Standard versus itemized deduction: Which one should you claim? If this question is weighing heavily on your mind as you file your taxes, now that all the new tax reforms have taken effect, let this guide help you decide.
Itemizing your deductionsâparticularly if you’ve bought a home recentlyâcould save you major bucks when you file. But, more than ever, you need to understand what you can and can’t do. We’ll break it down to help you make the decision on whether to select a standard or an itemized deduction.
What is the standard deduction?
The standard deduction is essentially a flat-dollar, no-questions-asked reduction to your adjusted gross income. When you file your tax return, you can deduct a certain amount right off the bat from your taxable income.
For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. (The standard deduction nearly doubled as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect in 2018.)
Here are some of the benefits to takingÂ a standard deduction:
- It allows you a deduction even if you have no expenses that qualify as itemized deductions.
- It eliminates the need to keep records and receipts of your expenses in case youâre audited by the IRS.
- It lets you avoid having to track medical expenses, charitable donations, and other itemizable deductions throughout the year.
- It saves you the trouble of needing to understand the fine nuances of tax law.
What are itemized deductions?
Although claiming the standard deductionÂ isÂ easy and convenient, choosing to itemize can potentially save you thousands of dollars, saysÂ Mark Steber, chief tax officer at the Jackson HewittÂ tax service.
âDonât be lulled into thinking the standard deduction is always a better answer,â Steber says. That advice especially applies to homeowners.
âBuying a home has the single largest impact on your tax return,â he adds, noting that a home purchase is âan anchor item that can move someone into the itemized taxpayer category.â
Itemizing your deductions may enable you to deduct these expenses:
- HomeÂ mortgage interestÂ (note the exceptions below)
- Real estate and personalÂ property taxes (note the cap below)
- State and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both)
- Gifts to charities
- Casualty or theft losses
- Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses
- Unreimbursed employee business expenses
Why itemizing often makes sense for homeowners
Under the new law, current homeowners canÂ continue to deduct interest on a total of $1 million of mortgage debt for a first and second home.Â But new buyersÂ can deduct interest on only $750,000 for a first and second home.
It’s still possible that if you own a home, your mortgage interest aloneÂ might exceed the standard deduction, saysÂ Steve Albert, director of tax services at the CPA wealth management firm Glass Jacobson. In this case, it’s a no-brainer to itemize your deductions.
This is particularly true if you bought a house recently, sinceÂ most mortgages are front-loadedÂ to pay mortgage interest rather than whittle down the principal (which is the amount you borrowed).
For instance: If you have a 30-year loan for $400,000 at a fixed 5% interest rate, in the first year of your mortgage, you’ll pay off only $5,901 in principal and a whopping $19,866 in interest.
That alone exceeds an individual’s standard deduction of $12,000 deduction for 2019. So if you’re filing taxes this year, itemizing would make total sense.
Plus: If you bought your house in 2019 and paid pointsâwhich are essentially a way to prepay interest upfront to lower your monthly mortgage billsâthese points count as mortgage interest, too, amounting to more tax savings.
On the other hand, if you’ve owned your home for a while, then your mortgage interest may not amount to much. By the 25th year of that same $400,000 loan, you’ll pay only $6,223 in interest.
However, keep in mind that your property taxes of up to $10,000 are an itemized deduction, tooâand combined with mortgage interest and other deductions, could push you over the top into itemizing territory.
Itemized vs. standard deduction: Which is right for you?
Not sure how much you paid in mortgage interest and property taxes last year? To get a ballpark, you can punch yourÂ info into an onlineÂ mortgage calculator.
Also, early in the new year, your mortgage lender should have mailed you a mortgage interest statement (Form 1098) showing the total you paid during the previous year.
âAnd if you had your property taxes impounded in your loan, your taxes will appear on your 1098 as well,”Â saysÂ Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert atÂ TurboTax.
Another DIY approach for seeing whether your combined itemized tax deductions are higher than your standard tax deduction is to fill out the IRS Schedule AÂ form, which outlinesÂ all federal itemized deductions line by line.
You can alsoÂ consult an accountantÂ (you can search for a tax professional in your area using theÂ IRS directory of tax return preparers). But as a general rule, if you bought a home recently, you could be a prime candidate for itemizing, so don’t let these potential savings pass you by without checking!
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