Commonly Used Tax Deductions

January 04, 2024

Income taxes are one of our largest expenses. They can also become one of our biggest financial planning stressors. While you can’t avoid paying taxes, you can try to minimize the total amount of income taxes that you owe. By paying less in taxes, you’ll have more money to save for your goals. The good news is that you can use popular tax deductions to help reduce your tax bill.

How income tax deductions work for you

Standard deduction amounts were significantly boosted when the tax law changed in 2018, which means your limited itemized deductions have a higher threshold to even be used. Many more people, especially married filing joint filers, are finding themselves using the standard deduction even if they have things like mortgage interest and property taxes. You choose which method to use, typically based on which one will lower your taxable income more.

Filing Status2023 Standard Deduction2024 Standard Deduction
Married Filing Jointly$27,700$29,200
Qualified Widow(er)$27,700$29,200
Married Filing Separately$13,850$14,600
Head of Household$20,800$21,900

Additional Considerations:

  • The standard deduction is higher for those over 65 or blind; it is higher if you meet those conditions and your filing status is Single or Head of Household.
  • For the 2023 tax year, the standard deduction amount for an individual claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer cannot exceed the greater of $ 1,250 or the sum of $400 and the individual’s earned income, up to the regular standard deduction amount.
  • If your tax filing status is Married Filing Separately and your spouse itemizes deductions, you may not claim the standard deduction. If one spouse itemizes income tax deductions, then the other spouse must itemize to claim any deductions.
  • Non-resident aliens must itemize deductions on their tax returns as they are not eligible to claim the standard deduction.

Most commonly used tax deductions

Here are some of the most commonly used tax deductions you may be eligible to use when attempting to minimize your taxes:

Mortgage interest deduction – Homeowners can deduct their mortgage interest (subject to mortgage limits) on Schedule A of their 1040 form. The limit for mortgage debt incurred after 2017 for deductible interest is reduced to $750K while existing acquisition debt of up to $1 million is “grandfathered”. No matter when the mortgage debt was incurred, you can no longer deduct the interest from a loan secured by your home to the extent the loan proceeds weren’t used to buy, build, or improve your home.

State and local taxes (SALT) – You can also deduct up to $10,000 of state, local, and property taxes (or sales and property taxes if you don’t live in a state with income taxes). This is an aggregate limit and is $5,000 for married couples filing separately. The so-called “SALT limitations” underscore the importance of limiting state and local taxes as much as possible.

Examples of state and local taxes that can be itemized on a tax return include the following:

  • Withholding for state and local income taxes as shown on Form W-2 or Form 1099.
  • Personal property taxes
  • Real estate taxes
  • Estimated tax payments you made during the year
  • Payments made during the year for taxes that arose in a previous year
  • Extension tax payments you made during the year

Charitable donations – The IRS agrees that it is better to give than to receive, and they offer some helpful tax savings for giving (if you itemized deductions). There are deductions available for cash and household items donated to charities.

For charitable contributions to be deductible, they must have been made to qualified organizations. Contributions to individuals are never deductible. You may determine if the organization you contributed to qualifies as a charitable organization for income tax deduction purposes by referring to the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search tool. For more information, see  Publication 526,  Charitable Contributions and  Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions?

Less frequent itemized deductions

Some other less frequently used tax deductions may apply to your financial situation. You can deduct medical expenses if they exceed 7.5% of your Adjusted Gross Income. The new tax laws eliminated other miscellaneous deductions from previous years.

Action Item: Not sure if you will be able to itemize deductions this year or next? Consider completing an estimate of your itemized deductions potential using a copy of Schedule A . If your itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status you will want to itemize. If you are using the standard deduction amount, you can focus your tax planning efforts on reducing or deferring your taxable income.

Tax deductions that are no longer in place since 2018

Here are some of the tax deductions that the tax law change eliminated in 2018:

Moving expenses – It is no longer possible to deduct moving expenses when you relocate for a job or self-employment unless you are an active duty member of the military moving due to a military order.

Home equity loan interest for non-home-related use – Home equity loan interest cannot be deducted unless you used the loan to buy, build, or make significant improvements on your home (and the loan is secured by your home). This applies to home equity loans already outstanding used to consolidate debt or pay for other things. If you have outstanding home equity debt partially used to update or remodel your home, you can deduct only the interest attributed to the portion used to do the work.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions – The IRS no longer allows you to claim miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A that were previously subject to a 2 percent floor. Examples of these miscellaneous deductions include:

  • Investment fees
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses
  • Tax preparation expenses
  • Safe deposit box rental
  • Certain legal fees

Alimony payments – Alimony (aka maintenance payments between divorced couples) is now non-deductible to the payor and considered non-taxable income to the recipient. Under the previous tax laws, alimony and separate maintenance payments were deductible by the payor and considered taxable income for the recipient.

Casualty and theft losses – Beginning with the 2018 tax year and through the tax year 2025, you can only deduct casualty and theft losses if they occurred due to an event officially declared a federal disaster.