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Joy of Filing Jointly: Free Returns for Same-Sex Couples

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-08_0ca44de1b8.jpgRyan McVay/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- Not only can same-sex married couples now file taxes jointly, they can do it for free, thanks to a private tax preparation provider. The IRS Thursday announced it is amending federal tax policy so that same-sex and heterosexual married couples will now be treated equally: both can file a joint return.

That means same-sex marrieds can claim marriage-related credits, exemptions and deductions. That applies whether or not they live in a state that recognizes gay or lesbian marriages. They must, however, have been married in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage.

Like heterosexual married couples, they will retain the option of filing separately.

In a statement, the IRS and the Department of the Treasury said the new ruling implements federal tax aspects of the June 26 Supreme Court decision knocking down a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

"The ruling applies to all federal tax provision where marriage is a factor," said the IRS in its statement, "including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit."

The ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships short of marriage. It does apply to any marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory or a foreign country.

The IRS says that the partners in a same-sex marriage can, if they wish, file amended returns for past tax years, asking to be treated as married for tax purposes. The statute of limitations for doing so is three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid. That means refund claims can still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Under certain circumstances, it may be possible to file a refund claim for earlier years.

Persons wanting to file a claim need to use Form 1040X.

All these changes become effective Sept. 16.

By the estimate of the Pew Research Center, there probably are more than 71,165 same-sex marriages now in the U.S.

John T. Hewitt, CEO of the parent company of tax service provider Liberty Tax Service, wants their business.

Toward that end, Liberty, which Hewitt says is the fastest-growing tax preparation franchise in the U.S., announced on Friday it will amend--for free--the 2010 and 2011 federal returns of same-sex married couples.

"Those in same-sex marriages could possibly benefit from amending their returns," Hewitt tells ABC News. But, depending on their tax circumstances, they also might not. They might, for example, be subject to the same "marriage penalty" that applies to many heterosexual married filers.

The IRS's new ruling, says Hewitt, will change the way many individuals will file their future federal returns. "Liberty Tax is ready to assist these couples immediately," he says. "And we're happy to do it for free."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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