Tax Guide

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Standard Deduction vs. Itemized Deductions

One of the most complicated – or at least cluttered – aspects of the tax code is all the different kinds of tax deductions there are. Above-the-line deductions, standard deduction, itemized deductions … what's the difference, and which do you qualify for?

We'll look at these three different terms, but first, understand that all deductions work by cutting your taxable income. And lower taxable income means less in taxes for you. Deductions are intentional loopholes, written into the tax code to give you a break for certain financial and life circumstances.

The three different types of deductions we've mentioned differ in where they appear on the tax return, and who qualifies to claim them.

The first of these, and the most basic, are the so-called above-the-line deductions. They're really stand-alone adjustments, and you may qualify for them whether you itemize or take the standard deduction (we'll get to those in a bit). These deductions include:

  • Educator expenses – Lets teachers recoup some of the classroom expenses they often pay out of their own pockets.
  • Moving expenses – If you're in the military and you move for a new assignment, you can qualify for this.
  • Student loan interest
  • IRA contributions – If you have a qualified IRA, portions of the amount you contribute can be deducted from income.

Up next, we come to a fork in the road: you either have to claim the standard deduction or itemize deductions. Naturally, you'd want to pick whichever saves you the most money, and that's exactly what we do for you on your 1040.com return.

The first option, the standard deduction, is just what it sounds like: a fixed, base level amount you can get if you don't qualify for a higher amount through itemized deductions. If your tax picture is pretty simple, and you don't have a lot of special circumstances that you can write off as itemized deduction, you'll probably get the standard deduction. The standard deduction is a set amount based on your filing status – married filing jointly, single, head of household and so on.

Tax Law Update: Beginning with 2018 returns, the standard deduction has been nearly doubled, while the personal exemption has been removed. The new amounts:

  • $12,000 for single or separate filers
  • $18,000 for head of household filers
  • $24,000 for married filing jointly.
  • Those amounts go up if you're 65 or over, or blind.

Finally, itemized deductions are tax breaks you can only take if you itemize. In effect, by itemizing you're foregoing the standard deduction (you can’t get both), and opting to take the specific deductions you list on your tax return. Some of the more common itemized deductions include:

  • Mortgage expense – This can include mortgage interest and mortgage insurance premiums.infographic on deductions
  • Other taxes – You may be able to deduct the amount you paid for state and local taxes, including personal property real estate taxes.
  • Gifts to charity – if you can itemize, you can deduct the fair market value of the spare TV you donated to the animal shelter’s thrift store, as well as donations to a church.
  • Medical and dental expenses – A deduction is available for unreimbursed expenses above a certain percentage of your income.

For more details, take a look at our Standard vs. Itemized Deductions infographic.

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