Personal Finance | February 20, 2019

Does It Still Make Sense to Itemize Deductions?

Key Points

  • With a significant increase in the standard deduction for 2018—and a narrowing of tax-deductible expenses—a lot of tax filers may choose not to itemize.

  • Deductions that are still allowed are medical costs, mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and state and local taxes.

  • It's worth adding up your deductions and running the numbers by your tax advisor to see what works best for you this year.

Dear Readers,

With the April 15th tax deadline coming up quickly, I'm getting questions from readers who are still trying to decide whether or not to itemize tax deductions for 2018. Some are puzzling over the new itemization rules; some are wondering if itemizing is still worth the effort. 

While many people may be worried that they have to rethink their approach to tax filing this year—and it is important to understand how the new tax rules affect you—in some ways this year's tax preparation may be simpler for a lot of folks. Here's why.

The standard deduction has been increased

As you probably already know, the standard deduction was significantly increased under the Tax Cut and Jobs Act beginning in 2018. For single filers it went from $6,350 to $12,000. For married filing jointly it increased from $12,700 to $24,000. Which means, unless you have deductions above those amounts, the standard deduction will probably work just fine for you—and simplify your filing.

Plus, if in the past your itemized deductions came in much lower than these new numbers, you'll be getting the benefit of a higher deduction on your 2018 taxes.

Only certain expenses are still tax-deductible

If in years past you've struggled to keep on top of receipts for itemized expenses, you may be able to cross that chore off your list. That's because the new tax law narrows down the number of things that are still tax-deductible. Here's what to focus on for 2018:

  • Medical expenses—If your qualified medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI), they are tax-deductible. As an example, if your AGI is $60,000, medical expenses exceeding $4,500 would be deductible ($60,000 x .075). Qualified expenses include things like visits to doctors and dentists, hospital costs and transportation to medical care—even insurance premiums—for you, your spouse and dependents. Of course, you can't deduct expenses for which you've been reimbursed by insurance.
  • Mortgage interest—Interest on mortgage loans is still tax-deductible if the loan was taken out to purchase or make capital improvements on your qualified principal and/or second residence. What has changed is the amount that's tax-deductible and that depends on the timing of the loan. If you took out your mortgage before December 15, 2017, you can deduct interest on up to $1 million in home-secured debt ($500,000 if married filing separately). After that date, the limit is $750,000 ($375,000 if married filing separately). (Also realize that if you sell your house and purchase a new one, you’ll be covered under the new mortgage deduction limits.) Another change is that interest on a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is now wrapped into those totals, and is only deductible if the HELOC is used for capital improvements to your primary or secondary residence.  
  • Charitable contributions—If you itemize, you can still deduct charitable contributions. The challenge is to get your total deductions above the standard deduction. There are tax-smart ways to do this, including bunching your donations, giving appreciated assets, or using a donor-advised fund.
  • State, local and property taxes—These are still tax-deductible but are limited to $10,000 per year for all taxes combined.

It's a simple matter of adding it up

If you've always itemized in the past, it would be worth your time and effort to add up your current possible deductions to see if they're higher or lower than the new standard deductions. That will ultimately determine whether or not you itemize. As usual, I suggest you run these numbers by your tax advisor to make sure you haven't missed anything.


Have a personal finance question? Email us at Carrie cannot respond to questions directly, but your topic may be considered for a future article. For Schwab account questions and general inquiries, contact Schwab.

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