What is the standard deduction for federal income tax purposes?

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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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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The standard deduction for individuals is a deduction developed under the tax code as an “average” deduction for individuals who either cannot or do not want to itemize deductions.  It is a flat amount that you can use to reduce your taxable income. Starting 2018 through 2025, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the standard deduction is significantly increased for all taxpayers: for single and married filing separately filers, the amount is $12,000; married, filing jointly, $24,000; and head of household, $18,000. The amounts are higher if you or your spouse are blind or over age 65. 

Itemize or take the standard deduction


Most taxpayers have the choice of 2 options when claiming deductions:  standard and itemization.  You can take one or the other, not both.  Both reduce your taxable income, which translates into a smaller tax bill. And you will want to use the one that saves you the largest amount of money. Standard requires no recordkeeping and is automatic unless you elect to itemize; itemization requires documentation and several of the categories of itemized deductions have nondeductible floors.

Everyone can take the standard deduction regardless of whether or not your deductible expenses add up to your standard deduction level.  Therefore you would only consider itemizing deductions if your deductible expenses, added together, are greater than your standard deduction for your filing status. If your standard deduction is more than your total itemized deductions, claim the standard deduction and you do not need to file a Schedule  A, Itemized Deductions, with your tax return.

Many more people are using the standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions because mortgage interest rates (the main component of itemized deductions for most taxpayers) are so low that many homeowners do not have enough itemized deductions to get above their standard deduction.

Whether to itemize each year or not varies from year to year.  Do the math.  Determine which scenario gives you the largest tax advantage.  Most tax preparation software will allow you to input your itemized expenses and automatically give you either the standard deduction or itemized expenses, whichever produces the best result.

IRS Pub 501 has a section that is helpful on who should itemize.

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