After the sweeping new federal tax law took effect in January 2018, about 90% of taxpayers took a standard deduction for that tax year rather than itemize. But whether you take the standard deduction or itemize for the 2021 tax year, here’s what deductions you can take, including what has changed.
The Standard Deduction and Personal Exemptions
- The standard deduction for 2021 is $12,550 for individuals and $25,100 for married people filing jointly, up from $12,400 and $24,800, respectively, in 2020.
- For those age 65 and older or blind, there’s an additional standard deduction amount in 2021 of $1,350 for married taxpayers and $1,700 for single or head-of-household filers.
- No personal or dependent are exemptions allowed.
Medical Tax Deductions
- Out-of-pocket medical costs can be claimed as an itemized deduction on your 2021 return to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), regardless of your age. This applies to expenses such as health insurance co-payments, the cost of medical devices (glasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc.), and items (masks, sanitizing wipes, etc.) to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- The portion of long-term care insurance premiums that can be deducted, which is based on age, has increased for 2021 to a maximum of $5,640, up from $5,430 for those more than age 70.
- If you drive your car to see doctors, therapists and/or other medical practitioners, or to pick up prescriptions, you can deduct your mileage at the rate of 16 cents per mile (down from 17 cents per mile in 2020), plus parking and tolls.
- Self-employed individuals can continue to deduct 100% of their health insurance premiums as long as that does not exceed the earnings of the business for that year.
- Contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) remain deductible in figuring AGI whether or not you itemize your deductions. HSA contribution limits for 2021: $3,600 for self-only coverage and $7,200 for family coverage (up from $3,550 and $7,100, respectively, in 2020). And you can make a catch-up contribution of $1,000 if you’re 55 or older.
Examples of allowed medical deductions include…
- Alcoholism and drug/nicotine addiction treatment
- Capital expenditures for home improvements required to accommodate a disability. Examples: Elevators, ramps, modifications to cabinets.
- Chiropractic care.
- Closed-caption television decoder.
- Contact lenses.
- Cosmetic surgery necessary to ameliorate a deformity from a congenital abnormality, personal injury or disfiguring disease—not elective cosmetic surgery.
- Dental fees and dentures—not for cosmetic procedures, such as tooth whitening.
- Eye examinations.
- Health insurance premiums paid with after-tax dollars, including the cost of Medicare Part B and Part D or Part C coverage.
- Insulin and prescription drugs. Over-the-counter medications with a doctor’s prescription are also deductible.
- Lodging (but not meals) not provided in a hospital while away from home primarily for, and essential to, medical care. Limited to $50 each per night for the patient and a companion.
- Nursing home care required because of a medical condition.
- Premiums paid for long-term-care insurance subject to limitations depending on the age of the taxpayer.
- Prescription contraceptives, legal abortions and vasectomies.
- Psychiatric treatment.
- Seeing aids for the blind, including expenses for Braille publications and guide dogs.
- Telephone equipment for the deaf.
- Weight-loss programs for the obese.
- Wheelchairs or other special chairs for a person with a disability.
- You cannot deduct federal income tax…FICA…or estate or gift tax. You can deduct foreign taxes if you choose not to claim a foreign tax credit for them.
- The overall amount of state and local taxes (SALT)—real property taxes and state and local income or sales taxes—that can be deducted by itemizers is capped at $10,000 whether you are single or married filing jointly…or $5,000 if you are married filing separately.
- So-called personal interest (paid on auto loans, credit card debt, etc.) is not deductible.
- Interest paid on qualified higher-education loans is deductible, subject to AGI and other limitations. The maximum deduction is $2,500 each year. Note: This is a deduction used in calculating your AGI and is not an itemized deduction.
- Investment interest—any interest paid on money you borrow to invest with—remains deductible as an itemized deduction up to the extent of investment income.
- For mortgages that started on December 15, 2017, or later, and are used to buy, build and/or substantially improve a principal or second residence, you can deduct interest on the loans up to $750,000. If you refinance an existing loan that was taken out before December 15, 2017, the deduction is limited to interest on a loan up to $1 million. But no deduction can be taken for interest on a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC), regardless of when the loan was taken, unless the money is used to buy, build or substantially improve the home. That means if the money is used to consolidate debt, pay for a vacation or to make investments, a deduction is not allowed.
- If you used mortgage insurance to buy a home in 2021, you may treat the payments as interest, but income limitations apply.
Casualty and Theft Losses
- No deduction can be taken for any theft or casualty loss for personal items. Only losses that occur within a federally designated disaster area are deductible, and limitations apply.
- Net disaster losses can be taken as an additional standard deduction by those who don’t itemize.
For those who itemize deductions, contributions to qualified charities are deductible within limits based on your AGI. (You can carry over any nondeductible excess for up to five years.) AGI limits:
- For 2021, you can elect to deduct cash donations to a qualified charity up to 100% of your AGI, instead of the usual 60%.
- Donations of capital gains property, such as appreciated stock, generally are limited to 30% of AGI.
- For any donation worth $250 or more, you need a written acknowledgment from the charity detailing the donation as well as bank records of the transaction (and bank or credit card records for smaller donations).
- For deductions of any donation worth more than $5,000 (other than publicly traded stock), you need an appraisal.
For those who take the standard deduction, there is a $300 limit ($600 for joint filers) on a deduction for cash donation to charity. The donation must be substantiated.
Most miscellaneous expenses are not deductible in 2021, including…
- Costs of job-related uniforms.
- Fees paid for professional journals.
- Investment management and custody fees for taxable investments.
- Unreimbursed employee expenses such as job hunting, education costs, home office expenses, and use of a vehicle for driving on company business.
- Legal expenses incurred for the production of income or the management, conservation or maintenance of income-producing property.
- Tax-return preparation fees.
- Union and professional dues.
- Hobby losses (which previously were deductible to the extent of income from a hobby).
However, some miscellaneous deductions can still be itemized. These include:
- Gambling losses, such as money spent on lottery tickets and the money you put in a slot machine, for example, but only to the extent of gambling winnings.
- Casualty and theft losses from income-producing property.
- Federal estate tax on income in respect of a decedent (items on which heirs must pay income tax, such as inherited IRAs and retirement benefits).
- Impairment-related work expenses for people with disabilities.
Other Tax Deductions
- Alimony. For divorce or separation agreements finalized after December 31, 2018, the payer of alimony cannot take a deduction for the alimony…and the recipient does not have to report alimony as income. Alimony under older decrees or agreements continue to be deductible by the payor and taxable to the recipient.
- Moving expenses. The cost of work-related moving is not deductible (other than for military personnel relocating under orders to a permanent station of duty).
- Educator costs for unreimbursed purchases of books, supplies, computer equipment, other materials for the classroom and other supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, up to $250 in 2021.
- IRA contributions up to $6,000, plus an additional $1,000 for anyone age 50 or older by year-end.
- Deductions for self-employed persons for one-half of self-employment tax, health insurance and retirement plan contributions for themselves.
- The Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction can be used in addition to the standard deduction or itemized deductions. The deduction is up to 20% of certain business income, plus 20% of qualified REIT dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income. The write-off applies to owners of pass-through entities, including partners, members of limited liability companies and shareholders in S corporations, as well as sole proprietors and independent contractors.
Resources to help you prepare your tax returns
IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses
IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions
IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions
IRS Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts
IRS Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education
All the above publications are available through the IRS’s Web site, IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM.