Published January 21, 2013
What do teachers, divorcees and people paying off student loans have in common? They can cut taxes, without itemizing.
These filers, along with other taxpayers who fit into special categories, might be able to claim at least one of the dozen-plus deductions found directly on Form 1040 without hassling with Schedule A.
Taxpayers who file Form 1040A can claim a few of these tax deductions on that shorter form, too.
Officially, these breaks are identified as adjustments to your income. But they are popularly referred to as above-the-line deductions because you subtract them on Page 1 of your Form 1040 or Form 1040A, just above each form's last line where you enter your adjusted gross income, or AGI.
Taking these deductions will reduce your AGI, which in most cases, directly cuts your overall tax bill because figuring your AGI is the first step in arriving at your final taxable income amount. The less taxable income, the less you'll owe the Internal Revenue Service.
While these deductions mean that Form 1040 filers don't have to hassle with Schedule A, a few above-the-line tax breaks do require you to fill out another IRS form or work sheet. Still, that's a relatively small time commitment to shave some dollars off your tax bill.
Listed below, in the order in which they appear on lines 23 through 36 of Form 1040, are the current above-the-line deductions.
1. Educator expenses. With the educators' expenses deduction, teachers and other public and private school system employees can subtract up to $250 they spent on classroom supplies.
2. Certain business expenses. Unreimbursed business expenses also appear on Schedule A as a miscellaneous deduction. But some taxpayers can claim work-related costs directly on line 24 without worrying about a percentage threshold. You do, however, have to fill out Form 2106 or 2106-EZ.
The special taxpayers who qualify for this adjustment are military reservists, performing artists and fee-basis government officials. Although this collection sounds more like the cast of an avant-garde foreign language film than related taxpayers, lawmakers have deemed that anyone who falls into one of these categories deserves special tax treatment. If you are in one of these three fields, check the Form 2106 instruction book for filing details.
3. Health savings account deduction. A health savings account, or HSA, is a medical coverage plan that works much like an IRA. Eligible participants put money into an HSA where it grows tax-free and withdrawals can be made to pay medical, dental and vision-care costs not covered under a corresponding high-deductible health care policy.
4. Moving expenses. If you relocated for job reasons, some of your expenses can be deducted on line 26. You will, however, also have to fill out Form 3903.
5. Self-employment tax. If you're self-employed, you have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes -- the amount collected from you as an employee and you as an employer. But you get to deduct half of those payments on line 27.
6. Self-employed retirement plans. If you have a self-employment pension plan, such as a Keogh or a SEP-IRA, deduct any contribution amounts on line 28.
7. Self-employed health insurance. As an entrepreneur, you now can deduct 100% of health insurance premiums you paid for yourself, your spouse and dependents. Don't forget to count what you paid toward long-term care policies. You get a partial break here, too. Enter the amount on line 29.
8. Penalty on early withdrawal of savings. On line 30, the IRS gives you a break when someone else slaps your hand. If you cashed in a certificate of deposit and paid an early withdrawal penalty, you'll find the amount on the 1099-INT or 1099-OID that the account manager sent you. The IRS lets you subtract that charge from your income.
9. Alimony paid. Divorced filers get a chance to recoup alimony payments on line 31. Be sure to include the Social Security number of your ex-spouse, so the IRS can make sure he or she reports the payments as income. Without the recipient's tax ID number on your return, the deduction could be disallowed.
10. IRA deduction. If you contribute to a traditional IRA, you might be able to deduct at least a portion of your contribution from your income. Precisely how much you can claim on line 32 of Form 1040 depends not only on your contribution amount, but also on your adjusted gross income and whether you or your spouse participate in a company-sponsored retirement plan. It requires some calculation, but run the numbers. This above-the-line deduction could help lower your taxable income.
11. Student loan interest. Up to $2,500 of the interest you paid on a qualified student loan can be subtracted on line 33. The loan can be for you, your spouse or a dependent. Note that there are income limits and married taxpayers who file separate returns cannot claim this adjustment.
12. Tuition and fees. The higher-education tuition and fees adjustment could reduce your taxable income by as much as $4,000. You'll need to complete Form 8917 and then enter the amount of tuition and fees deduction calculated there on line 34.
13. Domestic production activities. This above-the-line deduction was created to encourage "made in the U.S.A." manufacturing efforts. U.S.-based businesses that manufacture products domestically instead of sending the work overseas might be able to deduct up to 9% of the money earned or 50% of the wages paid in connection with the production effort, whichever is less. This tax break applies not only to such expected occupations as construction or farming, but also is available to certain creators of software, films or recordings.
You'll need Form 8903 to figure the exact credit that goes on line 35 of your Form 1040.
We're out of designated adjustment lines as we reach the bottom of Page 1, so that's the end of the nonitemizing tax breaks, right? Wrong.
Although line 36 simply instructs you to total your entries on all the previous adjustment lines, curious taxpayers who take a closer look at Form 1040 instructions will find even more possible ways to whittle away some of their taxable incomes.
Sure, several of these adjustments, such as reforestation amortization or repayment of specific supplemental unemployment benefits or court costs for certain unlawful discrimination cases, are for relatively limited tax situations. But a couple of the adjustments affect quite a few taxpayers.
Line 36 is where you enter any pay you got for serving on a jury, but then turned it over to your boss because you got your regular pay while at the courthouse.
Contributions to special medical savings accounts offered by some small businesses also are accounted for here. You'll need to fill out Form 8853 to determine the amount to enter on this catchall line.
So take a moment to check out all these other possible above-the-line deductions. Details are in the Form 1040 instruction book. If you're one of the select group of taxpayers to whom these apply, claim the amount and add the special notation spelled out in the instructions to line 36. The extra adjustments could really pay off.
Now it's time to add all these specially annotated line 36 amounts to the deductions claimed on the preceding 13 income adjustment lines. This final number goes on line 37. Once entered there, it's subtracted from the total income amount you entered on line 22. The result: your adjusted gross income.
What if you don't want to or need to use the long Form 1040? You still get a chance to reduce your income if you file Form 1040A instead.
Four of these above-the-line adjustments -- educator expenses, IRA contributions, student loan interest and tuition and fees -- also can be deducted on lines 16 through 19 of that slightly shorter tax return.