By nearly doubling the standard deduction and eliminating—or limiting—many itemized deductions, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has made it more likely that many people who used to itemize on Schedule A will now take the standard deduction instead.
Before you decide what you should do, review this list of exemptions and deductions that have been eliminated, along with a few deductions and tax credits that have been newly limited, reduced or improved by the passage of the TCJA.
- The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced and did away with a number of deductions and credits while keeping in place, and increasing the limits in some cases, for a number of others—with the changes set to expire on Dec. 31, 2025.
- Personal and dependent exemptions are now obsolete, going away completely.
- The standard deduction, however, nearly doubled for those filing single or married.
- Other notable deductions going away include moving expenses and alimony, while limits are being placed on deductions for mortgage interest, along with state and local taxes.
- Key expenses that are no longer deductible include those related to investing, tax preparation, and hobbies, while gambling expenses remain deductible and the threshold for charitable deductions rises.
Exemptions & Credits
Exemptions and deductions reduce taxable income. Tax credits are subtracted from the taxes you owe. All three of these elements have been impacted by the TCJA and each affects the amount you pay in a different way. For example, if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $100,000, you owe $18,289.50 in taxes. A $10,000 deduction (or exemption) would reduce your AGI to $90,000 resulting in a tax bill of $15,889.50. With a tax credit of $10,000, your AGI would remain at $100,000, but your taxes would be just $8,289.50—the amount you get by subtracting $10,000 from $18,289.50.
Personal and dependent exemptions are going away. While an exemption is not technically a deduction, it functions the same way by allowing you to reduce your taxable income by the amount of the exemption. In this case, say the exemption was $4,050 for yourself and for each dependent you claim. Now it is $0.
Use the Child Tax Credit Instead
The TCJA doubles the child tax credit (CTC) from $1,000 to $2,000 for those who qualify, including parents with higher incomes than in the past. Income thresholds for 2018 are $200,000 for single parents and $400,000 for those married filing jointly. The child tax credit is refundable, which means that even if you don't owe taxes due to low income you can still receive partial credit, providing (or increasing) a refund. Remember, this is a tax credit so, unlike a deduction, which reduces taxable income, this comes directly off the taxes you owe. In addition, a new $500 tax credit is available for dependents aged 17 and older.
Higher Standard Deduction
The TCJA raised the standard deductions. For married couples filing jointly, the deduction is $24,400 in 2019 and $24,800 in 2020. For single filers, the deduction is $12,200 in 2019 and $12,400 in 2020. These are nearly double the rates prior to the TCJA.
The federal income tax system and some states have higher standard deductions for people who are at least 65 years old and for people who are blind. Under federal guidelines, if you are 65 or older and single or a head of household, your standard deduction goes up $1,650 for 2019. If you are married filing jointly and one of you is 65 or older, your standard deduction goes up $1,300. If both of you are 65 or older, the deduction increases by $2,600.
Because of this, you may discover that the new standard deduction is larger than the combined total of your itemized deductions. What follows is a closer look at how Schedule A itemized deductions have changed with the TCJA. Where we can, there are also some suggestions for what to do instead.
The percentage of filers expected to take the standard deduction for the tax year 2018, where the number of tax filers that itemize deductions is expected to fall from 46.5 million to 18 million, per the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Commuter Tax Benefits
In the past, your employer could reimburse you up to $20 a month—$240 annually—for bicycle commuting expenses tax-free. In addition, your employer could take a deduction for offering the benefit. The TCJA suspended that benefit for both bike commuters and their employers. It also removed employer deductions for parking, transit, and carpooling.
Use Other Commuting Expenses to Fight Back
Commuting expenses considered "necessary for ensuring the safety of the employee" will continue to be deductible by employers, but the TCJA doesn't spell out which expenses qualify and the IRS has offered no real guidance to date.
Employees continue to receive tax-free benefits for parking, transit and carpooling from their employers. The exclusion amounts are $265 per month in 2019 and $270 per month in 2020.
However, since companies no longer receive a deduction for offering the benefit, most have little incentive to offer it. Your employer can also offer bicycle-commuting benefits in any amount, but that benefit will now be taxable to you.
