Want to save $5K a year? Get married!

| 13 Comments

I posted last week about the state of my relationship with Mark: we're partners. Since then, I've been thinking a bit more about marriage, and specifically about not being married. Why? Because it keeps coming up.

Not being married is costing me money. And if you're not married, it may well be costing you, too.

Mark's new job comes with really excellent insurance benefits. His employer not only pays 100% for employees, they pay 100% for spouses, same-sex domestic partners, and children of employees as well. So if we were married, I could get free insurance through Mark's job. If we were same-sex domestic partners, I could do the same. As opposite-sex domestic partners, though, this benefit is not available to me. It's not a huge tragedy, for us, since I have coverage through my job. However, that coverage costs me $300/month, or $3,600/year. That's what not being married is costing me.

Another area is taxes. You hear a lot about the "marriage penalty" when it comes to taxation. However, that only applies to folks who don't have a big discrepancy between their incomes. Mark and I do. Last year, our combined (single) tax burden was $8,280. Had we made the exact same money, but been married and filed jointly, it would have been $7,110. Not being married cost us $1,170.

Next, we come to the process we went through trying to find a house to rent. Applications fees on a couple of houses we looked at were $75 per individual or married couple. So, we had to pay $150. A $75 not-married penalty.

Then there's our annual co-op membership. If we were a "family," we'd pay $60. Since we're not, it's $45 each. $30 more for the unmarrieds.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

For me, this is an annoyance. It irritates me, and I don't think it's fair, but my life goes on. If it was a huge issue, I could give in and get married. Nobody would stand in my way. But what about people who couldn't just tie the knot? In this case, the largest part of the financial outlay (the health insurance) would be extended to same-sex domestic partners, but in many similar cases it wouldn't, and they'd have no recourse. I may not like the choices I have, but at least I have them.

And so it is a matter of deciding what to do with them. In dollars, what are my principles worth? Knowing that my not being married isn't actually helping anybody, and that the stand I am taking exists mainly in my own head, is it worth doing something I feel is wrong to save some money? How much money does it need to be to make it worth it?

13 Comments

It is a question of return versus risk. Divorce can be very expensive and actually reduce your assets. I hope things work out well for you two.

There is also a question of principle, given that in the United States, marriage is a segregated institution denied to a minority of citizens.

Sincerely,
-danny

I work as a tax paralegal. I just completed state and federal death tax returns for a decedent who was gay and partnered. His partner was the sole beneficiary of the estate. Had they been legally married, the estate would have paid NO tax. However, since they are not married, the estate paid nearly one million dollars in state and federal death taxes.

I see this scenario often. The couple I refer to above didn't have good estate planning in place, as the death was unexpected and happened while the partners were very young. However, there is no amount of estate planning that will reduce your death tax rate to zero. Getting married will.

My partner and I seriously considered getting domestically partnered, rather than married. Two things happened though that changed out minds. Firstly, it was a PITA. Hard to figure out if its even legal to do that, and if so, where. Secondly, we ended up deciding that we did want the protections marriage offers. We DO want to be able to visit each other in the hospital, be the decision makers, etc. When it comes down to it, much as I dislike marriage (because it is for hets only, because it is sexist, etc.) that's not a battle I want to fight when my loved one is ill. That, for me, was what drove the cost too high.

So we're married, but call each other partners, and see it as a chance to redefine marriage. Its not perfect, but it works for us.

You need to read Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage by Nancy Polikoff. She also has a blog. It made me much stronger in my convictions to not get married.

She frames it by saying that the law intentionally creates inequalities between married and unmarried people, not necessarily gay/straight people. That all people in caring and/or financially dependent relationships should be supported and protected.

I'm moving to Oregon in a month and have emailed her to get her perspective on suing to gain access to the state's domestic partnership registry.

"how is anything ever going to change if everybody just keeps doing what has always been done because it's easier this way?"

What I question though, is the idea that my not getting married makes a difference. How will things change, if I get married against my principles? Because I will work to change them. Because I write my politicians, donate to organizations that support equal marriage rights, etc. I don't really see how not getting married changes anything for anyone else.

