Tax Deduction vs. Tax Credit: What’s the Difference?

Tax deductions and tax credits are two primary ways to lower your tax bill. But what’s the difference between the two, and how do you know if you qualify? We’ll break down the differences between a tax deduction and a tax credit, including the qualifications and criteria for each,  and which of the two could be more beneficial for your specific tax situation. 
We’ll also discuss the types of expenses that qualify as tax deductions and whether you need to itemize your deductions to claim a tax credit.

What is the Difference Between a Tax Deduction and a Tax Credit?

Tax Deductions directly lower your taxable income and, in turn,reduce your tax liability. The deductions are amounts you’re allowed to subtract from your gross income, making your taxable income lower as a result. Generally, the value of a deduction varies depending on your tax bracket – the higher your tax rate, the more valuable the tax deduction. 

On the other hand, Tax Credits directly reduce your tax liability, dollar for dollar. This means that if you are eligible for a tax credit of $2,000, for example, then it will reduce your tax bill by $2,000, regardless of your tax bracket. Tax credits are often more valuable than tax deductions because they directly reduce your tax bill. Some common examples of tax credits include the Child Tax Credit and credits for energy-efficient home improvements.

The bottom line – both tax deductions and tax credits are designed to lower the amount of taxes you will need to pay. However, they do so in different ways – tax deductions lower your taxable income, which can then reduce your tax bill, while tax credits directly decrease your tax bill.

How Can I Determine If I Qualify for a Tax Deduction or Tax Credit?

Determining whether you qualify for a tax deduction or tax credit involves understanding the specific requirements set by the IRS. Note that these requirements may differ depending on your situation. That’s why we recommend that you consult tax professionals to determine which deductions or credits you’re eligible for and how to maximize them. 

Generally, the eligibility criteria for tax deductions vary widely depending on the type of deduction. For example, to claim a deduction for student loan interest, you must have a student loan in your name and have made interest payments during the eligible tax year. For medical expenses, you can only deduct the portion of your expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

For tax credits, the qualifications are also specific to each tax situation. For example, to claim the Child Tax Credit, you must have a qualifying child under the age of 17 by the end of the eligible tax year. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has specific income requirements and is targeted towards low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children.

Which is Better, a Tax Deduction or a Tax Credit?

An argument could be made that tax credits are better than tax deductions since they directly lower your tax bill regardless of your tax bracket. However, the answer truly depends on your individual tax situation.

It is important to note that not all tax credits are refundable. That means they can reduce your tax liability to zero, but if the credit is greater than your tax liability, then you won’t get a refund. In cases where tax credits are refundable, you can receive a refund if the credit is greater than what you owe in taxes. Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with a tax professional to make the most of your tax savings.

How Much Can I Save with a Tax Deduction or Credit?

The amount you can save with a tax deduction or credit depends on several factors, including your income, your tax bracket, and the specific deduction or credit you’re claiming. Remember, tax deductions reduce your taxable income, and your marginal tax rate determines the amount you save.For example, if you’re in the 20% tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction would save you $200 (20% of $1,000). On the other hand, tax credits reduce your tax liability dollar for dollar. So, a $1,000 tax credit would reduce your tax bill by $1,000, regardless of your tax bracket.

Note that some tax credits are refundable, which means if the applicable tax credit is more than your tax liability you could receive the excess amount as a refund. However, not all tax credits are refundable. So, whether you’re filing personal or business tax returns, you can benefit from a free consultation with one of our tax professionals and learn how much you can save with tax deductions or credits.

Do I Need to Itemize My Deductions to Claim a Tax Credit?

No, you do not need to itemize your deductions to claim a tax credit. Tax deductions and tax credits are claimed in different sections of your tax return and are independent of each other. So, whether you choose to itemize deductions or take the standard deduction does not affect your eligibility to claim tax credits.

