How to Use the Standard Tax Deduction

The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t expect us to pay tax on every single dollar of income. It’s understood that it costs us money to live, so the IRS lets us keep some income that it doesn’t demand a share of. It offers taxpayers two options for reducing their taxable incomes.

Individuals can deduct the amount of the tax year’s standard deduction, or they can add up everything they spent on tax-deductible expenses over the course of the year, such as medical expenses, charitable giving, and work-related expenses, then subtract the total from their incomes.

It’s an either/or situation. You can’t do both. The personal exemption amount and the standard deduction or itemized deductions reduce your adjusted gross income to arrive at your taxable income.

You’ll want to choose the option that will reduce your taxable income—and, by extension, your tax liability—the most, giving you the best possible savings on your tax return. According to the IRS, about 60 percent of taxpayers choose the standard deduction.

How Much Is the Standard Deduction?

The standard deduction you qualify for depends on your filing status, your age, and whether you’re blind. The number is adjusted each year to keep pace with inflation. These are the standard deduction amounts for current years.
Year 2018

Standard Deduction Amounts
Filing Status Year 2016 Year 2017 Year 2018
Single $6,300 $6,350 $12,000
Head of Household $9,300 $9,350 $18,000
Married Filing Jointly $12,600 $12,700 $24,000
Married Filing Separately $6,300 $6,350 $12,000
Qualifying Widow or Widower $12,600 $12,700 $24,000
Additional Standard Deduction for Blindness or Age
Single or head of household $1,550 $1,550 $1,600
Married filing jointly, Married filing separately, or qualifying widow or widower $1,250 $1,250 $1,300

The Additional Standard Deduction Based on Age or Blindness

People who are age 65 or older and individuals who are legally blind receive an additional standard deduction. It’s calculated by adding the taxpayer’s standard deduction based on his filing status plus the additional amount noted in the chart above.

A single taxpayer who is age 65 would be entitled to a standard deduction of $7,900 in tax year 2017: The regular standard deduction amount of $6,350 plus an additional $1,550.

Special Rule for Married Couples Filing Separate Returns

You and your spouse must both take the standard deduction or you must both itemize your deductions if you’re married but filing separate returns. You can’t mix-and-match with one spouse itemizing and the other taking the standard deduction. It usually makes sense to figure your taxes both ways with each spouse itemizing and each spouse taking the standard deduction to find out which yields the best overall tax savings for you.

Standard Deduction Amounts for Dependents

Taxpayers who can be claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return have variable standard deduction amounts. As of 2017, your standard deduction is limited to either $1,050 or your earned income plus $350, whichever is more. The deduction is capped at the amount of the standard deduction for your filing status—it can’t be more.