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What Are Tax Deductions?

Updated for Tax Year 2016


OVERVIEW

The federal tax law allows you to deduct several different personal expenses from your taxable income each year. This can really pay off during tax season because the reduction to taxable income reduces the amount of income that is subject to federal income tax. However, not all expenses you incur will provide tax savings; the Internal Revenue Code is very specific about the types of expenses you can deduct and the taxpayers who may claim them.


Standard deductions

The IRS allows all taxpayers who do not itemize deductible expenses to claim the standard deduction. The government sets the standard deduction amount every year for each filing status. For example, in 2016 the government authorized a $6,300 standard deduction for single taxpayers, $9,300 for those who file as head of household and $12,600 for married couples filing a joint tax return.

So, if you are a single taxpayer who earns $100,000 during the year, the standard deduction reduces your taxable income to $93,700. However, this amount is subject to further reduction by other allowable deductions you claim.

Above the line deductions

Personal income tax returns require the calculation of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) before arriving at the final taxable income amount. The deductions you may take to arrive at AGI tend to be less restrictive than below-the-line deductions since their limitations have no relation to your AGI.

As an example, the moving expense deduction for work-related relocations allows you to deduct the full cost of your move provided you meet the deduction-specific requirements. You don’t need to reduce the deduction when your AGI reaches certain levels. Similarly, the alimony payments you make to a former spouse are fully deductible irrespective of your AGI.

Below the line deductions

Deductions you take below the line reduce your AGI. Many of these deductions have varying limitations that directly relate to the amount of AGI you report. Most below-the-line deductions relate to the expenses you itemize on the Schedule A attachment to your personal income tax return. Some common itemized deductions include medical and dental expenses and work-related miscellaneous deductions.

The medical expenses you can deduct only include the portion that exceeds 10 percent of your AGI. There is a temporary exemption from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2016 for individuals age 65 and older and their spouses. If you or your spouse are 65 years or older or turned 65 during the tax year you are allowed to deduct unreimbursed medical care expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. The threshold remains at 7.5% of AGI for those taxpayers until Dec. 31, 2016.

You also have to reduce your total miscellaneous deductions for the year by 2 percent of your AGI.

Taxpayers who elect to itemize deductions are precluded from also claiming the standard deduction.

Small business deductions

If you operate a small business as a sole proprietor, you must incorporate business earnings into your personal tax return by preparing a Schedule C attachment. The Schedule C is a separate calculation of your net profit or loss that requires you to report all business income and deductions.

As a small proprietor, you can take any business deduction on the Schedule C that is available to all other types of businesses. The deductions you may be entitled to include employee salaries, advertising expenses, office rent and most other reasonable expenses that solely relate to the business.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.


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