The standard deduction is a specific dollar amount that reduces your taxable income. In 2020 the standard deduction is $12,400 for single filers and married filing separately, $24,800 for married filing jointly and $18,650 for head of household.
In 2021 the standard deduction is $12,550 for singles filers and married filing separately, $25,100 for joint filers and $18,800 for head of household.
2020 tax year
2021 tax year
Married, filing jointly
Married, filing separately
Head of household
How the standard deduction works
Even if you have no other qualifying deductions or tax credits, the IRS lets you take the standard deduction on a no-questions-asked basis. The standard deduction reduces the amount of income you have to pay taxes on.
You can either take the standard deduction or itemize on your tax return — you can't do both. Itemized deductions are basically expenses allowed by the IRS that can decrease your taxable income.
Taking the standard deduction means you can't deduct home mortgage interest or take the many other popular tax deductions — medical expenses or charitable donations, for example. (But if you itemize, you should hang onto records supporting your deductions in case the IRS decides to audit you.)
Two more notes:
The standard deduction is $1,300 higher for those who are over 65 or blind; it's $1,650 higher if also unmarried and not a surviving spouse (in 2021, that part rises to $1,700).
If someone can claim you as a dependent, you get a smaller standard deduction.
When to claim the standard deduction
Here’s the bottom line: If your standard deduction is less than your itemized deductions, you probably should itemize and save money. If your standard deduction is more than your itemized deductions, it might be worth it to take the standard and save some time.
Try this quick check. Although using the standard deduction is easier than itemizing, if you have a mortgage or home equity loan it’s worth seeing if itemizing would save you money. Use the numbers you find on IRS Form 1098, the Mortgage Interest Statement (you typically get this from your mortgage company at the end of the year). Compare your mortgage interest deduction amount to the standard deduction. Property taxes, state income taxes or sales taxes, and charitable donations can be deductible, too, if you itemize.
Run the numbers both ways. If you’re using tax software, it’s probably worth the time to answer all the questions about itemized deductions that might apply to you. Why? The software (or your tax pro) can run your return both ways to see which method produces a lower tax bill. Even if you end up taking the standard deduction, at least you’ll know you’re coming out ahead.