Tax Deductions reduce your taxable income and can be taken in two ways: you can take the standard deduction, or you can itemize your deductions. We recommend itemizing your deductions if the total of your itemized deductions is greater than the standard deduction amount.

Tax Credits, on the other hand, directly reduce your tax liability and do not depend on whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction. They are claimed in a separate section of your tax return.

What Types of Expenses Qualify as Tax Deductions?

There are a variety of expenses that can qualify as tax deductions. Here are some of the most common:

  • Mortgage interest
  • State and local taxes: you can deduct state and local sales, income, and property taxes up to a certain limit.
  • Charitable contributions to qualifying charitable organizations
  • Medical and dental expenses that exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income
  • Specific educational expenses and student loan interest
  • Home office expenses if you use part of your home exclusively for business
  • Self-employment expenses, including supplies, travel expenses, and the cost of a home office
  • Retirement contributions

Remember, tax laws are complex and change frequently, so it’s always a good idea to consult with a tax professional to understand what expenses qualify as tax deductions in your specific situation.

Are There Income Limits for Claiming Tax Deductions?

Yes, there are income limits for claiming certain tax deductions. The IRS sets these limits, and they can change from year to year. Here are a few examples:

  1. Itemized deductions: The total amount of itemized deductions is limited and often applies to high-income taxpayers.
  2. IRA deductions for contributions to a traditional IRA are limited if the taxpayer or their spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and their income exceeds certain levels.
  3. Student loan interest deduction is phased out for taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above a specified level.
  4. Tuition and fees deduction is also phased out for taxpayers with a MAGI above a certain level.

These are just a few basic examples and other deductions may also have income limits. Consider consulting a tax professional, or visit the IRS website for detailed information about income limits for different deductions.

What Documentation Do I Need to Claim a Tax Deduction?

It’s important to have the proper documentation of support when claiming a tax deduction. Common types of documentation include:

  1. Income Documentation: W-2 forms from employers, 1099 forms for other types of income, and records of any other income you have received throughout the eligible tax year.
  2. Expense Documentation: When claiming deductions for expenses, you will need to provide records of these expenses – receipts, invoices, and/or financial statements.
  3. Home Ownership Documentation: When claiming deductions related to home ownership, statements from your mortgage company or local tax office are essential.
  4. Educational Expenses: For tuition or student loan interest, you’ll need Form 1098-T from your educational institution or Form 1098-E from your loan servicer.
  5. Charitable Donations: When claiming a deduction for charitable donations, you’ll need a receipt of donation from the organization.
  6. Medical Expenses: You’ll need receipts and/or statements from your healthcare providers.
  7. Business Expenses: If you are self-employed and claiming business expense deductions, you’ll need detailed records of these expenses, including receipts, invoices, and mileage logs.

What Are the Most Common Types of Tax Credits?

These are some of the most common types of tax credits:

  1. Child Tax Credit for taxpayers who have qualifying children under the age of 17. 
  2. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children.
  3. American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) for qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student for the first four years of higher education.
  4. Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) for qualified tuition and related expenses paid for eligible students enrolled in an eligible educational institution.
  5. Child and Dependent Care Credit for expenses paid for the care of qualifying children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, to allow you to work or look for work.
  6. Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled for taxpayers aged 65 or older, or those under 65, retired on permanent and total disability and received taxable disability income.
  7. Energy Credits for taxpayers who make certain energy-efficient improvements to their homes or purchase certain energy-efficient products.

Are There Any Tax Credits for Families with Children?

Yes, there are tax credits that apply specifically to families with children. They include:

  1. Child Tax Credit (CTC) amounting up to $2,000 per qualifying child.
  2. Child and Dependent Care Credit
  3. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  4. Adoption Credit for certain costs paid to adopt a child.
  5. Education Credits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), are for qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How Can I Find Out More About Tax Deductions and Credits?