Moving Expenses Deduction
Costs associated with relocating for a new job used to be deductible on Form 1040 as an above the line deduction (which you could subtract from your gross income to calculate your AGI), but no longer. The distance you are moving doesn't matter. Moving expenses are simply not deductible, with one exception. If you are active duty military and moving for a service-related reason, the deduction still applies.
In the past, the person making alimony payments received an above-the-line deduction and the person receiving the alimony counted the money as taxable income. Effective in 2019 for any divorce that happens after Dec. 31, 2018, the paying spouse will no longer receive a deduction and the receiving spouse will no longer have to declare the payments as taxable income. Payments initiated before 2019 are not affected.
Child support payments are different. They are nondeductible by the paying spouse and tax-free to the recipient.
Gift an IRA Instead
One suggested tactic for the paying spouse involves giving the receiving spouse a lump-sum IRA. This effectively provides the paying spouse with a deduction since they are giving away money they would have had to pay taxes on eventually. The receiving spouse would be responsible for taxes upon withdrawal (including a 10% penalty if they take money out before age 59.5) but would have the benefit of tax-free growth until withdrawing funds. The transfer of the IRA account is tax-free. Obviously, this would not work if the receiving spouse needs money right away.
Medical Expenses Deduction
The deduction for medical expenses has not gone away, and for 2019 and 2020 you can deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of AGI on Schedule A. This deduction had originally reverted back to a 10% AGI threshold, but that changed with a law signed on Dec. 20, 2019. The deduction is claimed on Lines 1–4 of Schedule A.
Keep in mind that the medical expense must be deductible. Most cosmetic surgeries, for example, are typically not.
SALT Taxes Deduction
The Schedule A deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) used to be unlimited. These include income taxes (or general sales taxes), real estate, and personal property taxes. With the passage of the TCJA, the SALT deduction is now limited to $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately). This can be a real problem for people in states with high income or property taxes such as Florida, New York, and California.
Some States Are Fighting Back
Some states had sought to offset the cap by allowing residents to contribute to a state charitable fund in lieu of taxes. The payments could then be deducted as charitable contributions on federal returns. But in June 2019, the Department of Treasury and IRS issued final regulations curtailing the practice. Separately, four states launched a constitutional challenge to the SALT cap. These efforts also failed when a federal court dismissed the lawsuit in Sept. 2019.
New York adopted a workaround called the Employer Compensation Expense Tax, a voluntary employer-side tax designed to create a tax credit for workers. The move takes advantage of the fact that businesses have no cap on deducting state and local taxes. For the 2019 tax year, 262 employers participated in the program. Connecticut enacted a mandatory Pass-Through Entity Tax Credit, which creates a tax on pass-through entities while also providing a tax credit for the entity's partners.
Foreign Property Taxes
The TCJA eliminates the deduction for foreign taxes paid on real estate. Previously you could deduct foreign property taxes on Schedule A just as you can in the U.S., either for your regular residence or as a second home.
Use Qualified Housing Expense Instead
At least one expert has opined that foreign property taxes may now be considered a deductible qualified housing expense on Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income, for purposes of the foreign housing exclusion for certain U.S. citizens or residents who live outside the United States and earn wages abroad. Caution: This deduction involves an interpretation of tax law. Don't attempt to use it without consulting a qualified tax expert. Qualified housing expenses include rent, utilities (other than phone charges), residential parking, furniture rental and other items.
Mortgage Interest Deduction
In the past, you could deduct interest on a mortgage of up to $1 million ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). This still applies for any loan originated on or before Dec. 16, 2017. But if you originated a new mortgage after that date, the new limit of $750,000 applies ($375,000 if married and filing separately). The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated 14.3 million tax payers would continue to claim the mortgage interest deduction in 2019, down from 16.5 million in 2018.
Since you can only take the mortgage interest deduction if you file Schedule A and itemize, the change may not matter to many people who will elect to take the standard deduction anyway.
HELOC Interest Deduction
Previously, you could deduct interest on a home equity loan and home equity line of credit (HELOC) just as you could with a mortgage, no matter how you used the money. This deduction is going away, at least in part. Beginning in 2018, you cannot deduct interest on these types of loans, except under certain circumstances, even if you took out the loan before this year.
