Standard Tax Deduction: What Is It?

Most taxpayers use the standard deduction to reduce their taxable incomes

Hands on a laptop with tax forms on a desk next to a plant, representing a headline that reads: standard income tax deduction amounts for tax year 2021

The Balance / Maddy Price

The tax code allows you to effectively put some of your income aside tax-free to help meet your living expenses. It offers two options for reducing your taxable income: the standard deduction and itemized deductions

When you itemize, you have the ability to deduct the actual dollar amount of many different expenses, such as medical expenses or student loan interest. The standard deduction, however, is a flat amount that you can deduct from your taxable income.

Learn how the standard deduction works and when you should claim it instead of itemizing.

What Is the Standard Deduction?

You can deduct the amount of the tax year's standard deduction from your taxable income on line 12 of your 2021 Form 1040 tax return. It’s a set number that doesn’t take much in the way of your personal circumstances into consideration.

There are five standard deductions, based on your filing status and whether you're married:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Qualifying widow(er)
  • Head of household (single but with one or more dependents)

All of these statuses have different qualifying rules, standard deductions, tax rates, and credit and deduction eligibility.

Taking the Standard Deduction vs. Itemizing

Claiming the standard deduction is much easier than itemizing; it’s just a matter of filling a predetermined deduction amount. Alternatively with itemizing, you can add up everything you spent on qualifying tax-deductible expenses over the year, such as medical expenses and charitable giving, then subtract the total from your income instead.

Many taxpayers have found that the standard deduction amount offers a bigger deduction than all their itemized deductions combined, but it all depends on your filing status and economic factors. If you total up all of your allowed deductions and the total you get is greater than the standard deduction, it would probably be wise to itemize.

How Much Is the Standard Deduction?

The standard deduction you qualify for depends on your filing status, your age, and whether you're blind. The numbers are adjusted each year to keep pace with inflation, and the TCJA virtually doubles them for each filing status, at least through 2025, when the law will potentially expire.

The IRS offers an interactive tool to figure out how much you're entitled to if you're not sure of your filing status. It takes about 15 minutes to complete. These are the standard deduction amounts for each filing status for 2021, the tax return you'll file in 2022:

Filing Status Deduction Amount
Single $12,550
Head of Household $18,800
Married Filing Jointly $25,100
Married Filing Separately $12,550
Qualifying Widow(er) $25,100

Special Adjustments for Standard Deductions

These across-the-board numbers based on filing status can be tweaked somewhat for some taxpayers, and other rules determine who can claim the standard deduction as well.

The Standard Deduction Based on Age or Blindness

Taxpayers who are age 65 and older, and individuals who are legally blind receive an additional standard deduction. It's calculated by adding the taxpayer's standard deduction based on their filing status, plus an additional amount.

The additional amount for people who are blind or 65 and older was $1,300 each for married taxpayers in 2020, and $1,650 for unmarried taxpayers and heads of household. For the 2021 tax year, the standard deduction is increased to an additional amount of $1,350 for married taxpayers who are age 65 or over or blind, and $1,700 if head of household or single.

You reach age 65 on the day before your 65th birthday, according to IRS rules.

Special Rule for Married Couples

You and your spouse must both take the standard deduction, or you must both itemize your deductions if you're married but filing separate returns. You can't mix and match, with one spouse itemizing and the other taking the standard deduction.

It usually makes sense to figure your taxes both ways, with each spouse itemizing and each spouse taking the standard deduction, to find out which yields the better overall tax savings.

Standard Deduction for Dependents

Taxpayers who can be claimed as dependents on someone else's tax return have variable standard deduction amounts. For the 2021 tax year, their standard deduction is limited to either $1,100 or their earned income plus $350, whichever is more. In either case, the deduction is capped at the amount of the standard deduction for their filing status—it can't be more. This limit amount has been the same since 2019.

The dependent deduction applies to those who are eligible to be someone’s dependent, not just those who are claimed on someone else’s taxes.

The Effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) on Standard Deductions

The TCJA more or less doubled the standard deduction in 2018, and it simultaneously took away and modified some itemized deductions.

These changes will make it more difficult to surpass the amount in deductions you'd need to file an itemized return instead of a standard one. You might want to prepare your return both ways—particularly if you think you have a lot of itemized deductions—to make sure that you're getting the greatest deduction possible. Every dollar counts.

What is the standard deduction for tax year 2021?

The standard deduction is adjusted annually for inflation, and the limits are based on your filing status. For tax year 2021, which generally applies to tax returns filed in 2022, the amounts have increased as follows: If you are single or married filing separately, the deduction is $12,550; if you are married filing jointly or are a qualifying widow(er), the deduction is $25,100; and if you are the head of household, the deduction is $18,800.

What's the difference between the standard deduction and itemized deductions?

The standard deduction is a flat amount that you can deduct from your taxable income, based based on your filing status, number of dependents, and what year you’re filing the taxes for. Itemized deductions allow you to deduct the dollar amount of various expense, including things like property taxes and mortgage interest. If your total allowed deductions is greater than the standard deduction, then it would most likely be best to itemize.

Updated by
Jess Feldman
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Full Bio
Jess Feldman has been writing and editing for over five years, and currently focuses on financial topics. As an associate editor on the special projects team, she writes, edits, and develops tentpole brand projects across a variety of platforms. Since joining the financial space, she's developed an interest in finding ways to make the complex topic of finance relatable to younger generations, specifically via TikTok. Jess has a journalism degree from the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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