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What happens when you file taxes jointly, but one spouse owes back taxes?

Reno, NV |

I have recently adjusted status to Permanent Resident through marriage, but received a letter from the IRS that they need my tax return from 2009. I have not paid any taxes in 2009, as the company I was working for never took any taxes out of my paychecks. (I was hired as an international student, but overstayed my visa).
If I file my taxes jointly with my husband for 2010, and then file my back taxes for 2009, how will this affect my husband? (his normal tax refunds, credit score etc)
Would it be better to file married, but separate?
I plan on settling my debt with the IRS, I'm just not very sure how to go about it, or how long will it take, depending on how much I owe. (my W2 form says I earned 26000$ for 2009)

I married my husband at the middle of 2010, so I assume I have to file single for 2009. Will this still affect tax returns for 2010, if we file jointly?

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Attorney answers 2


You would have to file either married/separate or married/joint for 2010. If you husband owes back taxes, the portion of the refund attributable to you will be taken to satisfy his back taxes. Depending on the amounts involved, it may be worthwhile for you to file married/separate. However, bear in mind that filing married/separate has its disadvantages and there are certain limitations on what deductions can be taken. You should have a certified public accountant prepare draft returns to see if it is in your best interest to file joint or separate. Good luck!

THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE. They are provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. Answering this question does not create an attorney-client relationship or otherwise require further consultation.


Were you married in 2009? If so, then if you file married filing jointly for both years, your spouse's potential tax refund may be taken to satisfy the joint tax liability. Unless you're capable of settling your back taxes before filing for 2010, you may want to file as married filing separately. Filing married filing separately will keep tax matters separate but it may cost more overall. You should meet with a tax professional to review your specifics.

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The information in this answer is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this communication should be taken as legal advice for any case or situation. Nothing herein is intended as legal advice. You should not rely upon any information as a source of legal advice, and your receipt or viewing of any such information does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and James E. Pratt.

IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: To comply with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U. S. federal tax advice contained herein (including any attachments), unless specifically stated otherwise, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purposes of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter herein.

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