What is the standard deduction?

The one deduction almost everyone can take

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly all taxpayers can claim the standard deduction except nonresident aliens and some married couples who file separate tax returns

  • A deduction lowers your taxable income, the amount of your total income that you actually pay tax on

  • Your filing status determines the value of your standard deduction and people over age 65 get a higher deduction

The standard deduction is a tax deduction that just about all tax filers can take without income limits or other eligibility requirements. Tax deductions lower your taxable income and the value of your standard deduction depends on your filing status. Single filers have a standard deduction of $12,400; joint filers get $24,800; and a head of household gets $18,650 for their 2020 taxes. You also receive a higher standard deduction if you’re at least 65 years old or legally blind. As a reminder, your filing status and deduction eligibility is based on your situation on December 31.

The alternative to the standard deduction is itemizing deductions. Itemizing allows you to deduct the exact value of certain expenses you made during the year if they are worth more than your standard deduction. However, there are only a handful of eligible expenses and most people can save more by claiming the standard deduction instead of itemizing.

There are only a few groups of taxpayers who aren’t eligible to claim the standard deduction, namely nonresident aliens and any spouses who use the married filing separately filing status and itemize deductions: if one spouse chooses to itemize, the other must also itemize. Someone’s standard deduction may also be limited if they can be claimed as another person’s dependent.

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Who can take the standard deduction

Just about all tax filers can claim the standard deduction. There are no income requirements and you don’t need to complete any additional tax forms, unlike for other tax deductions.

You cannot claim the deduction if you choose to itemize deductions. There are also four groups of tax filers who cannot claim the standard deduction and must itemize:

  • A spouse using the married filing separately filing status, if their spouse itemizes deductions

  • A nonresident alien

  • A dual-status alien — someone who was a U.S. resident and a nonresident during the year

  • Any taxpayer that has a short tax year because their annual accounting period changed (this mainly applies to businesses)

Related: When to use the married filing separately status

How much is the standard deduction?

The standard deduction for 2020 taxes (which you file in early 2021) is $12,400 for single filers, $24,800 for joint filers, and $18,650 for heads of household. A married taxpayer who uses the married filing separately status has a standard deduction of $12,400 and qualified widows or widowers have a $24,800 standard deduction.

People who are legally blind or at least 65 years old will receive an additional standard deduction based on their filing status: $1,650 if they use the single or head of household filing status, and $1,300 if they file a joint return or are a married couple filing separately. If someone is both legally blind and 65 or older, their extra standard deduction is doubled for a total of either $3,300 if single or head of household, and $2,600 if married filing jointly or a surviving spouse. For joint filers, the extra deduction applies to each spouse so a married couple where both spouses are 70 years old would get a combined extra deduction of $2,600.

Standard deductions for 2020 taxes

Filing statusStandard deductionStandard deduction if age 65+
Single$12,400$14,050
Married filing jointly$24,800$26,100 ($27,400 if both spouses)
Married filing separately$12,400$13,700
Head of household$18,650$20,300
Qualified widow(er)$24,800$26,100

Note: These are the federal standard deduction amounts and if your state collects income tax, there is a separate standard deduction for your state income tax return.

Standard deductions for 2021 taxes

Below are the standard deductions for 2021 taxes, which you will file in early 2022.

Filing statusStandard deductionStandard deduction if age 65+
Single$12,550$14,250
Married filing jointly$25,100$26,450 ($27,800 if both spouses)
Married filing separately$12,550$13,900
Head of household$18,800$20,500
Qualified widow(er)$25,100$26,450

Standard deduction for dependents in 2020 & 2021

You may not be eligible to claim the full standard deduction if someone can claim you as a dependent on their taxes. The maximum standard deduction someone who qualifies as a dependent is either $1,100 or the sum of $350 and the person’s income (up to a maximum of the regular standard deduction), whichever of those two values is higher.

Related: 53 tax deductions and credits you can claim in 2021

Standard vs itemized deductions

Itemizing deductions is advantageous for some people because it allows you to deduct the exact value of your eligible expenses, if they are worth more than your standard deduction. However, there aren’t many types of itemized deductions and most tax filers save more by claiming the standard deduction . Itemizing is worth even less for many people since the 2017 tax reforms, which nearly doubled the standard deduction and eliminated certain types of itemizable expenses.

Here are the main expenses that qualify for an itemized deduction in 2020 and 2021:

If you don’t want to take the standard deduction, we have a step-by-step guide for itemizing deductions.

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