Ready, aim, fire
Going shopping at the Gap

Hearts and flowers


… and taxes.

Granted, the world's most romantic three words aren't "Internal Revenue Service."

But when you look at the tax code, you'll find that sometimes the IRS does play cupid.

I know, I know. What about the marriage penalty?

Well, that's a topic that, like most things taxes, has undergone a lot of spin. As is usually the case with taxes, the penalty was primarily situational and, as discussed in this story, provided almost as many couples a benefit when they married as it hurt.

But it was a nice hook -- who's for penalizing marriage in this day and age of family values? -- and pandering politicians jumped right on that bandwagon. Tax brackets for singles and couples were realigned, the standard deduction for married folks was bumped to twice that of single filers and, for many couples, the perceived tax penalty was smoothed over, at least for the next few years.

Even beyond the marriage penalty changes, though, you can find evidence of the IRS's commitment to committed couples.

Look again at the tax brackets. The most favorable rates (that is, larger amounts taxed at lower percentages) apply to income jointly reported by married couples.

Plus, in an effort to keep married couples doing their tax returns together, many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated for spouses who opt to send two returns. Married couples filing separately can't claim the earned-income credit, aren't allowed some child-related tax breaks and can't even deduct the interest paid on their student loans.

Some tax-planning moves also are stymied. Want to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth account? Forget about it if you and your better half are sending in separate 1040s.

Of course, even on (or perhaps especially on) this most romantic of days, you do have to wonder. Do the various tax-code tweaks that encourage joint filing reflect a true and profound appreciation of the institution of marriage?

Or are they a way of using tax policy to shape social precepts?

Or does the IRS simply want all of us marrieds filing together because it means the agency has to deal with a whole lot fewer returns each tax season?!

TODAY'S TAX TIP: True love aside, sometimes couples just have to make cold, hard tax decisions. This story looks at some of the issues a husband and wife should examine when deciding whether to file a joint return or separate ones.

A personal Valentine: I don't delude myself. Although I might not be the highest-maintenance woman on the planet, I do have enough issues to make staying with me difficult, sometimes very difficult.

From the very beginning of our relationship and subsequent marriage (the date of which was planned, in part, around a tax break mentioned in this earlier entry), my husband has never wavered. He's been there in the toughest times, the much, much better ones and I know he'll always be beside me.

I've now spent more of my life with him (this includes dating, so don't make me too old!) than without him. I can't image it any other way.

Thanks, honey! Happiest of Valentine's Day!

Reel romance: My husband is, in many ways, my Lloyd Dobler.Sayanything

Lloyd is the ultimate committed guy, who will, as the movie title notes, Say Anything and do what it takes -- in the truly heartfelt sense, not some smarmy pickup line way -- for the woman of his dreams. You can read more about Lloyd's virtues in this Washington Post story.

Say Anything is among my favorite rocky-road-to-true-love movies. Here are a few more that, while they don't always end the way I want regardless of how many times I watch, are definitely worth spending time (and a box of Kleenex) with: 

Casablanca An Affair to Remember: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, 'nuff said.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing:  Jennifer Jones, William Holden, great song, 'nuff said again.

A Little Romance: A perfect cinematic look at first love.

And, of course, Casablanca: Noble Bogie sacrifices all, including the only woman he will ever love, for a greater cause. Best. Movie. Ever.


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