One year later: Same-sex marriage ruling's impact

We saved on taxes since DOMA's repeal
We saved on taxes since DOMA's repeal

It's been one year since the Supreme Court's monumental ruling on same-sex marriage, and many couples have already seen their lives change dramatically.

When the Defense of Marriage Act -- which limited the definition of marriage to a man and a woman -- was overturned last June, married same-sex couples were granted access to more than 1,000 spousal benefits.

The three most important benefits couples say they have received within the last year: the ability to make medical decisions for a spouse who is incapacitated, spousal health care and insurance coverage and inheritance rights, according to a new Wells Fargo survey of 875 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender investors.

Other new rights include the ability to receive survivor benefits and to qualify for the federal estate tax exemption when a spouse passes away.

Related: Same-sex marriage: 'Our financial lives one year later'

This is also the first year that married same-sex couples have been able to file their income taxes jointly at the federal level -- which has been one of the most immediately tangible changes for many couples. And while this has led to higher taxes for some, it has lowered tax bills for others.

About half of the same-sex couples surveyed by Wells Fargo who filed their taxes jointly this year reported paying less tax than in previous years -- with a median decline of $2,000. A quarter of respondents said their tax bill went up by a median of $3,000 after filing jointly.

Sean Liphard and Auntre Hamp, for example, owed an extra $2,000 when they filed jointly this year because their incomes are so similar. They saved about $1,500 because they no longer owe tax on the health insurance Liphard receives from Hamp's plan. Overall, they figure they paid $500 more in tax than they had in previous years.

Same-sex couple paying a Kansas 'gay tax'
Same-sex couple paying a Kansas 'gay tax'

Debra and Jennifer Abbott-Walker, meanwhile, saved more than $1,500 in tax by filing jointly because they had such different incomes -- with Jennifer picking up the duties as a stay-at-home mom and Debra working full-time.

And while the Supreme Court's ruling made the tax filing process a lot easier for couples living in states where same-sex marriage is legal, those in states that don't recognize it are having a much more difficult time. They are now forced to fill out two different sets of returns -- filing separately at the state level but jointly at the federal level.

Related: Same-sex marriage in the United States

Dave Greenbaum and Mike Silverman, who live in Kansas where same-sex marriage is not recognized, had to pay their accountant 50% more to do their taxes this year because of all the extra work involved.

In addition to extra costs, this divide between state and federal law has created a lot of confusion.

Even after a year, the vast majority, or 83%, of Wells Fargo survey respondents said they don't completely understand how the laws governing same-sex marriage in their state work -- including 67% of respondents who are in legal same-sex marriages.

Related: Same-sex marriage: 1 year later

That's not so surprising because the rules vary greatly: in some states, same-sex marriage is only legal for certain groups -- like for a handful of couples who got married during a stint of time when marriage was legal across the state. Other states allow couples to file jointly even if they don't recognize same-sex marriage. (Check out our map to see the rules for your state).

But overall, the excitement of being married has outweighed any negatives, said Nanette Miller, who works directly with same-sex clients as the head of the LGBT practice at accounting firm Marcum LLP.

"There's just a lot of relief," she said. "They're still trying to understand what it all means, but they're happy to be treated the same."

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