Credits vs Adjustments vs Deductions, The Most Common Tax Questions in Your Thirties- Part 3

On to the next one! The next tax question pertinent to those of us in our thirties, that is…

Yesterday, I wrote about Standard Deductions vs Itemized Deductions. Today I will attempt to explain Credits vs Adjustments vs Deductions in the simplest way possible.

It took me forever to understand the difference in these terms (they’re slippery). If you can grasp them, you’re miles ahead of the tax curve..so let’s start 🙂

TOTAL INCOME: So let’s say you’re single and you make $60,000 total this year in income, including every penny that goes in your pocket. That’s your total income. 

ADJUSTMENT (also known as ABOVE THE LINE deductions): Now, let’s say you paid $1,500 in student loan interest this year and contributed $3000 to a traditional IRA (retirement account). No matter whether you decide to take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions (both standard deductions and itemized deductions are known as Below the Line Deductions), you can subtract your student loan interest of $1500 and the traditional IRA contributions of $3000 from your total incomeThis is because they are adjustments. And adjustments are great! So your Adjusted Gross Income would be $55,500. ($60,000 – $1,500 – $3000 = $55,500). 

To clarify more regarding adjustments, let’s say you still made $60,000 in total income, and you still paid $1,500 in student loan interest this year and contributed $3000 to a traditional IRA. But you also gave $500 to charity and paid $1000 in medical expenses. If you took the standard deduction on your taxes ($6,300 this year for single filers), you would still able to subtract the adjustments (student loan interest and health insurance contributions) from your total income but couldn’t subtract the $500 given to charity and the $1000 in medical expenses because they count as itemized deductions. If you itemized your deductions, you could subtract the student loan interest, retirement account money paid, AND charity donations AND medical expenses. This doesn’t mean that you should itemize though- only itemize if your itemized deductions exceed $6,300 (the standard deduction) this year!

CREDIT: So far, we’ve only talked about subtracting from your total income. How about subtracting from your tax bill? Sound good?

So lets say you have to pay $6000 in taxes. If you have a credit, it will reduce that bill dollar for dollar. So if you have a $2,000 credit, your tax bill will be $4,000 (6,000-2000). Credits are the best to have but also the hardest to come by. Credits you could possibly take include the Credit for Child and Dependent Care expenses, the Child Credit, and education credits (like the Lifetime Learning Credit and the Hope Credit).

Let’s illustrate all of this below:

Total income (sum of all your income)
— Above the line deductions
=  Adjusted gross income ← “The Line”
— Standard deduction or itemized deductions
— Exemptions (you can always take an exemption for yourself, and then more for your dependents. Right now the exemption per person is $3,950.)
=  Taxable income

Here’s our example plugged in:

$60,000 Total Income
— $4,500 Above the line deductions (adjustments)
= $54,500 Adjusted Gross Income ← “the line”
— $3,950 Exemption
— $6,200 Standard deduction
= $44,350 Taxable Income

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions or comments! 🙂

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Standard Deduction vs Itemized Deductions, The Most Common Tax Questions in Your Thirties- Part 2

It’s still tax time! If you finished your taxes already, kudos to you!

For everyone else, lets get some more questions answered..(and for the record, I haven’t finished mine either, so don’t worry).  🙂

Also, if you didn’t get to read Part 1 of Tax Questions Answered, click here.

I do my parents’ taxes every year and just finished their 2014 filing this weekend. However, I recently realized that even though they always take the standard deduction, I still spend time calculating their itemized charitable contributions- even though that particular type of contribution (charitable) doesn’t factor in on your taxes if you take the standard deduction.

If the paragraph above made no sense to you, let me clarify below. We’ll start with some terminology I feel like I should know all of this now that I’m thirty, but some of it I actually had to dig into a bit, so I’ll explain it pretty piecemeal here:

Gross Income= What you make in a year, including EVERYTHING, from Jan 1 to Dec 31 (you, of course, probably already know this one).

Adjusted Gross Income= Your taxable income after you subtract certain ADJUSTMENTS but before you subtract either the Standard Deduction or your Itemized Deductions (you can only subtract one or the other of those two types of deductions)).

Standard Deduction= An amount you can always subtract from the gross income you’ll be taxed on, as long as you don’t subtract your itemized deductions instead. The standard deduction for the 2014 tax year is:

  • Single or married filing separately: $6,300
  • Married filing jointly: $12,600
  • Head of household: $9,250

Itemized Deduction (not the standard deduction kind)= These are deductions you can take if you decide NOT to take the standard deduction. These include but aren’t limited to: medical and dental expenses that exceed 7.5% of your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income), property taxes, your state and local income or sales taxes, charitable donations you make, work related travel, union dues. 

So if you’re trying to decide whether to take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions, you want to basically choose whichever one is larger.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re unmarried with no children and make $50,000…And you can itemize these deductions:

  1. $1000 in work related unreimbursed travel
  2. $500 in medical expenses
  3. $400 in state and local taxes
  4. $100 in clothes donated to goodwill

This equals $2000 in Itemized donations. If you chose to itemize deductions, you’ll be taxed on $48,000 (50,000-$2000). If you took the standard deduction, you’ll be taxed on $43,700 ($50,000-$6,300). So you’d want to take the standard deduction for sure, because you want to be taxed on less income and pay less money 🙂

I’ll stop here for now, but hope this was somewhat helpful! Next time, I’ll talk about Adjustments and Credits, and how they can reduce your tax bill even further!

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or anything to add. Thanks!

Tax-Deductions1

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