Most people claim the standard deduction. It's easy to see why.
It's easier than itemizing. The standard amounts, which typically are increased at least a bit each year for inflation, are usually printed right on the 1040.
And there are no receipts to track and add up at tax filing time.
But if itemizing would produce more than your standard amount, it could be worth the effort of filling out a Schedule A.
If you've never checked out Schedule A, it could be a bit intimidating. But remember, you don't have to fill out every line, just the ones that apply to you.
So on this Friday the 13th here are 13 specific Schedule A deductions that could be good luck at tax-filing time.
Illustration courtesy Mitten United
1. Medical and dental expenses
We all know how much it costs to go to a doctor. Even when you have insurance, there are deductible and co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs. Millions of filers every year total these expenses to claim this first itemized deduction, line 1, on Schedule A.
Watch out, though. Your medical and dental deductible expenses must be more than 10 percent of your income before you can use them to reduce your adjusted gross income (line 3). Yes, 10 percent; for taxpayers younger than 65, it went up from 7.5 percent starting with the 2013 tax year.
And then only the amount in excess of 10 percent is counted. That's a big number for most of us, but there are a variety of ways to get past the threshold.
2. State and local taxes income taxes
If you live in a state that levies an income tax, you can count those payments on line 5a. Don't forget any local income taxes, too.
3. State and local sales taxes
This is an option for those of us who live in one of the nine states that don't collect tax on earned income. If you do pay state income taxes and your sales tax amount is larger, you can choose to deduct the sales amount on line 5b. It might be if your state income tax rate is low and you made a major taxable purchase, say a car, during the year. But remember, you much pick either income or sales taxes to deduct.
4. Real estate taxes
Homeownership is great until that annual property tax bill arrives. At least that amount is deductible in the taxes section of Schedule A, line 6. You also can deduct real estate taxes on your vacation home and any other real estate you own for personal use.
5. Personal property taxes
In addition to real estate, some jurisdictions also tax personal property, typically autos and other vehicles. Personal property generally is subject to the same tax rate as real property. Enter your deductible amount on line 7.
6. Home mortgage interest
You'll find two lines on Schedule A for the claiming of mortgage interest paid on your home loan. This is because the amount is usually found on Form 1098 or an accepted IRS substitute that you get early each year from your lender and copied to the IRS. Enter the amount on line 10. If you pay mortgage interest that's not reported on a Form 1098, it goes on line 11.
7. Points not reported to you on 1098
Points are the percentage of your loan you pay to get a slower loan rate. If they are listed on your Form 1098, you add them to the mortgage amount on line 10. If they were not on your annual mortgage information statement, list the points amount separately on line 12.
8. Mortgage insurance premiums
Homeowners unable to make a 20 percent or larger down payment usually must pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). Even though the homeowner pays for the PMI policy, usually as part of the monthly mortgage payment, it protects the lender in case of loan default. Some homeowners might qualify to deduct their PMI payments. If so, the amount goes on Schedule A's line 13.
9. Investment interest
Did you borrow money to buy stocks, bonds and other equities? Maybe you bought investments on margin, borrowing money from your broker to make the purchases. Both cases produce investment interest, which is deductible on line 14 of Schedule A.
10. Charitable gifts
All types of charitable contributions are deducted on Schedule A. Cash donations, which include credit card charges, and contributors by check go on line 16. Other donations, such as household goods and clothing, go on line 17. Regardless of what type of donation you make, get a receipt.
11. Casualty and theft losses
If you sustained damages from a major disaster, either a natural one or an unexpected accident, or you are the victim of a crime, your recovery costs could be tax deductible. Details go on line 20 of Schedule A.
12. Unreimbursed employee expenses
Sometimes it costs to be an employee. If you have some unreimbursed work-related expenses, such as uniforms (and their upkeep) or membership to professional organizations, you might be able to write them off on Schedule A's line 21. This deduction also includes money spent searching for a new job.
Keep careful track of your job expenses. You'll need enough to come to more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income before you can deduct them.
13. Tax preparation fees
More than 70 million of us got help from tax professionals in 2013, according to Internal Revenue Service data though mid-May. That number will increase when the returns extended until Oct. 15 are finished. If you're among that number, you can deduct your tax preparation fees. You also can count the tax software you bought to file yourself.
This amount goes on line 22 as part of the miscellaneous itemized deductions included with work-related write-offs. But these tax prep costs could be just what you need to clear that 2 percent deduction hurdle.
OK, careful tax form readers, I know there are more than 13 overall Schedule A deductions. Several lines say "other," including the whole separate section (line 28) toward the bottom of the page. FYI, that's where you claim your gambling losses.
But we're looking at the specific tax deductions listed on Schedule A, hence the lucky 13 itemizations on the supposedly unlucky Friday the 13th.
Give them a look and see if they can turn your tax luck around next filing season.
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