It’s now February, and tax day is just around the corner … but far enough away to allow you time to explore your options and minimize your tax exposure. While preparing your tax return the goal is always to legally minimize your tax debt and hopefully increase your tax refund. At its simplest, your tax debt is determined by your taxable income after deductible expenses.
Focusing on the deductible expenses side of the tax equation, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), most taxpayers claim the standard deduction. Is this the year that you should itemize your deductions? My most common response to legal questions is apt; it depends. The analysis requires a determination of which is greater, the standard deduction or itemized allowable deductions?
What is the Standard Deduction?
The standard deduction is a preset amount that reduces the amount of income on which you are taxed. The standard deduction amount depends on your filing status, whether you are 65 or older, or blind, and whether an exemption can be claimed for you by another taxpayer. The standard deduction is generally adjusted annually based on inflation.
The standard deduction amounts for tax year 2012 are $5,950 for single filers and married couples filing separately, $8,700 for head of household filers, and $11,900 for married couples filing jointly and qualifying widow(er). If you are 65 or older, or legally blind you may receive an increased deduction per qualifying status. The additional standard deduction amounts for tax year 2012 are $1,450 for taxpayers who file single or head of household, and $1,150 for those filing married filing jointly, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er).
Should You Itemize Your Deductions?
Now the hard part: is the standard deduction amount greater than the amount that may be claimed if you were to itemize your allowed expenses? If the standard deduction is greater, use the standard deduction. Determining what expenses you had throughout the year that may be itemized and deducted, is usually difficult because you need to maintain accurate records and the list of the various allowed deductions are exhaustive and riddled with exceptions, exemptions and limitations. Once you have a grasp of the type of deductions that may be claimed, you may find that your actual expenses, when itemized, far exceed the standard deduction provided by the government. This is why it truly pays to prepare your tax return early and not procrastinate so you have time to accurately determine the expenses you may itemize.
The types of expenses that may be itemized are typically a social economic incentivizing type of expenses. Generally, and subject to many exceptions and limitations, expenses paid for or associated with medical care, mortgage interest, student loan interest, taxes, education, charity, job search, relocation, earning income, and investments, may at times be itemized and could potentially reduce your taxes. Once tallied and accounted for, if the total amount spent on the qualified deductions, subject to the applicable exceptions and limitations, are more than your standard deduction, this may be the tax year you save on your taxes by itemizing your deductions; so don’t procrastinate and do your homework … or file an extension.