What is a Deduction

A deduction is any item or expenditure subtracted from gross income to reduce the amount of income subject to income tax. It is also referred to as an "allowable deduction." For example, if you earn $40,000 and claim a deduction for $1,000, then your taxable income is reduced to $39,000.


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers a host of deductions. In the United States, taxpayers have the choice of claiming the standard deduction or itemizing their deductions. A deduction should not be confused with a tax credit, which reduces the amount of tax owed rather than reducing your taxable income. 

Standard Deduction vs. Itemized Deductions

As of 2018, the IRS offers taxpayers a standard deduction of $6,350 for single filers and $12,700 for filers who are married filing jointly. The standard deduction for head of household filers is $9,350. Tax filers do not have to pay income tax on earnings lower than these thresholds. To illustrate, if you earn $6,400 and claim the standard deduction of $6,300, you only have $100 of taxable income. These are often the easiest deductions to claim because there's no need to make a calculation since the amount is already fixed. 

If you opt to claim the standard deduction, there are still some itemized deductions you can claim on your income tax return. These include eligible student loan interest and moving expenses.

Tax filers may also opt to itemize their deductions instead of choosing the standard deduction. This means the tax filer adds up a list of allowable deductions. This is especially helpful for anyone who is married filing jointly with some major expenses. The tax filer can claim the sum of the itemized deductions against his income tax return. Popular itemized deductions include interest on mortgage loans, contributions to retirement accounts, healthcare costs including medical, dental and prescription medication bills, property taxes and many others.

Deductions vs. Business Expenses

Business expenses are expenses incurred in the pursuit of earning a profit for your business. When you report business income to the IRS, you report all of your income, but then you deduct your business expenses from that amount. The difference is your net income.

When you report your net business income as earnings on your income tax return, you are then allowed to subtract standard or itemized deductions from that amount. Business expenses work like deductions in that they are deducted from your wages. However, they are not exactly the same as deductions.

Deductions vs. Credits

Credits are relatively analogous to deductions. They help lower the amount of tax a tax filer must pay, but they work in a different way than deductions. A credit is subtracted from the amount of tax you owe, not from your reported income. The IRS has both refundable and non-refundable credits. Non-refundable credits cannot trigger a tax refund, but refundable credits can.

For example, imagine that after reporting your income and claiming your deductions, you owe $500 in income tax. However, you are eligible for a $600 credit. If the credit is non-refundable, your tax bill is erased, but you do not receive any extra money. If the credit is refundable, you receive a $100 tax refund.