Silver Lining for HELOC Interest
If you have or take out a home equity loan or line of credit and use the money to "buy, build, or substantially improve" your main or second home, the interest may still be deductible. Note that, to take the deduction, the home equity loan must be on the property you are renovating. You can't take out a home equity loan on your city apartment to finance fixing up your ski house. You can also refinance an existing mortgage and deduct the interest, provided the refinanced amount isn't greater than your old loan balance (in other words, you are not taking any cash out).
Mortgage Insurance Deduction
Though it’s not specifically related to the TCJA, the Schedule A deduction for mortgage insurance premiums (MIP/PMI) expired at the end of 2017. However, a law signed on December 20, 2019 extended the deduction through 2020. The deduction is claimed on Line 8d of Schedule A.
Casualty, Theft Deduction
The comprehensive Schedule A deduction for casualty and theft losses has gone away following the passage of the TCJA. In the past, you could deduct losses related to a disaster or theft to the extent that those losses were not covered by insurance or disaster relief.
The deduction is still available if you live in a presidentially designated disaster zone. Often these designations are made county-by-county, so even if the county next to you is a federally declared disaster area, your county may not be.
Misc. Itemized Deductions
Miscellaneous Schedule A itemized deductions subject to a 2% of AGI threshold have gone away beginning in 2018. This includes deductions in the following categories:
- Un-reimbursed job expenses. These are work-related expenses you paid out of your own pocket and include travel, transportation, and meals, union and professional dues, business liability insurance, depreciation on office equipment, work-related education, home office expenses, costs of looking for a new job, legal fees, work clothes, and uniforms. All of these are gone. Your best recourse is to ask your employer to reimburse you for these expenses. Any reimbursement will be tax-free. You could also seek a raise, but that would be taxable.
- Investment expenses. These are fees for investment advice or management, tax or legal advice, trustee fees (i.e., to manage IRAs or other investments), or rental fees for a safe deposit box. Although the items above are no longer deductible, if you borrow money to buy an investment, interest on that loan (called investment interest) is deductible if you itemize. The deduction is limited to the amount of taxable investment income you earn for the year.
- Tax preparation fees. These include the cost of tax preparation software, hiring a tax professional, or buying tax publications. Also gone are deductions for electronic filing fees and fees you pay to fight the IRS, including attorney fees, accounting fees, or fees you pay to contest a ruling or claim a refund. If you hire someone to prepare both your personal and business taxes, ask for a separate bill for each. Fees you pay to prepare your business return are fully deductible as a business expense.
- Hobby expenses. These expenses, up to the amount of income you earned each year, are no longer deductible even though you do have to report (and pay taxes on) any income you earn from your hobby. If you sell goods related to your hobby to customers, you can deduct the cost of those goods when calculating hobby-related income.
Itemized Deductions Left
A few miscellaneous itemized deductions remain for 2018 and beyond.
- Gambling losses are still deductible under the TCJA up to the amount of your winnings for the year. Gambling losses are not subject to the 2% limit on miscellaneous itemized deductions.
- Interest on student loans continues to be tax deductible, even if you don’t itemize deductions.
- Classroom teacher deduction. The $250 deduction for classroom teachers is still in effect and available, even if the teacher doesn't itemize.
- The standard mileage rate deduction for medical reasons is 20 cents per mile in 2019 and 17 cents for 2020. For charity, the rate is 14 cents for 2019 and 2020.
Along with the new standard deduction, several others are better under the TCJA.
- The estate tax exemption has increased from $5.49 million in 2017 to $11.4 million in 2019 and $11.58 million in 2020.
- Student loan debt discharge due to death or disability will not be taxed beginning in 2018. Previously, discharged debt due to disability or death was taxable to you or to your estate.
- Itemized AGI deductions. There is no limitation on itemized deductions based on AGI starting this year, although other limitations may be imposed, depending on the deduction.
- Charitable contributions now include higher limit thresholds. Most gifts by cash or check can be up to 60% of your AGI versus the previous limit of 50%.
The Bottom Line
Whether deductions eliminated by the TCJA or other changes have a negative impact on you depends on your personal financial situation and the types and amounts of deductions you might be able to take. It's worth noting that the changes implemented by this legislation are currently set to expire after Dec. 31, 2025, unless Congress decides to extend them. The Internal Revenue Service's Tax Reform Basics for Individuals and Families offers more information.