Itemized Deductions: How to Reduce Your Tax Bill

Tax filings can be a source of stress and anxiety for many. Whether you are filing as an individual, couple, or business, tax season sure brings with it a lot of planning and drafting.

The goal of any taxpayer is to save as much money as possible and prevent the tax amount from becoming exorbitant. That is why 30% of individuals with middle or high incomes choose to itemize their expenses.

Itemized deductions help to categorize your expenses and reduce taxable income. For people as well as businesses, it is an efficient way to get the best out of the tax season. But before we get to that, let's look at what itemizing your expenses means.

What Are Itemized Deductions?

An itemized deduction is basically any expense that can be subtracted from your adjusted gross income (AGI). It helps to reduce your taxable income on federal tax returns.

Some deductions are allowable under the itemized list. They are subject to certain limits and may include expenses such as mortgages, interests, medical expenses, charity donations, etc.

To get your total taxable income, you need to itemize all eligible expenses that fall under deductibles, then add them together. The total amount is then to be deducted from the AGI to calculate the taxable income.

Taxpayers who are filing federal tax with the help of Form 1040, which is for individual tax returns, can choose to itemize their deductible income or opt for the standard deduction. We will get into the details of standard deductions soon.

However, you should go for an itemized deduction if its total is estimated to be higher than the standard deduction amount. This choice is unavailable for non-resident aliens, i.e., individuals who are not US citizens and do not possess a green card.

For a married couple, both individuals must choose the same option of either claiming itemized deductions or the standard deduction. This means that if one claims the standard, the spouse cannot opt to itemize their expenses.

Which Expenses Can You Itemize?

Although there is a wide range of expenses you can optimize, only certain kinds of expenses fall under this category. Some common itemizable tax deductions are:

  • Real estate mortgages and interests
  • Cash or check gifts or donations
  • Medical and dental expense
  • Local and state taxes
  • Casualties or losses from a federally declared disaster
  • Theft losses

To itemize all these successfully, the key is to keep track of your expenses throughout the year. And merely keeping track isn’t enough. You also need to save relevant documentation, like bank statements, receipts, charity letters, medical expense bills, and so on.

Itemized Expenses Rules

  • For medical expenses, you can list only those amounts that have exceeded 7.5% of your AGI annually as of 2020.
  • For state and local taxes, the deduction is now capped at $10,000, whereas previously, it was unlimited.
  • For home mortgages, you can deduct interest paid on mortgage debt up to $1,000,000. This is if you had purchased the property before December 16, 2017. For any home purchase after this date, you can deduct interest paid on $750,000. However, for eligibility under this category, the mortgage must be related to buying, building, renovating, or remodeling your house.
  • For charitable donations, you can claim deductions on cash or property that has been donated to a qualified tax-exempt or nonprofit organization.
  • For casualties or theft, deductions can be filed only if the incident is a federally declared disaster.

This list is constantly changing due to tax reforms. As a result, some previously itemized expenses may have disappeared from the list, or new ones may have been added.

For instance, the IRS previously allowed you to claim deductions for investments, job expenses, and tax preparation. However, these items have been removed from individual claims and can only be found for business filings.

How to Figure Out Your Total Tax Savings

Since your itemized deductions are related to taxable income, they depend on the tax bracket you fall under. For individual taxpayers, there are specific tax brackets depending on their annual income.

If your income is $100,000 or more yearly, you will fall under the 24% tax bracket. However, if you claim $20,000 or more under itemized deductions, your taxable income will reduce, placing you in the 22% tax bracket.

Consult the IRS website for the latest tax brackets so you can make informed claims and receive maximum refunds.

How to Itemize Deductions

A list of available deductions for the year is given on Form 1040, which lets an individual file their federal taxes. Simply read the rows in the form carefully and fill out all applicable deductions. Keep all proofs of claim handy during this process.

What Is the Standard Deduction?

The standard deduction is a flat amount that can be deducted from your taxable income. The IRS allows you to take the deduction irrespective of how many itemized expenses you may have. This flat amount depends on your filing status and amount.

Till 2017, the standard deduction amount for individuals and married couples was $6,350 and $12,700, respectively. However, these amounts were almost doubled after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was passed.

With the new limits, you can save more money during tax season by opting for standard deductions. On the other hand, you must now increase your tax deduction list to reach the standard deduction threshold.

For states with higher taxes, this process becomes easier through state income taxes, property taxes, and so on. But for other instances, simple prepayments and donations might not push you over the standard limit. In that case, you will have to spend more to opt for itemized deductions.

The standard deduction amount for financial years 2020 and 2021 are as follows:

Itemized Deductions vs. Standard Deduction

You might get confused about whether to itemize your deductions or opt for a standard deduction. But the difference between these two comes down to basic math.

Simply put, the standard deduction reduces your taxable income by a specific amount, whereas itemized deductions lower your income based on a list of expenses that are eligible under deductions.

If you are the head of a household, married, or a qualifying widow or widower, your standard deduction amount is higher by more than a thousand dollars, which can benefit you while claiming taxes.

Claiming the standard deduction makes sense for people with:

  • No expenses to itemize but who still qualify for the standard deduction
  • No significant medical expenses or donations
  • A lack of detailed expense documentation throughout the year

On the other hand, you should choose to itemize deductions if:

  • Your total itemized deductions amount to more than the standard deduction amount
  • You had big medical or dental expenses
  • You pay mortgage interests or real estate taxes
  • You have faced losses due to natural disasters, theft, or gambling
  • You have donated generously to charities
  • You have other allowable deductions like impairment-related expenses, debt repayments, and so on.

To make better sense of this, you should consult your previous tax statements and list eligible deductions based on filing status.

For example, let’s say a married couple, Luis and Sally, have had an AGI of $100,000 for 2020. They expect their 2021 income to be along these lines as well.

Medical Expenses

For medical and dental expenses, itemized deductions only make sense if the expense exceeds 7.5% of the adjustable gross income. Luis and Sally must spend more than $7,500 to qualify for this.

Unless they have had a major medical procedure, their medical expenses would amount to zero under itemized deductions.

State Income Taxes

Let’s say Luis pays a quarterly estimated tax amount of $5,000 for state income taxes. Sally does not have any tax liabilities as she is a housewife.

Their total tax amount, including property and vehicle taxes, comes to $10,200, but they can claim only $10,000 since state and local taxes are capped at that amount.

Mortgage Interests

The couple assumably pays $6,000 in mortgage interests on their home. Since their mortgage balance is lower than $750,000, their deduction won’t be limited. So, they can claim $6,000 under itemized deductions.

Donations and Gifts

Let’s say Luis and Sally's annual donation amount is $500 in cash and $200 in assorted donations of old clothes and household items. Their total deductions under this value will be $700.

Total Value

Adding up all the amounts for 2021, Luis and Sally’s total itemized deductions would be $10,000 + $6,000 + $700, which makes $16,700.

Since they are filing taxes jointly as a married couple, their standard deduction amount for 2021 is $25,100. So, if they choose to itemize their expenses, they will face a loss of $8,400. Hence, their best choice is to opt for the standard deduction.

Final Thoughts

The key to making the right choice regarding itemized deductions is calculating your expenses beforehand and comparing them to the standard amount. If you go by the above example, it becomes easier to figure out which is the right choice for you.

At the end of the day, your goal is simply to reduce your tax bill and lower some of the tax season stress! Find out how Fincent's professional bookkeeping services can make itemized deductions a breeze for you.