3 Top Tax Breaks for Middle-Class Americans

If you're in the middle class, congratulations! You're not in poverty, you probably have a relatively secure job, and you may well be living in a home you bought. If you're truly average, financially speaking, you faced a tax bill of about$9,100 for the 2014 tax year. That's a big chunk of your income, so it's natural to look for ways to shrink it.

Fortunately, there are lots of tax breaks for middle-class Americans. Here are three major ones that can each shave thousands of dollars off your tax bill.

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Top Tax Break No. 1: Retirement Accounts

One key tax break is valuable not only because it can shrink your current or future tax bill, but also because it can help you save for retirement: tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Most of us can sock money away in IRAs and many have 401(k) plans available to us at our workplaces, as well. (There are similar accounts available for those who are self-employed, work at small businesses, or work for non-profits.)

For the 2016 and 2017 tax years, contribution limits for IRAs are $5,500 -- plus an additional $1,000 for those 50 or older. For 401(k)s, the limits for both years are much more generous: $18,000, plus an additional $6,000 for those 50 and up. Both IRAs and 401(k)s come in two main forms: traditional and Roth.

With a traditional IRA and 401(k), you contribute pre-tax money that reduces your taxable income, and therefore, your tax bill for the year. So if you contribute $10,000 for 2016 and your taxable income is $75,000, your income will drop to $65,000 and you'll avoid paying taxes on the $10,000. If you're in the 25% tax bracket, you'll save $2,500. When you withdraw the money in retirement, it's taxed as ordinary income to you.

With the Roth IRA and 401(k), you contribute post-tax money that doesn't deliver any upfront tax break. But you eventually get a big tax break when you withdraw from the account in retirement -- because you get to take all the money out of the account tax free if you follow the rules. Check out the table below to see how much money you can accumulate over time, and note that if it's in a Roth account, it could all be yours tax free:


Growing at 8% for



$5,000 Invested Annually



$10,000 Invested Annually



$15,000 Invested Annually



15 years












20 years












25 years









$1.2 million



30 years






$1.2 million



$1.8 million


Calculations by author.

Image source: Getty Images.

Top Tax Break No. 2: Interest Deductions

Another valuable tax break for middle-class Americans is the ability to deduct interest -- for both the mortgages and the student loans we carry. (Note that there has been talk in Washington of eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. If you have an opinion on that, consider letting your representatives know.)

If you buy a $250,000 home with a $200,000 mortgage, you might be paying somewhere around$8,800 or more in interest in your first year. If so, and if you can deduct that sum and avoiding paying, say, 25% on it, then you'll save $2,200.

You can also deduct student loan interest paid, up to $2,500, if you meetthe requirements, such as having the loan in your name (or your spouse's, if you're married and filing jointly). There's alsoan income limit of $80,000 in modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for single filers and heads of households, and $160,000 for married-filing-jointly folks.

Note that, in order to claim the mortgage interest deduction, you need to itemize your deductions. The student loan interest deduction, though, is made as an adjustment to income, and doesn't require itemization.

Image source: Pixabay.

Top Tax Break No. 3: Dependent-Related Credits

Finally, there are credits available to people with children and people who are caring for other dependents, such as elderly parents. Note that a tax credit is far better than a tax deduction. A deduction lets you reduce your taxable income.

Do you have taxable income of $75,000 and $5,000 in deductions? Your taxable income is now $70,000. If you're in the 25% tax bracket, you avoid being taxed on that $5,000 and save $1,250. If you have taxable income of $75,000 and a $5,000 tax credit, though, the credit reduces your tax dollar for dollar. It's worth a full $5,000.

The Child Tax Credit offers$1,000 for every eligible child you have who is under the age of 17 (as of the end of the tax year). Have four qualifying children? You're looking at a $4,000 credit. There are rulesand income limits applying to it, of course.

For example, you must have claimed the child as a dependent, the child can't have provided half or more of his or her own financial support, the child must be a U.S. citizen, the child must have lived with you for at least half the tax year, and your MAGI must be not be more than $75,000 for an unmarried filer, $110,000 for someone married and filing jointly, and $55,000 for someone married and filing as a single filer.

Meanwhile, the Child and Dependent Care Credit is worth up to $3,000 for a single child, or $6,000 for two or more children. It's tied to expenses you incur for the care of children (12 or under in the tax year), or dependents that enable you to work or seek work.

Unlike with many other credits and deductions, this one is available with no income limits. If you pay a qualifying person to care for your young child, your parent, or even a disabled spouse so that you can work or seek work, you may be looking at a hefty and valuable tax break.

These are just some of the tax breaks available to middle-class Americans. Take some time to learn more about any that might apply to you -- and know that there are other money-saving breaks, too. Reading up on taxes isn't a lot of fun, but being able to shave thousands of dollars off your tax bill certainly is.

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