What are deductions in income tax terms, and what types of things can I deduct?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Deductions are subtractable amounts for gross income. Unlike credits, deductions are only a percentage of the total dollar amount spent and are typically limited to a specific overall percentage of your gross income.  

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, the ability to use deductions (above the line deductions as well as miscellaneous itemized deductions) to reduce taxable income was severely curtailed.  However, the 2017 tax bill nearly doubled the standard deductions, lowered tax rates and gave higher tax credits, which means more taxpayers will have a simpler time in filing taxes. 

Business Deductions

Whether you are a sole proprietor or owner of an LLC, the IRS realizes that many of your business expenses come directly out of your pocket. Keeping this in mind, they allow for multiple business deductions. First, any business expenses such as startup, advertising, supplies, and maintenance to business machinery can be directly deducted from your gross income. Keep all your business invoices and receipts to tack these expenses. Additionally, any losses including client debts, property, and inventory damages can be deducted. Finally, if you maximized your deduction amount last year and still have losses, you can carry over the additional losses from the previous year.

Charitable Deductions, Credits, and Donations to Schools

Whenever you give money or items to a charity, it is tax deductible. For items donated to charities such as Goodwill, the deduction amount is the fair market value for the item. If you are using a tax assisting program such as TurboTax, the fair market value deduction amounts will actually be listed. If you are donating a large amount of items, such as books, keep a list of the amount and types of books donated for your records.

Cash contributions to charities are also deductible. 

The IRS has issued guidance outlining the rules for charitable contributions. 

Additional Deductions

Additionally, individuals (not businesses and trusts) can deduct some regularly occurring expenses from their taxes. These deductions include medical and dental expenses, IRA contributions, alimony payments, moving expenses, student loan interest, home loan interest, and property taxes. That said, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 curtailed/eliminated several of these popular itemized deductions, starting in the 2018 tax year through 2025. (For example, the deduction of interest on home equity loans is disallowed as well as moving expenses due to a job change and alimony payments.) What this means is that anyone who took itemized deductions on previously filed returns may find it more beneficial tax-wise to claim the standard deduction going forward in future years. 

If you need assistance maximizing your deductions and getting the most back for your annual spending, consult with a tax specialist or accountant. Because of the noticeable changes made by the 2017 Tax Act and the new redesigned format of the basic Form 1040, that may be a prudent move during the transition years.

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