15 States With a "Marriage Penalty" in Their Tax Brackets

Of course, you marry for love...but the financial benefits of marriage are nice, too.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of course, you marry for love...but the financial benefits of marriage are nice, too. Whether you're a newlywed or you've reached your golden anniversary, there are a number of money-saving advantages to being married: spousal Social Security benefits, lower insurance rates and the ability to contribute to your spouse's retirement savings, to name a few. But when it comes to federal and state taxes, there's a tax-law twist that can actually cost a married couple money—it's called the "marriage penalty."

A marriage penalty exists when a couple filing a joint return pays more income tax than they would if they were single. In its most common form, the possibility of a marriage penalty is triggered when, for any given tax bracket, the minimum taxable income for joint filers is less than twice the amount for single filers. As a result, when you combine each spouse's income on a joint return, it can push some of that income into a higher tax bracket. This happens most often when the spouses' incomes are similar. For example, two taxpayers each with $100,000 of taxable income in Minnesota would be in the 7.85% tax bracket and pay a total of about $15,700 in state income taxes if filing individually. But as a couple, their combined taxable income of $200,000 pushes them into the state's 9.85% tax bracket, where their total Minnesota income taxes will be about $19,700—a penalty of $4,000 for filing jointly. (A marriage penalty can also be caused by other imbalances in the tax law, such as standard deductions, exemptions or credit phase-out thresholds for married couples that are less than twice the amount for single filers.)

The tax-bracket marriage penalty isn't a huge problem on the federal level anymore. Thanks to the 2017 tax-reform law, only the top federal income tax bracket (37% rate) contains the marriage-penalty trap. However, the marriage penalty is alive and well in several states. So, before you tie the knot or plan on moving to a new state, check to see if you're at risk of paying more in state income taxes as a married couple. To help you out, here are the 15 states (listed alphabetically) where the marriage penalty exists. Plan ahead if you currently live in or plan to relocate to one of these states.

Note: Seven states (Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia eliminate marriage penalties built into their brackets by allowing couples to separately compute the tax owed for each spouse on one return as if they were single. As a result, they are not included in our list of states where a marriage penalty exists.

Rocky Mengle
Senior Tax Editor, Kiplinger.com

Rocky was a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger from October 2018 to January 2023. He has more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, he worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky has a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.