clear pixel clear pixel clear pixel clear pixel clear pixel clear pixel
Department of Health and Human Services logo ACF banner text Skip ACF banner navigation
arrow in a circle Questions?  
arrow in a circle Privacy  
arrow in a circle Site Index  
arrow in a circle Contact Us  
clear pixel   Home   |   Services   |   Working with ACF   |   Policy/Planning   |   About ACF   |   ACF News Search  
bottom of ACF logo clear pixel clear pixel
Administration for Children and Families US Department of Health and Human Services
clear pixel
The Marriage Calculator: Financial Consequences of Marriage Decisions

The Marriage Calculator helps policy makers, researchers, and the general public to understand the financial consequences of marriage for individuals earning less than about $40,000 per year. Users can see how taxes and public assistance change when a couple's living arrangement changes from living apart to cohabiting to married.

This is a general use tool. Social service agencies in the community are the best source of exact information. This tool uses the 2003 tax laws and benefits rules, and it does not take some possible situations into consideration in calculating results (for example, information about whether a family lives with other relatives or whether a family member is disabled is not included in the calculations).

For more information, see the State Policies Database to search through tax and transfer program rules to learn how state policies influence the financial consequences of couples' decisions. See also the Prepared Tables, created by the Marriage Calculator, which illustrate how benefit amounts and total income change upon marriage or cohabitation for sample families with a range of characteristics.


Marriage may influence couples' finances in a number of ways. For example, if a low-income single mother gets married, she may see changes in the amount of income tax she owes and in the amount of benefits she is eligible for through various transfer programs-benefits from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, subsidized child care, subsidized housing, health insurance from Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and the Supplemental Feeding Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). A single parent's decision to cohabit may also affect a family's tax liability and amount of public assistance. The total financial resources of the woman and the man might be higher or lower depending on whether they live apart, cohabit and report it to government programs, cohabit and do not report it to government programs, or get married.

The financial consequences of marriage or cohabitation are caused by both explicit and implicit rules in tax and transfer programs. Some rules are explicit. For example, the federal income tax system explicitly treats married couples differently from single parents or single individuals. Other rules are implicit. For example, the value of food stamps a household can receive does not explicitly vary by marital status, but does vary depending on the number of people in the household and their total income.

The exact financial consequences of marriage or cohabitation depend on the circumstances of the household members. One important factor is where they live; state income tax rules, as well as many rules of government benefit programs vary from state to state. The consequences will also vary depending on a host of personal and economic characteristics: the income and assets of the woman and the man, the number and ages of the children, the family's needs for child care, whether the family receives child support income, and whether or not the potential spouse is the father of the children. Finally, consequences will depend on the types of government assistance that the parents and children already receive (or would like to receive).

The Marriage Calculator

The Marriage Calculator allows the user to "create" a hypothetical single-mother family and potential spouse, and to specify a set of transfer programs that the user would like to consider in the calculations. The transfers that can be included are: TANF, food stamps, subsidized child care, subsidized housing, Medicaid, SCHIP, and WIC. The Calculator then displays the financial impacts of the man and woman living apart, cohabiting that is reported to government programs, cohabiting that is not reported to government programs, and getting married, taking into account both taxes and the selected transfer programs. Results are calculated for all states and for the District of Columbia. The calculations are extremely detailed and include the numerous variations in tax and transfer computations depending on the state of residence and personal characteristics. The calculations also capture the many interactions between assistance programs.

arrow  Methodology & Assumptions

Database of State Policies Affecting Marriage

The State Policies Database allows users to explore the key reasons for the state-by-state variation in results for a particular hypothetical family. The database captures those policies in tax and transfer programs that vary by state and that explicitly relate to marriage or cohabitation.

Prepared Tables

The website also provides a set of Prepared Tables. These compare state-by-state results for many different types of families, illustrating the range of results depending on state of residence, family circumstances, and the assistance programs that a family receives.