When you file your tax return, you usually have a choice whether to itemize deductions or take the standard deduction. Before you choose, it’s a good idea to figure your deductions using both methods. Then choose the one that allows you to pay the lower amount of tax. The one that results in the higher deduction amount often gives you the most benefit.
The IRS offers these six tips to help you choose.
1. Figure your itemized deductions. Add up deductible expenses you paid during the year. These may include expenses such as:
Home mortgage interest
State and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both)
Real estate and personal property taxes
Gifts to charities
Casualty or theft losses
Unreimbursed medical expenses
Unreimbursed employee business expenses
Special rules and limits apply. Visit IRS.gov and refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for more details.
2. Know your standard deduction. If you don’t itemize, your basic standard deduction for 2013 depends on your filing status:
Married Filing Jointly $12,200
Head of Household $8,950
Married Filing Separately $6,100
Qualifying Widow(er) $12,200
Your standard deduction is higher if you’re 65 or older or blind. If someone can claim you as a dependent, that can limit the amount of your deduction.
3. Check the exceptions. Some people don’t qualify for the standard deduction and therefore should itemize. This includes married couples who file separate returns and one spouse itemizes.
4. Use the IRS’s ITA tool. Visit IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help determine your standard deduction.
5. File the right forms. To itemize your deductions, use Form 1040 and Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can take the standard deduction on Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.
6. File Electronically. You may be eligible for free, brand-name software to prepare and e-file your tax return. IRS Free File will do the work for you. Free File software will help you determine if you should itemize and file the right tax forms. It will do the math and e-file your return – all for free. Otherwise, you may file electronically with commercial software, or through a paid preparer.