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What is a 'Tax Shield'

A tax shield is a reduction in taxable income for an individual or corporation achieved through claiming allowable deductions such as mortgage interest, medical expenses, charitable donations, amortization and depreciation. These deductions reduce a taxpayer's taxable income for a given year or defer income taxes into future years. Tax shields lower the overall amount of taxes owed by an individual taxpayer or a business.

BREAKING DOWN 'Tax Shield'

The term "tax shield" references a particular deduction's ability to shield portions of the taxpayer’s income from taxation. Tax shields vary from country to country, and their benefits depend on the taxpayer's overall tax rate and cash flows for the given tax year.

For example, because interest payments on certain debts are a tax-deductible expense, taking on qualifying debts can act as tax shields. Tax-efficient investing strategies are cornerstones of investing for high-net-worth individuals and corporations, whose annual tax bills can be very high.

Tax Shields as Incentives

The ability to use a home mortgage as a tax shield is a major benefit for many middle-class people whose homes are major components of their net worth. It also provides incentives to those interested in purchasing a home, by providing a specific tax benefit to the borrower. Student loan interest also functions as a tax shield in the same manner.

Tax Shields for Medical Expenses

Taxpayers who have paid more in medical expenses than covered by the standard deduction can choose to itemize in order to gain a larger tax shield. For the 2016 tax year, an individual may deduct any amount attributed to medical or dental expenses that exceeds 10% of his adjusted gross income, while a person over the age of 65 may deduct amounts over 7.5% of his adjusted gross income.

Tax Shields for Charitable Giving

Similar to the tax shield offered in compensation for medical expenses, charitable giving can also lower a taxpayer’s obligations. In order to qualify, the taxpayer must use itemized deductions on his tax return. The deductible amount may be as high as 50% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income, depending on the specific circumstances. For donations to qualify, they must be given to an approved organization.

Tax Shields for Depreciation

The depreciation deduction allows taxpayers to recover certain losses associated with the depreciation of qualifying property. The deduction can apply to tangible property, such as vehicles and buildings, as well as to intangible assets, such as computer software and patents. In order to qualify, the depreciation must be associated with an asset used in a business or income-generating activity, and have an expected lifespan of more than one year. Other conditions may affect the ability for depreciation to be deductible, including, but not limited to, the duration of ownership of the asset and whether the asset was used to build capital improvements.

Find out how tax shields can affect a company's balance sheet; read "What is the formula for calculating weighted average cost of capital (WACC)?"

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