ball dropped.
  • Couples choosing "married filing separately" should be aware that certain credits, including the Child and Dependent Care, Earned Income and education credits, aren't available under this status.
  • If marriage means a new name, contact the Social Security Administration. The name on your Social Security card must match what is on your W-2 form.
  • Divorce

    It's also important that you contact the Social Security Administration if there's a post-divorce name change.

    Post-divorce legal fees related to the separation may be tax deductible. Legal costs incurred to recoup owed alimony or child support can usually be deducted.

    Declaring children as dependents can be laid out in the divorce decree. A common arrangement is to allow each parent to claim dependents in alternating years.

    Job loss

    Normally, unemployment benefits are taxable. However, under the Recovery Act, people who received unemployment benefits during 2009 can exclude the first $2,400 of these benefits when they file their federal returns.

    Most job-hunting expenses -- such as resume creation, postage and travel expenses -- are deductible.

    If you had to move more than 50 miles for a job, much of the mileage and expenses can be deducted.

    Disability

    More than 9.6 million people with disabilities rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and many of them might be paying more in taxes than necessary or missing out on deductions.

    Allsup, an Illinois-based national provider of Social Security disability representation and Medicare services, offers the following suggestions:
  • It can take up to four years to first receive disability benefits, resulting in a lump-sum amount of back payments. The IRS allows taxes on this payment to be spread over previous tax years using the current-year tax return, with no need to file an amended return.
  • Workers' compensation benefits and compensatory damages for injuries are not taxable. The taxability of long-term disability insurance benefits depends on how the premiums were paid. If you paid the premiums with after-tax dollars, the benefits shouldn't be included in your taxable income. If you paid these premiums with pre-tax dollars or your employer paid your premiums, the benefits are taxable and must be included in your income.
  • There's a tax credit for the disabled of up to $7,500 if you receive taxable disability income from a former employer's accident, health or pension plan. However, you can only claim it if your adjusted gross income is less than $17,500 for single filers, $20,000 for joint filers with one eligible spouse, and $25,000 for joint filers in which both spouses are eligible.
  • Military service

    Military personnel serving overseas have an extra year to qualify for the government's $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit. They have until April 30, 2011, to sign a contract on a principal residence and the transaction must close by June 30, 2011.

    Reservists are allowed to deduct expenses if they have to travel more than 100 miles from home as part of their assigned duties.

    Soldiers are exempt from taxes for pay earned during each month they serve in an overseas combat zone.

    The recently enacted Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, in place for the current tax season, exempts the husbands and wives of military personnel who relocate as part of their orders from the new state's income tax withholding. For spouses in this situation, they can elect to retain their prior state residency for tax purposes without having to file in the state where they worked.

    -- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.