Taxes After Marriage

My husband does my taxes because I hate doing my taxes. I feel okay about it.

Photo; Camilo Rueda López

My husband and I are financially compatible. If that doesn’t sound romantic, imagine being hyper-organized with your own personal finances but dating someone who is perpetually wading through a sea of overdraft fees. Alternatively, try dating an independent contractor who slumps into a crushing yearly depression when he realizes he once again owes more on taxes than he has in the bank (the taxes that he should have filed quarterly but didn’t, just like last year, and the year before…).

If you ask me, financial compatibility is extremely romantic. When my now-husband and I started dating, our mutual appreciation of employer-sponsored 401K plans and thoughtful monthly budgeting was a breath of fresh air after years of dating men who received overdue notices on their student loans and filled up their gas tanks $5 at a time to “save money.”

To be fair, there is no one right way to be financially savvy. It mostly comes down to a person’s priorities in life, and I was dating guys with different priorities. For instance: if you come upon a large sum of money, do you blow it all at once, invest, or hoard it under your mattress? Most men in my dating history would blow it all at once, with a smaller percentage inclined to bury it in the back yard. In my husband, I finally found someone else who would easily answer that question with, “I’d diversify.”

I’ve always enjoyed mapping out where my income goes each month; not a great conversation starter at parties, but, you know, live your truth. It’s immensely satisfying to piece together my personal puzzle of HSA contributions, insurance, retirement savings, recurring monthly payments and savings. The one task I’ve never particularly enjoyed is taxes.

Despite my loathing, my taxes have never been too unbearable. For most of my adult life I’ve clung to the 1099-EZ form, dutifully plugging in the minimal information required of me (W2 details, student loan interest, rent payments — they’re partly tax-deductible in Wisconsin!) and not worrying about any of the more dizzying minutiae. Unlike calculating the growth of a 5 percent contribution to my Roth IRA over time, there is nothing I find satisfying about filing taxes. It’s a chore, and not an enjoyable one. Unless you are my husband.

It seems natural for each partner in a relationship to take on the chores they most enjoy, or the ones they least detest. He washes the dishes, I do the laundry. He does the cooking, I do the grocery shopping. TurboTax gives me anxiety, and for my husband, a night spent toiling away in the software is about as harrowing as a game of Candy Land. I should have been eager to hand over my tax returns to him for the first time this year, and a part of me was, especially since my days of the 1099-EZ form are gone. Overnight, I went from filing as a single renter to filing jointly as a homeowner with multiple deductions, income to report from side gigs and higher education expenses. The mere thought of navigating that in TurboTax (and not the free online version — they make you upgrade when your shit gets too complicated) made my stomach churn.

So I put each W2 on his desk as it arrived in the mail. I dug up receipts from donations in 2016 and emailed them to my husband. When it all came in, I looked the other way and said, “Knock yourself out.” It made my stomach churn in a completely different way.

I am grateful that my husband has the will to tackle our taxes. And yet, I have a hard time handing him the reins. Although I used to dread doing my taxes, I ploughed through them anyways, foregoing an accountant so that I could maintain a thorough understanding of my financial situation. By handing the task over to my husband, I’ve relinquished some of that control.

Ah, there’s the operative word: control. I am a control fiend. I know this. But when finances come into play, that controlling instinct becomes easy for me to justify. I’m all too familiar with the lore of women left penniless by unforeseen marital circumstances — the husband leaves, the husband dies, the wife leaves the husband, the husband quietly accumulates a staggering amount of gambling debt. And instead of keeping an eye on the books that whole time, the wife was playing bridge. For shame.

I don’t play bridge. I don’t even know how to play bridge. My husband and I have the same access to all our assets. We’ve Googled our state’s laws on common property while cuddling on the couch (I told you financial compatibility is romantic). When my husband files the taxes, it’s just another way we spread the work of being adults and functional members of society. I don’t feel out of control when my husband shovels the sidewalk, so why this internal strife when he’s up late at night on TurboTax?

I suppose it’s the principle of the thing. My last vestige of singledom, slipping through my fingers as he hits “submit” on the state and federal returns.

Am I less of a feminist because my husband handles the taxes? No. Is a CEO less of a feminist for entrusting her taxes to an accountant, because her finances are a far more complicated web than mine? No. But in the age of the fuck-off fund, I’m keeping my eyes open. I don’t intend to hand over budget spreadsheets the same way we often fall into individually owning the more mundane domestic responsibilities.

We got our tax return in early March this year. We had already discussed our plans for the money — a fat donation to organizations doing important work in the post-apocalyptic Trump era. I set up our 2017 tax folder in Google Drive and saved the donation receipt in the shared folder, ready for when my husband most likely handles taxes again next year.

I am thinking of it now as a conscious act of not-quite outsourcing, rather than some kind of feminist fuck-up, because it’s OK to hire other people for certain jobs when your time and sanity are more valuable. Usually, you have to pay those people in cash — people who refinish your floors, tear down the venue after your wedding, sort through your taxes. My husband’s payment is, bizarrely, the simple joy of doing our taxes.

That works for me. And it’s an appropriate birthday gift for a guy born on April 15.

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