Updated February 5, 2021|19 min read
Updated Feb. 5, 2021: It’s tax season! While few people want to pay anything at all, there are ways to pay less. Tax deductions and tax credits can help you save money in tax season 2020. Deductions lower your taxable income (and reduces your tax burden), while tax credits are a dollar-for-dollar reduction to your tax bill.
Knowing which deductions or credits to claim can be challenging. Luckily, we have this handy list of 50 tax deductions and tax credits to take this year.
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If you didn’t receive the full value of one or both of the coronavirus stimulus checks (economic impact payments) in 2020 or early 2021, you may be able to receive them by claiming the recovery rebate credit. This credit is available only in 2021 and you can’t claim it if you already received both payments. You generally need to be a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a valid Social Security Number to qualify. Use line 30 of your 2020 Form 1040 to claim the recovery rebate credit. (Learn more about stimulus check eligibility.)
Taxpayers can deduct up to $300 of charitable donations they made in 2020. You don't need to itemize (claim it on line 10b of Form 1040) and the same limit applies to single and joint filers. This deduction is only available because of the CARES Act, a stimulus bill passed during the coronavirus pandemic. If you want to deduct more than $300 of charitable contributions, you must use the official deduction for charitable contributions, which is an itemized deduction and may not be worth it unless you have made significant donations. Use Schedule A to itemize deductions.
Certain self-employed workers can receive a refundable tax creditworth up to $200 for each day they were unable to work between April 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, because they had COVID-19. To understand what qualifies as sick leave and to calculate your credit, use the instructions on the new Form 7202. This credit was created through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and will also be available next year for time you miss in 2021.
If you’re a self-employed worker who needed to care for a family member with COVID-19 in 2020 and couldn't work because of it, you may be able to claim this refundable credit. The family leave credit helps you recoup lost self-employment income, but can be limited if you also claim a credit for your own sick leave (explained in the previous paragraph). Use Form 7202 to learn more about possible restrictions as well as to calculate and claim your credit.
Taxpayers with student loans can deduct up to $2,500 of interest incurred. You can also include interest via credit card debt that came from helping to pay for education. Loans qualify as long as you paid for them and they were for yourself, a spouse or a dependent. You cannot get the deduction if your filing status is married but filing separately. Your available deduction also decreases once your modified adjusted gross income hits $85,000 (if you’re a single filer) or $170,000 (if you’re married filing jointly).
Those who paid education expenses (namely tuition) for themselves, their spouses, or their dependents can deduct up to $4,000. You can only claim the deduction if your gross income is $80,000 or less for single filers and $160,000 or less for joint filers. To claim the deduction, you need to complete two tax forms: Schedule 1 and Form 8917, Tuition and Fees Deduction. You do not need to itemize to claim the tuition and fees deduction.
The AOTC is worth up to $2,500 per student and is available for education expenses from your first four years of higher education. Qualifying education expenses include tuition, books and classroom supplies. You can include these expenses even if you didn’t pay them directly to the school. The credit begins to phase out once your gross income reaches $90,000 (for single filers) or $180,000 (for joint filers). Claim the AOTC by completing Schedule 3 and Form 8863, Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits).
You can claim the lifetime learning credit for tuition and similar expenses from undergraduate courses, in addition to graduate courses and professional degree courses. Unlike other education credits, the LLC also covers the cost of classes that help you learn or improve job skills. There’s no limit to how many years you can claim it. The LLC is only worth up to $2,000 per tax return and you must have at least $10,000 of expenses to receive the full credit. Your gross income must also be less than $69,000 if you’re a single filer, or $138,000 if you’re a joint filer. You can claim the LLC by completing Form 8863, Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits).
Certain school teachers can deduct up to $250 for money they spent on classroom supplies or on professional development courses related to the curriculum they teach. In 2021, educators can also deduct unreimbursed expenses for protective items to stop the spread of COVID-19. Eligible items include face masks, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, and other items recommended by the CDC. You can qualify for this deduction if you’re a K-12 teacher, counselor, aide or principal who worked in a school for at least 900 hours during a school year. Use Form 1040 Schedule 1 to claim this deduction.
