A taxpayer with a nonresident alien spouse can choose to file a tax return jointly with the spouse, or separately as a single filer. The Internal Revenue Service allows individuals with a nonresident spouse to treat the spouse as a resident alien, or to file taxes using an unmarried filing status. Using the unmarried filing status can lower the taxpaying spouse’s tax liability, but will prevent him from claiming important tax credits.
Unmarried Filing Status
At the end of the tax year taxpayers with a nonresident spouse must choose the unmarried filing status or choose to consider their spouse a resident alien. The unmarried filing status also allows taxpayers married to a nonresident to file their tax returns using the same tax rate schedules as single taxpayers. The taxpaying spouse can still use this filing status if the nonresident spouse becomes a resident during the tax year.
Head of Household Exemption
Taxpayers must be either literally unmarried, or considered unmarried for tax purposes, to qualify for the head of household filing status. This is the reason a taxpayer with a nonresident spouse would exercise her option to use the unmarried filing status -- to qualify for the head of household exemption. In addition to filing a separate tax return, taxpayers with a nonresident spouse must provide the majority of the costs to maintain their homes, to file with head of household status. Also, there must be someone living in the taxpayer's home who he can claim as a dependent; a nonresident spouse is not a qualifying person when claiming the head of household exemption.
Earned Income Credit
A taxpayer with a nonresident spouse claiming the head of household exemption cannot claim the earned income credit, because he is still considered married for purposes of this credit. A taxpayer cannot claim the earned income credit unless he considers his nonresident spouse a resident alien and files a joint tax return.
Under certain conditions, a taxpaying spouse can still claim an exemption for the nonresident spouse if she uses the unmarried filing status. The nonresident spouse cannot be the dependent of another taxpayer, even if another taxpayer doesn’t claim the nonresident spouse as a dependent, but provides financial support. Additionally, the nonresident spouse must have no income and no intentions of filing a tax return, and must have either a Social Security number or an individual tax identification number.