There are several resources available to learn more about tax deductions and credits:

  1. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website
  2. Tax professionals including Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and Enrolled Agents (EAs) are professionals specializing in tax preparation and planning.
  3. Tax software offers detailed explanations of different tax deductions and credits as you prepare your return.
  4. Tax workshops and seminars in most community centers, libraries, and colleges offer workshops or seminars, especially during tax season.

Do I Need to Hire a Tax Professional to Claim Tax Deductions or Credits?

While it’s not mandatory to hire a tax professional to claim tax deductions or credits, it can be invaluable. Tax laws are complex and change frequently, and tax professionals make it part of their job to stay as up-to-date as possible in order to provide personalized tax advice based on your specific circumstances.

A tax professional can help you understand what deductions and credits you’re eligible for, how to claim them, and what documentation you’ll need. They can also help ensure that your tax return is accurate and also help you resolve IRS disputes.

When is the Deadline for Filing My Taxes?

The deadline to file taxes is usually April 15 each year, with this year’s deadline being on Monday, April 15, 2024. If April 15 ever falls on a weekend or a holiday, the deadline may be extended to the next business day.

If you’re unable to file your tax return by the April 15 deadline, you can request an automatic six-month extension. This will require you to file a specific form by the original due date of your return. Note that an extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay. You should still pay any owed taxes by your original due date to avoid possible penalties.

For self-employed individuals or those with other income without any tax withholding, there are also quarterly estimated tax payments due throughout the year.

Where Can I Get Help Filing My Taxes?

  • Tax Professionals, including CPAs and Enrolled Agents
  • Online tax preparation software
  • The IRS provides resources and tools for self-preparation

What Are the Penalties for Filing Inaccurate Tax Information?

Here are the potential penalties for filing inaccurate tax information: 

  • Failure-to-file penalty: If you don’t file your tax return by the due date.
  • Failure-to-pay penalty: If you don’t pay the taxes reported on your return in full by the due date.
  • Accuracy-related penalty: If you underpay your tax due to errors, negligence, or fraud on your tax return.
  • Fraud penalties: If your return is fraudulent, the penalties are more severe.

What Are Some Common Tax Mistakes People Make?

Here are some common tax mistakes that people often make:

  • Incorrect or incomplete information
  • Filing status errors – Choosing the wrong filing status can affect the amount of taxes you owe.
  • Arithmetic errors
  • Failing to apply for tax deductions or tax credits
  • Incorrect bank account numbers
  • Filing late

How Can I Stay Up to Date on the Latest Tax Laws and Changes?

Here are some ways you can stay up-to-date with the relevant tax laws: 

  • The IRS website has the most accurate and up-to-date information about tax laws and changes.
  • Consulting tax professionals, who are always up-to-date with all the changes in tax laws.
  • Most tax software programs provide updates about new tax laws and changes.
  • Tax news websites and blogs provide regular updates and interpretations of tax laws.

What Are Some Tax Planning Strategies I Can Use to Save Money?

  • Maximize your deductions.
  • Take advantage of all tax credits applicable to you.
  • Contribute to retirement accounts since they’re tax-deductible.
  • Adjust your withholdings, especially if you consistently receive a large tax refund. This can give you access to more of your money throughout the year.
  • Invest in tax-efficient funds, which may result in lower taxes on investment income.
  • Gift and inheritance strategies, especially if you plan to leave assets to your heirs.

The Bottom Line

Tax deductions and tax credits allow you to lower your overall tax liability. Understanding the differences between them and knowing which deductions and credits apply to your specific situation is the key to maximizing your potential savings. 

This is merely a general guide, and if you have questions that may not have been answered in this guide, be sure to consult tax professionals to help you maximize your deductions and take advantage of all applicable tax credits. Remember, everyone’s tax situation is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another.

Manay CPA Expert Authors
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Manay CPA is a reputable, full-service CPA firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 2001, we provide comprehensive accounting and tax solutions to individuals and businesses across all 50 states.

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