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You can deduct moving expenses on your taxes if you’re an active-duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces and you had to move because of a permanent change of station. (If you’re filing back taxes, this deduction was available to non-military members before 2018.) To claim this deduction for 2020, fill out IRS Form 3903 and Schedule 1.
Members of the military reserve forces can deduct the cost of travel as a business expense if they travelled more than 100 miles to perform reserve services. Schedule 1 allows you to claim this deduction.
Low-income performing artists can deduct certain business expenses, such as costs necessary to complete a rehearsal. However, qualifying for this deduction is challenging. You must have an adjusted gross income of $16,000 or less; your business expenses must have been at least 10% of your gross income; you must have worked as a performing artist for multiple employers; and each employer must have paid at least $200. If you think you qualify, look for the deduction on Schedule 1.
State and local government officials who are paid on a fee basis can deduct their business expenses on Form 1040 Schedule 1.
The self-employment tax is 15.3% for 2020 and anyone who paid that full tax can then deduct half of it on their 2020 taxes. Normally, employees pay a tax of 7.65% on their income (FICA taxes) and their employers also pay that amount for a combined tax of 15.3%. Self-employed workers need to pay the whole tax, but can then deduct the employer portion on their federal tax return. Use Schedule 1 to take this deduction.
Self-employed taxpayers may be able to deduct their health insurance premiums, as well as premiums for dental and long-term care insurance. You can also include any premiums you paid for your spouse, your dependents and your non-dependent children who are under age 27. Use Schedule 1 to claim this deduction.
For taxpayers who worked from home regularly in 2020, the IRS allows a deduction for associated expenses, including repairs, utilities, rent, a security system and renters insurance. However, you can only deduct costs tied directly to your work. For example, you won’t be able to deduct maintenance that’s completely unrelated to your physical office or the work you do. To claim the home office deduction, complete Form 8829 and Schedule C.
You can deduct your alimony payments if your divorce agreement took effect in 2018 or earlier. The 2017 tax reform eliminated this deduction for all agreements that took effect in 2019 or later. To claim this deduction, you need to know how much alimony you paid, the Social Security number of the recipient and the date your agreement took effect. This information all goes on Schedule 1.
If you paid any early withdrawal penalties for a savings account, namely a certificate of deposit (CD), you can deduct that penalty on your federal taxes. Check your copies of Form 1099-INT or Form 1099-OID to see how much you were charged for penalties, and then can claim the deduction on Schedule 1.
If you contributed to a traditional IRA with money you already paid income tax on, you may be able take the IRA deduction for the tax you paid. This includes any money you got from an employer who withholds income tax. Traditional IRAs are tax-advantaged, which means you don’t have to pay income tax on your savings or investments until you withdraw the money in retirement. Claim this deduction by using Schedule 1, but it may be reduced if you also have a retirement plan through your employer.
Just like the IRA deduction, you can deduct some health savings account (HSA) contributions you made using money you already paid income tax on. This deduction isn’t available for contributions that come directly out of your paychecks. Claim this deduction on Schedule 1 if you qualify for it.
Low-income taxpayers can deduct up to 50% of their contributions to a SIMPLE, SEP, traditional or Roth IRA, 401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b) plan, or ABLE account. The maximum saver’s credit available is $4,000 for joint filers and $2,000 for all others. Use Form 8880 and Form 1040 Schedule 3 to claim the saver’s credit. The saver’s credit is officially called the retirement savings contributions credit.
This deduction covers health care costs for self-employed individuals and small business employees who are covered by a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Complete Schedule 1 to claim this deduction.
Taxpayers can deduct jury duty pay in certain situations. You must have been paid by your employer while you were completing jury duty, and then you must have given any pay you received from jury duty to your employer. You can deduct that jury duty pay on Schedule 1.
If you don’t work in a line of business that involves renting out your personal property, such as a car, but you still earn some side income from renting out your property, you can deduct expenses related to that rental income. For example, you may be able to deduct gas from renting out your car. Use Schedule 1 to claim this deduction.
In addition to representing your country, winning an olympic medal can get you a tax deduction. The value of medals you receive from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and prize money you earn in the Olympics or Paralympics may be deductible. Check Schedule 1 for the deduction.
If you received an overpayment of unemployment benefits during the year, and you paid it back, you can deduct the amount of that overpayment on Schedule 1 of your taxes. Just make sure to take the deduction in the same year that you paid it back. You can still deduct it in later years, but the process is more of a hassle. Learn more about taxes on unemployment benefits.
