What Are Tax Credits?

Updated for Tax Year 2019


OVERVIEW

A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the income tax you owe.


Tax credits reduce the amount of income tax you owe to the federal and state governments. Credits are generally designed to encourage or reward certain types of behavior that are considered beneficial to the economy, the environment or to further any other purpose the government deems important. In most cases, credits cover expenses you pay during the year and have requirements you must satisfy before you can claim them.

How tax credits work

A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the income tax you owe. For example, if you owe $1,000 in federal taxes but are eligible for a $1,000 tax credit, your net liability drops to zero. Some credits, such as the earned income credit, are refundable, which means that you still receive the full amount of the credit even if the credit exceeds your entire tax bill. Therefore, if your total tax is $400 and claim a $1,000 earned income credit, you will receive a $600 refund.

Types of tax credits

There is an array of tax credits available to all types of taxpayers covering a wide range of expenses and situations. As incentive for taxpayers to protect the environment, the federal government offers a credit for the cost of purchasing solar panels for use in your home.

To help families wanting to adopt a child, the federal adoption credit can reduce your tax bill to offset some of the costs you incur that are necessary to adopt a child. Other credits cover the expense of child and dependent care as well as education credits.

Comparing credits to deductions

Tax credits generally save you more in taxes than deductions. Deductions only reduce the amount of your income that is subject to tax, whereas, credits directly reduce your total tax. To illustrate, suppose your taxable income is $50,000 and you have $10,000 in deductions, which reduces your taxable income to $40,000. If that $10,000 would have been taxed at a rate of 25 percent, then the deduction saves you $2,500 in tax. If the $10,000 was a tax credit instead of a deduction, your tax savings is $10,000 rather than $2,500.

State tax credits

Many states that impose an income tax on residents often times offer tax credits. For example, if you live in California, you may qualify for a renter's credit if you pay rent for your housing, your income is below a certain amount, and you meet other state requirements. Many states also offer tax credits similar to the federal credits. For example, many states and the District of Columbia offer credits that mirror the federal earned income credit.

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