Tax Deductions Guide: 20 Popular Breaks in 2022

A deduction cuts the income you're taxed on, which can mean a lower bill. A credit cuts your tax bill directly.
Written by Tina Orem
Reviewed by Lei Han
Mar 2, 2022

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Tax deductions and tax credits can be huge money-savers — if you know what they are, how they work and how to pursue them. Here's a cheat sheet.

What is a tax deduction?

A tax deduction lowers your taxable income and thus reduces your tax liability. You subtract the amount of the tax deduction from your income, making your taxable income lower. The lower your taxable income, the lower your tax bill.

What is a tax credit?

tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your actual tax bill. A few credits are refundable, which means if you owe $250 in taxes but qualify for a $1,000 credit, you’ll get a check for the difference of $750. (Most tax credits, however, aren’t refundable.)

As the simplified example in the table shows, a tax credit can make a much bigger dent in your tax bill than a tax deduction.

Would you rather have:

A $10,000 tax deduction

…or a $10,000 tax credit?

Your AGI

$100,000

$100,000

Minus tax deduction

($10,000)

Taxable income

$90,000

$100,000

Tax rate*

25%

25%

Calculated tax

$22,500

$25,000

Minus tax credit

($10,000)

Your tax bill

$22,500

$15,000

* Example rate. The U.S. has a progressive tax system.

How to claim tax deductions

Generally, there are two ways to claim tax deductions: Take the standard deduction or itemize deductions. You can’t do both.

The standard tax deduction for 2021 and 2022

The standard deduction basically is a flat-dollar, no-questions-asked reduction in your adjusted gross income (AGI). The amount you qualify for depends on your filing status.

Filing status

2021 tax year

2022 tax year

Single

$12,550

$12,950

Married, filing jointly

$25,100

$25,900

Married, filing separately

$12,550

$12,950

Head of household

$18,800

$19,400

People over age 65 or who are blind get a bigger standard deduction.

Itemizing deductions

Itemizing lets you cut your taxable income by taking any of the hundreds of available tax deductions you qualify for. The more you can deduct, the less you’ll pay in taxes.

Should you itemize or take the standard deduction?

Here’s what the choice boils down to:

  • If your standard deduction is less than the sum of your itemized deductions, you probably should itemize and save money. Beware, however, that itemizing usually takes more time, requires more forms and you'll need to have proof that you're entitled to the deductions.

  • If your standard deduction is more than the sum of your itemized deductions, it might be worth it to take the standard deduction (and the process is faster).

Note: The standard deduction has gone up significantly in recent years, so you might find that it's the better option for you now even if you've itemized in the past. Your tax software or tax advisor can run your return both ways to see which method produces a lower tax bill.

» MORE: Learn more about standard deductions and itemized deductions

20 popular tax deductions and tax credits for individuals

There are hundreds of deductions and credits out there. Here's a drop-down list of some common ones, as well as links to our other content that will help you learn more.

Child tax credit

This could get you up to $3,600 per child for the 2021 tax year. Some families recieved half of the credit as advance payments. (How it works.)

Child and dependent care tax credit

Generally, it’s meant to cover a percentage of day care and similar costs for a child under 13, a spouse or parent unable to care for themselves, or another dependent so you can work. For the 2021 tax year, it's up to 50% of $8,000 of expenses for one dependent or $16,000 for two or more dependents. (How it works.)

American opportunity tax credit

This lets you claim all of the first $2,000 you spent on tuition, books, equipment and school fees — but not living expenses or transportation — plus 25% of the next $2,000, for a total of $2,500. (How it works.)

Lifetime learning credit

You can claim 20% of the first $10,000 you paid toward tuition and fees, for a maximum of $2,000. Like the American opportunity tax credit, the lifetime learning credit doesn’t count living expenses or transportation as eligible expenses. You can claim books or supplies needed for coursework. (How it works.)

Student loan interest deduction

Deduct up to $2,500 from your taxable income if you paid interest on your student loans. (How it works.)

Adoption credit

For the 2021 tax year, this item covers up to $14,440 in adoption costs per child. (How it works.)

Earned income tax credit

This credit can get you between $1,502 to $6,728 for the 2021 tax year depending on how many kids you have, your marital status and how much you make. It’s something to explore if your AGI is less than about $57,000. (How it works.)

Charitable donations deduction

If you itemize, you may be able to subtract the value of your charitable gifts — whether they’re in cash or property, such as clothes or a car — from your taxable income. For the 2021 tax year, you may be able to deduct $300 per person (those married filing jointly can deduct up to $600) on your tax return without having to itemize. (How it works.)

Medical expenses deduction

In general, you can deduct qualified, unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the tax year. (How it works.)

Deduction for state and local taxes

You may deduct up to $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately) for a combination of property taxes and either state and local income taxes or sales taxes. (How the property tax deduction and the sales tax deduction work.)

Mortgage interest deduction

The mortgage interest tax deduction is touted as a way to make homeownership more affordable. It cuts the federal income tax that qualifying homeowners pay by reducing their taxable income by the amount of mortgage interest they pay. (How it works.)

Gambling loss deduction

Gambling losses and expenses are deductible only to the extent of gambling winnings. So, spending $100 on lottery tickets isn’t deductible — unless you win, and report, at least $100, too. You can’t deduct more than the amount you win. (How it works.)

IRA contributions deduction

You may be able to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA, though how much you can deduct depends on whether you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and how much you make. (How it works.)

401(k) contributions deduction

The IRS doesn’t tax what you divert directly from your paycheck into a 401(k). In 2021, the contribution limit was $19,500 ($26,000 if you're 50 or older). In 2022, the contribution limit increases to $20,500 per year ($27,000 for those 50 or older). These retirement accounts are usually sponsored by employers, although self-employed people can open their own 401(k)s. (How it works.)

Saver’s credit

This runs 10% to 50% of up to $2,000 in contributions to an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) or certain other retirement plans ($4,000 if filing jointly). The percentage depends on your filing status and income. (How it works.)

Health savings account contributions deduction

Contributions to HSAs are tax-deductible, and the withdrawals are tax-free, too, as long as you use them for qualified medical expenses. For 2021 tax year, if you had self-only high-deductible health coverage, the individual coverage contribution limit was $3,600. If you had family high-deductible coverage, the contribution limit was $7,200. (Those 55 or older can put in an extra $1,000.) In 2022, the individual coverage contribution limit is $3,650 and the family coverage limit is $7,300. (How it works.)

Self-employment expenses deduction

There are many valuable tax deductions for freelancers, contractors and other self-employed people. (How it works.)

Home office deduction

If you use part of your home regularly and exclusively for business-related activity, the IRS lets you write off associated rent, utilities, real estate taxes, repairs, maintenance and other related expenses. (How it works.)

Educator expenses deduction

If you’re a school teacher or other eligible educator, you can deduct up to $250 spent on classroom supplies.

Residential energy credit

This one can get you up to 26% of the installation cost of solar energy systems, including solar water heaters and solar panels. (Read more.)

Bonus: Recovery rebate credit

According to the IRS, most people who were eligible for the third economic impact payment (the stimulus checks sent out March through December of 2021) have already received it. But if you believe you qualified for the third payment and didn't receive it, or if you think you received less than you were eligible for, you might get a chance to claim the funds via the recovery rebate credit when you file your 2021 tax return. (Read more.)

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.