This deduction is an incentive to help taxpayers detect and alert the IRS to tax law violations. The deduction can cover attorney fees and court costs you paid in connection with helping the IRS. To claim the deduction, you must have received an award from the IRS (known as a whistleblower award). Then you can deduct your fees on Schedule 1.
You may qualify for this deduction if you had business income from a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, trust, or estate. The qualified business income deduction, also called the QBI deduction, lets you deduct up to 20% of that income. You may also qualify if you had income from REIT dividends or from a publicly traded partnership (PTP). This deduction is available right on Form 1040 and you don’t need to itemize to claim it.
If you had medical expenses that exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you may be able to deduct them with the medical expense deductions. However, this is an itemized deduction, which means you should only deduct it if all of your itemized deductions combined are worth more than your standard deduction ($12,400 for single filers and $24,800 for joint filers in 2020).
The state and local tax deduction, known as the SALT deduction lets you deduct state local property tax payments, plus either your income or sales taxes. This is an itemized deduction, so your combined itemized deductions should be more than a certain amount for you to claim it. If you can itemize, use Schedule A.
If you have a mortgage, the mortgage interest deduction may allow you to deduct your interest, including your private mortgage insurance payments. Unfortunately, you will need to itemize to claim this deduction, and most people don’t need to itemize after the 2017 tax reform.
If you’ve already paid other forms of income tax, like to a foreign government, you may be able to deduct them on Schedule A. This itemized deduction may also cover certain payments you made for the generation skipping tax (GST).
If you cannot take the itemized deduction for foreign taxes you paid, you may still be able to get a credit for those payments. You can generally claim the credit if you paid income tax of at least $300 during the year to either a foreign country or a U.S. territory. Complete Form 1116 and Schedule 3 to claim the credit.
If you bought an investment property by taking out a loan, you can deduct the interest you pay on that loan. This deduction can apply to loans on other investment properties, but not on stocks, securities or anything that generates tax-exempt interest (like certain bonds). You need to itemize to take this deduction.
If you lost your home, vehicles or other personal property in a federally declared disaster, you may be able to deduct the value of those losses. You can qualify for the deduction whether the property was completely destroyed, significantly damaged or stolen. This is an itemized deduction, so you will also need to have significant other itemized deductions for it to be worth claiming. See Form 1040 Schedule A to learn more.
Did you have significant gambling losses during the year? You may be able to deduct them on Schedule A along with your other itemized deductions. Just remember that you also need to include your gambling winnings as part of your income for the year.
The child tax credit is for taxpayers who pay the majority of care for at least one child under the age of 17. The credit is worth up to $2,000 per child and you must have an annual income of at least $2,500 to qualify. The maximum credit you can get will start to decrease when your modified adjusted gross income reaches a certain level — $400,000 for joint filers and $200,000 for all other filing statuses. You can claim this credit directly on your Form 1040.
The ACTC can be taken in addition to the CTC, and it just allows you to receive a refund if the CTC brings your tax liability — the total income tax you owe for the year — below $0. The refund for the ACTC in this situation is up to $1,400. The same income requirements as the CTC apply, but you are disqualified from getting the ACTC if you have any foreign income. You need to complete Schedule 8812 to claim the ACTC.
This credit allows you to deduct up to $500 for each dependent who you cannot claim with either the CTC or ACTC (aka the Family Tax Credit). Paying for the care of a parent will usually qualify. You can only take the ODC if you are within the income limits. The credit starts to phase out once your AGI reaches $400,000 if your married filing jointly, or $200,000 if you use any other filing status. Claim the credit for other dependents on your 1040. It’s combined with the child tax credit on the form.
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Working parents can claim this credit for costs they spent on child care while they actively looked for a job. You can include the cost of a housekeeper, maid, cook, cleaner, or babysitter. However, the credit is only worth up to 35% of your expenses. The maximum credit is $3,000 if you have one dependent under 13, and $6,000 for two or more dependents. Claim this credit with Form 2441 and Schedule 3. You can get necessary information from your care provider with Form W-10. The care provider doesn’t qualify if they’re your spouse or dependent.