It does change things for me, in that it frames my relationship in a certain light that I don't always love...but I feel that being married and not conforming to that is a revolutionary act in itself.

I made this particular deal, for similar reasons to what you have described.

My SO and I also have a big income disparity, so there were tax benefits for us when we got married. And my company does not extend benefits to unmarried hetero partners, so I was paying about $450 out of pocket for insurance for my SO to ensure that he could continue his prescriptions and get good quality care. It just seemed like such a waste. Getting married seemed like a clean, easy way to fix the problem, and in some ways it kind of was.

What most screwed me in the end was not recognizing the slippery slope I was on before I took this particular step. Secretly getting hitched at city hall turned into "let's have a wedding since we're already married anyway", which turned into family drama and chaos, which wasn't worth the heartbreak. But I really hope that no one else would be as naive as me going into this process. :-p

I would do it again, for sure, because the financial burden was just too much for me. I'm not entirely comfortable with being a married person and probably never will be. I think that if I could continue benefits for my SO (or take part in a national health care plan), I would divorce in a heartbeat.

This is a timely post for me, as I contemplate leaving my job and losing my insurance.

I am baffled that a company would offer same-sex domestic partner benefits but not opposite-sex domestic partner benefits. In my case, we are looking at my partner's insurance and it looks like they across-the-board domestic partner benefits. I was told that's how it usually goes - with companies that provide it at all.

Failing that, we may just have to go the certificate/courthouse route, because I have no idea how I get insured otherwise.

I totally hit send on that post too soon.

I meant to say that my goal would be to get people to see the ridiculousness of separate but equal when it came to marriage and DP; what is so special about each that forbids the other? There is clearly a huge concern about invalidating the concept of domestic partnerships in the state, though, so we'll see what actually happens. Even if we lost the case it would still get a conversation started.

Also, you know what helped me figure out when it made sense to get married? To literally put a dollar amount on how much my statement against marriage is worth. When is it literally worth it to me?
What if I got a 100k tax break just for getting married? (And forgive me if this is simplistic, I don't know much about taxes.) What could I have with an extra 100k in my pocket than I have now? We'd travel more. Get a dog. Feel more secure about retirement. On the other hand, though, if we have a potential 100k tax break, that means that we're earning way about 100k between the two of us which means we're already doing good for ourselves.

I'm so, so fortunate that neither of us have major health issues that make health insurance a huge priority. It's going to cost a bit right now, but we can swing it. Paying private insurance premiums costs about $3,600. Am I willing to get married in exchange for that amount of money? No.

Kim, have you considered just asking his human resources department to offer it to opposite sex partners?

Grace, you know me too well. I'm incapable of keeping quiet on this topic. ;-) Glad to hear that a wedding isn't on the table for you and M., even if you do decide to marry.

The one upside of getting married has been loudly and proudly defending my choice to keep my last name, so at least I enjoy that aspect of it. :-)

I think that if equal marriage were legal everywhere, or if they only had locations in equal marriage states, my company would probably drop DP benefits altogether. I work in a very conservative industry, and I assume that they don't really give much of a crap about equal rights - they want to offer benefits to as small a number of people as possible while still remaining competitive. The marriage line is an easy one for the company to draw for hetero couples, since we can get married anytime, anywhere. Makes no sense from an equality perspective, but I can sort of see the perverse business logic to it.

This is why employers shouldn't get to decide what does and doesn't qualify a person for coverage, IMO. Come the revolution, we'll detach health care from relationship status altogether. But that's probably a topic for another day.

Rachel, after I read your post, I did a quick calculation and realized that I have saved almost $20k on health insurance premiums alone by getting hitched to my SO. It just seems so wrong to me that so much can ride on that one little piece of paper.

Hybrid, a lot of companies have outright said that if the state they are located in legalizes gay marriage that they would suspend domestic partnership benefits and require gay couples to marry. I think Toyota or Ford was one of those companies.

Oh, also, Grace, I'm getting a Master of Public Health from Oregon State University.

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