Wedding_rings

One of the best punch lines of 2013 is also one of the oldest. In Aziz Ansari’s stand-up, he imagines a world where marriage doesn’t exist, and breaks down exactly why it’s such a strange concept (“it’s a cake with two tiny dolls that look like us!”), and ends with a zinger: “This is really strange! Why are we doing this??” “Tax purposes.”

It may seem like a cynical view on marriage, but many couples in America are now viewing marriage as a financially beneficial move alongside an expression of love and commitment. Married couples in the US who file their taxes jointly will often find their tax bills are significantly smaller. In fact, many aspects of married life can lead to saving a packet, from joint healthcare plans to improved insurance premiums for everything from car to life insurance.

A 2013 study by The Atlantic even found that a high earning single woman will pay over a million dollars more in her lifetime than a married woman earning the same wage. As unfair as it seems, getting married in America is a great way to save money and avoid paying too much tax. And yes, the lifetime savings should more than cover the cost of the wedding.

Cameron’s Marriage Tax Breaks

This year, David Cameron announced that the coalition government would be following America’s example with plans to introduce tax breaks of up to £200 to married couples through a £1,000 personal allowance.

Over 4 million couples (and over 15,000 civil partnerships) will benefit from the £1,000 annual transferable tax allowance, but it will only be awarded to couples where one spouse is earning less than the untaxed ‘personal allowance’ of £10,000. This means this tax break will apply to couples where one partner earns significantly more than the other, supporting the outdated ‘breadwinner’ marriage structure, rather than couples where both spouses work and contribute equally to the household.

“All we’re saying is that marriage is a good thing for our country – it’s the ultimate form of commitment under the law – and we want to show our support for it,” wrote Cameron in his announcement of the tax break in the Daily Mail, but the move has faced a lot of criticism, including the bemusement of the Labour Party, who observed that no-one will be encouraged to get married for a saving of £3.85 a week.

Labour MP Tom Harris joked in Parliament that Cameron had saved his marriage, claiming that his wife was filing divorce papers before she found out she would “be in line for a sweet £150-a-year tax break”.

However, Cameron says this is only the beginning, with more tax benefits for married couples in the pipeline. During a visit to china, Cameron commented “”I believe in marriage, I believe marriage should be recognised in the tax system. I see this as, yes, a start of something I would like to extend further.”

Cameron may have been playing up to China, whose culture places great significance on the sanctity of marriage, but Chinese couples have recently discovered a way to make money through divorce.  After a 19% increase in the capital gains tax of property, divorces in Beijing increased by over 40% in 2013 after a loophole in the law found that divorced couples with more than one property could make a huge saving by selling their properties tax-free and then remarrying afterwards.  Reports from China included pregnant women filing for divorce alongside middle aged couples who went straight to property trading centres after finishing business in the divorce registry. China’s unprecedented divorce boom shows that when it comes to money, the important bond of marriage is, for some, thrown out of the window.

Time will tell if the UKs new tax breaks will encourage more couples to get married, but it can’t be denied that marriage is a move that makes financial sense.

Vicky is a finance writer with strategictax.co.uk, a UK tax planning company. As well as finance she also likes to write on current affairs and economics. In her spare time she enjoys watching old movies and cooking.