New parents can qualify for a tax credit worth $14,300 in adoption costs per child. The value if the credit begins to phase out once your income reaches $214,520 and is not available if you make above $254,520. Use Form 8839 to claim the adoption credit.
The earned income tax credit is available to low-income and moderate-income taxpayers, with the highest credits going to taxpayers with dependents.
A dependent can qualify if they’re a minor, under 24 and in college, or if they are living with permanent and total disability. For 2020 taxes, the EITC ranges from a maximum of $538 for taxpayers with no children, to a maximum of $6,660 for taxpayers with three or more children. You can claim the credit right on your Form 1040 — the main tax form — but you also need to complete Schedule EIC if you have dependents.
The PTC is a type of health insurance subsidy that refunds your payments for health insurance premiums. To be eligible, your projected household income must be between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line for your family size.
Unlike many other credits, you can also choose to receive it in advance to help you pay your premiums each month. What you take in advance is called the advance premium tax credit (APTC). The APTC is only available if you get a plan through the Obamacare marketplace. It’s important to note that you won’t qualify if you have health insurance through an employer. If you took the advance option, you need to file Form 8962 with your tax return to prove that you received the correct amount of the PTC.
Workers may be able to claim the HCTC if they lost their jobs due to the negative effects of global trade. Such workers are eligible to receive HCTC benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program, which covers workers who’ve lost international trade jobs. Workers between 55 and 64 years old can also qualify if their pension plans were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
The HCTC credit covers 72.5% of health insurance premiums, including for COBRA coverage, a program that allows workers to keep their employer’s health insurance plan after leaving the job. Use Form 8885 to claim the credit.
Individuals who are at least 65 years old at the end of 2020 can qualify for a credit worth between $3,750 and $7,500. You can also qualify if you’re under 65 but receive disability benefits. There are income limits, which range from $12,500 to $25,000 based on your filing status. Claim this credit by using Schedule R.
Taxpayers may be able to claim this tax credit for the cost of installing and using certain types of renewable energy for their home. Eligible energy costs include those for solar electric, solar water heating, fuel cells, wind energy, and geothermal heat pumps. Fill out and attach Form 5695 and Schedule 3 of Form 1040 to claim the credit.
This credit is available for certain home improvements you made to your home in order to increase energy efficiency. If you’ve made home improvements like installing insulation to reduce heat loss, got a new furnace or heater, added an electric heat pump to heat water, upgraded a stove to burn biomass fuel to heat your home or water, or even redid your exterior windows or doors. Certain products may need to meet performance or quality standards to qualify, so keep an eye out for that. Claim this credit by using Form 5695 and Schedule 3.
You can qualify for a tax credit if you purchased a qualified plug-in electric vehicle during the year for up to $7,500. This is available for electric cars and motorcycles, whether for business or personal use. Form 8936 will help you determine your credit amount.
Did you use a vehicle for a nontaxable purpose, such as for farm work or off-highway business use? If so, you can likely receive a tax credit for the federal fuel taxes you paid for gasoline. All fuel in the U.S. includes an excise tax, and you can use Form 4136 to get it refunded on your taxes.
If you had to drive for work in 2020 and your employer didn't reimburse your expenses for fuel, you can deduct 57.5 cents per mile by using the mileage reimbursement deduction. The deduction mostly covers fuel, but in some cases will cover your car insurance, parking, and maintenance costs. Your expenses must exceed 2% of your AGI, though. Fill out Form 2106 and Schedule 1 to take this deduction.
Taxpayers who build a low-income rental building may qualify for this credit. There are multiple compliance and record keeping requirements to claim this credit, and some may differ depending whether the building was inhabitable before or after the Jan. 1, 2008. Use Form 8586 to claim the low-income housing credit.
For the most part, employers are supposed to withhold 6.2% of your Social Security wages up to 8,537.40. However, certan high-income individuals may have paid more if they had multiple employers withholding Social Security taxes. This credit may allow you to recoup any excess you paid. Use Schedule 3 of Form 1040 to claim this credit. If any one employer withheld too much Social Security tax, you won’t be able claim this credit because your employer should adjust the excess for you. If your employer doesn't adjust the overcollection, you can use Form 843 to claim a refund.
Want to learn more? Check out our guide to understanding taxes here.