If you’re thinking about itemizing your taxes, get ready to attach an IRS Schedule A to your Form 1040. Here’s a simple explainer of what IRS Schedule A is for, who has to file one and some tips and tricks that could save money and time.
What is Schedule A?
IRS Schedule A is a form used to claim itemized deductions on your tax return. You fill out and file a Schedule A at tax time and attach it to or file it electronically with your Form 1040. The title of IRS Schedule A is “Itemized Deductions.”
Who needs to file Schedule A
Schedule A is for itemizers — people who opt to pick and choose from the multitude of individual tax deductions out there instead of taking the flat-dollar standard deduction at tax time.
Itemizing (and thus, filing Schedule A) usually will save you money if the sum of your itemized deductions is greater than the standard deduction. In 2019, the standard deduction is as follows:
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If you want to take any of these popular tax deductions, you’ll need to file Schedule A:
- Mortgage interest deduction.
- Deduction for state and local income taxes paid.
- Medical expense deduction.
- Charitable donations deduction.
Here are some other tax deductions that require filing Schedule A:
- Casualty and theft losses in a federally declared disaster area.
- Gambling losses.
- Casualty and theft losses of certain income-producing property.
- Losses from Schedule K-1
- Federal estate taxes on income.
- Amortizable bond premiums.
- Ordinary loss attributable to certain bond investments.
- Certain repayments of Social Security or other income.
- Certain unrecovered investments in a pension.
- Impairment-related work expenses for the disabled.
Those aren’t the only tax breaks out there, however. Check out our tax deductions guide.
How to fill out Schedule A
Schedule A is a place to tally various itemized deductions you want to claim. You then enter the total deductions on your Form 1040.
Stuff you’ll need if you want to claim any of the most popular itemized deductions:
- Form 1098 from your mortgage lender (it shows interest you paid for the year).
- Property tax bills, state income tax records and sales tax records.
- Receipts for unreimbursed medical expenses.
- Records of your charitable donations during the year.
The basic structure
- Schedule A is divided into seven sections: Medical and dental expenses, taxes you paid, interest you paid, gifts to charity, casualty and theft losses, other itemized deductions and a section for your total itemized deductions.
- Each of the seven sections has subsections so that you can add up various types of expenses that qualify for the deduction.
- Once you have a grand total of the itemized deductions, you enter that on your Form 1040.
Schedule A tips and tricks
Most name-brand tax software providers sell versions that can prepare Schedule A. Although you’ll likely need to purchase a higher-end version of tax software to get Schedule A functionality, that still might end up costing less than paying someone to do your taxes.
You may not be able to deduct everything. Even if you qualify for them, some deductions phase out if your adjusted gross income is above a certain threshold or if certain other factors are present in your tax situation. The state and local tax deduction, for example, is capped at $10,000. Good tax software and good tax preparers will ask you a series of questions to determine your eligibility for various tax deductions and whether you should itemize.
Some tax breaks don’t require Schedule A. You can take these deductions without filing Schedule A, which means that if these are your only deductions, you may not have to spend money on a higher-end software package. You take these deductions right on Schedule 1 of Form 1040:
- Educator expenses.
- Certain business expenses.
- Heath savings account contributions.
- Moving expenses for members of the U.S. armed forces.
- Self-employment taxes.
- Contributions to retirement plans and health insurance premiums for the self-employed.
- Early-withdrawal penalties for savings.
- Alimony payments.
- Contributions to an IRA.
- Student loan interest.
If you miss a deduction, you can fix it later. If you file your tax return and then realize you should’ve taken a tax deduction (or maybe shouldn’t have taken one), you can correct it by filing an amended tax return, or IRS Form 1040X. If you’re filing Form 1040X to get money back, you generally need to do so within three years of filing your original return or within two years of paying the tax, whichever is later. (How it works.)
Tax deductions aren’t the same as tax credits. Tax deductions reduce how much of your income is subject to taxes. But tax credits are better; they directly reduce the amount of tax you owe, giving you a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your tax bill. Tax credits aren’t part of Schedule A. So you may still have some big breaks headed your way (such as the Child Tax Credit) even if you don’t itemize.