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Current standard deductions

How 2019 - 2020 standard tax deductions work

Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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In the United States, the standard deduction is a set amount determined by the Internal Revenue Service. Standard tax deductions change every year and are specific to household types and taxpayer situations.

What is the standard deduction?

The standard tax deduction is a defined amount a taxpayer can subtract from their income before calculating their income tax. Standard deduction amounts change for single persons, married spouses filing separately or jointly, heads of household and qualifying widowers.

Your standard tax deduction increases when you turn 65 or if you are blind. If your spouse is at least 65 and you jointly file taxes, you can receive additional deductions.

Standard deductions can be used instead of itemized deductions. Itemized tax deductions let you list tax-deductible expenses, such as medical expenses or charity donations. Spouses filing separately should keep in mind that their partner’s filing status could affect their deductions.

Standard deductions for 2020

Standard deduction amounts change for single persons, married spouses filing separately or jointly, heads of household and qualifying widowers. According to the Tax Policy Center, the standard deduction for 2020 ranges from $12,400 to $24,800.

If you are a single filer, the 2020 standard tax deduction for those over 65 or blind increases by $1,650. Married filers who are blind or older than 65 can claim $2,600 collectively.

Filing statusStandard deduction
Single$12,400
Married filing separately$12,400
Head of Household$18,650
Married filing jointly$24,800
Qualifying widower$24,800
Source: The Tax Policy Center

Standard deductions for 2019

We’ve listed the 2019 standard deductions below. The 2019 standard deduction for those over 65 or blind was $1,300. Additional standard deductions are available for the blind, taxpayers over 65 and their spouses if filing jointly.

Filing statusStandard deduction
Single$12,200
Married filing separately$12,200
Head of Household$18,350
Married filing jointly$24,400
Qualifying widower$24,400
Source: The Tax Policy Center

Previous standard deductions

The IRS determines each year’s standard tax deductions, which generally increase each year. In 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act dramatically increased the standard deductions available.

2018 standard deduction

  • Single: $12,000
  • Married filing separately: $12,000
  • Head of household: $18,000
  • Married filing jointly: $24,000
  • Qualifying widower: $24,000
  • Over 65 or blind: $1,300 - $1,600

2017 standard deduction

  • Single: $6,350
  • Married filing separately: $6,350
  • Head of household: $9,350
  • Married filing jointly: $12,700
  • Qualifying widower: $12,700
  • Over 65 or blind: $1,250 - $1,550

2016 standard deduction

  • Single: $6,300
  • Married filing separately: $6,300
  • Head of household: $9,300
  • Married filing jointly: $12,600
  • Qualifying widower: $12,600
  • Over 65 or blind: $1,250 - $1,550

2015 standard deduction

  • Single: $6,300
  • Married filing separately: $6,300
  • Head of household: $9,250
  • Married filing jointly: $12,600
  • Qualifying widower: $12,600
  • Over 65 or blind: $1,250 - $1,550

How the standard deduction works

Put simply, the higher your deduction is, the lower your taxable income.

There are qualifications for claiming the standard deduction on your tax form. The IRS offers great tools to help you determine the amount of your standard deduction.

For qualifying individuals, the standard deduction amount is subtracted from taxable income. If someone else claims you as a dependent on another tax return, your standard deduction will be lower. For information about filing with dependents, visit the IRS’ website.

Generally, you can use the standard deduction even if you don’t qualify for other tax credits. The IRS uses a standard deduction to ensure that low-income households aren’t burdened with an unfair tax bill. If you don’t want to take the standard deduction, you can itemize your deductions instead. In 2017, nearly 70% of taxpayers filed using the standard deduction.

Be aware that not all taxpayers qualify for the standard deduction. Nonresident aliens, dual-status aliens and individuals who file returns for less than 12 months cannot receive standard deductions.

Standard deduction vs. itemized deduction

When you file taxes, you can either claim the standard deduction or choose to claim itemized deduction expenses using Schedule A.

Most people choose the standard deduction because it’s easier. To itemize deductions, you need to keep careful records and receipts. You can claim the standard deductions without itemizing any of your expenses.

However, if you have multiple qualifying expenses you can write off, it’s usually worth it to itemize your deductions. Another potential drawback of taking the standard deduction is that you can’t claim certain popular tax deductions, including mortgage interest and property taxes.

Using itemized deductions requires listing eligible expenses that are deducted from your adjusted gross income. Tax-deductible expenses can include medical expenses, charitable donations and certain state or local taxes.

Itemized deductions require much more work, such as collecting and storing receipts for up to six years, and many people do not have itemized deductions that would exceed the standard deduction. There are no limits to the number of itemized deductions, but certain expenses, such as state and local taxes, are limited to $10,000.

Taxpayers can only choose one deduction option — you cannot itemize any deductions if you choose to take the standard deduction.

Standard tax deduction FAQ

How do deductions affect taxes?
Deductions affect taxes by reducing your overall taxable income. Deductions reduce your adjusted gross income, which lowers your tax liability.
What can be included in itemized deductions?
Itemized deductions include unreimbursed medical or dental expenses, mortgage interest, some state and local taxes, charitable donations, losses from casualty or theft, investment expenses, job-related expenses and other miscellaneous costs. Each of these categories has specific considerations to qualify for itemized deductions.
What does the standard deduction cover?
The IRS sets the amounts for standard deductions to ensure taxpayers can cover basic living expenses before owing an income tax bill. The standard deduction is a specific amount specific to filing status that is subtracted from taxable income.
Can you take the standard deduction and itemize?
No, taxpayers must choose only one deduction option. While the standard deduction is easier to claim, taxpayers should choose the option that lowers their taxable income the most.
What is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act?
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in 2017, lowered tax rates among most brackets and increased the amounts for standard deductions.

Bottom line: Should You Claim the Standard Deduction?

The standard tax deduction is a no-questions-asked deduction for those who do not itemize their income tax returns. You should choose the largest deduction available to lower the amount of taxes you owe to the IRS. Most taxpayers benefit from the standard deduction because it is simpler and doesn’t require as many conditions as itemized deductions.

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    Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
    by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.