Tax Deductions Guide and 20 Popular Breaks in 2021

A deduction cuts the income you're taxed on, which can mean a lower bill. A credit cuts your tax bill directly.
Tina OremApr 12, 2021

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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.

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.

 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.

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

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.

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

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.

Here’s what the choice boils down to:

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 .

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.

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