21 Tax Credits and Deductions You Need to Know

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Updated on Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Marriage Penalty

Both tax deductions and tax credits can reduce your income tax liability, but a credit and a deduction work in different ways with unique sets of rules.

Tax deductions work by reducing your taxable income, and their value depends on your marginal tax rate. Deductions reduce tax liability by the amount of the deduction times the filer’s marginal tax rate, meaning that deductions are more valuable to taxpayers in higher tax brackets. Tax deductions won’t reduce your taxable income below zero, so you won’t be issued a refund if your deductions bring you past zero tax liability.

Tax credits, however, are subtracted directly from a person’s tax liability, meaning they reduce taxes owed dollar for dollar, and they have the same value for everyone, irrespective of income level. Certain tax credits are refundable if the value of the credit is more than a person’s tax liability.

Remember for all qualifying tax credits, subtract the tax credits from the amount of tax that you owe. There are two types of tax credits:

  • nonrefundable tax credit means you get a refund only up to the amount you owe for taxes.
  • refundable tax credit means you get a refund, even if it is more than what you owe.

If you believe that you may qualify for a reduction in tax liability, or even a refund through a tax credit, be sure to research the following tax credits or deductions before you file your 2015 taxes.

Education Credits

American Opportunity Tax Credit

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is a credit for qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student for their first four years of higher education.

  • Who is eligible: An eligible student must be pursuing a degree or other higher education credential, be enrolled at least half-time for at least one academic period beginning in the tax year, and may not have finished their first four years of higher education at the beginning of the tax year.
  • How much can be claimed: The amount of the credit is 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualified education expenses you paid for each eligible student and 25 percent of the next $2,000 of qualified education expenses you paid for that student. You can get a maximum annual credit of $2,500 per eligible student. If the credit brings your tax liability to zero, then you can have 40 percent of any remaining amount of the credit (up to $1,000) refunded to you.
  • Income phase out: To claim the full credit, your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) must be $80,000 or less ($160,000 or less for married filing jointly). You can receive a partial credit if your MAGI is over $80,000 but less than $90,000 (over $160,000 but less than $180,000 for married filing jointly). You cannot claim the credit if your MAGI is over $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers).
  • Cap on frequency: you may not claim this credit for more than four years per eligible student.
  • Who can’t claim credit: A student cannot claim the credit if he or she has a felony drug conviction at the end of the tax year or if he or she has claimed the AOTC or the former Hope credit for more than four tax years.

Lifetime Learning Credit

This credit is available to anyone who pursued a higher education and paid a qualified education expense during the last year, as recognized by the IRS. You don’t need to be pursuing a degree to receive this credit.

  • Who is eligible: You pay qualified education expenses of higher education.
    You pay the education expenses for an eligible student.
    The eligible student is either yourself, your spouse, or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return.
  • How much can be claimed: up to $2,000 per return
  • Income phase out (if any): MAGI is $65,000 or more ($130,000 or more if filing married filing jointly)
  • Cap on frequency (if any): available for an unlimited number of tax years
  • Who can’t claim credit: Married filing separately, listed as a dependent on someone else’s return, you (or your spouse) were a nonresident alien for any part of 2015 and the nonresident alien didn’t elect to be treated as a resident alien for tax purposes, or you claim the American Opportunity Credit or a Tuition and Fees Deduction for the same student in 2015.

Education Deductions

Student Loan Interest

The student loan interest deduction is a deduction available for any qualified student loan interest payments made on both required and voluntary interest payments during the previous tax year.

  • Who is eligible: you are eligible if you paid interest on a qualified student loan in the tax year 2015.
  • How much can be claimed: the amount you may deduct is the lesser of $2,500 or the amount of interest you actually paid.
  • Income phase out: Your MAGI cannot be more than $80,000 filed as a single or $160,000 if married filed jointly.
  • Cap on frequency: You may deduct your student loan interest for as long as you have student loan interest payments, or since it is subject to a phase-out, the amount of the deduction will gradually decrease and phase out completely if and when your MAGI reaches the annual limit.
  • Who can’t claim credit: Anyone who is being claimed as a dependent or is married filing separately may not claim the credit.

Tuitions and Fees Deduction

The tuition and fees deduction is available for qualified higher education expenses paid during the previous tax year for yourself, your spouse, or your dependents.

  • Who is eligible: If you paid qualified higher education expenses, paid the education expenses for an eligible student, and if that eligible student is yourself, your spouse, or your dependent, you qualify for the deduction.
  • How much can be claimed: You can reduce your income subject to tax by up to $4,000.
  • Income phase out: Your MAGI cannot be more than $80,000 if single or $160,000 married filing jointly.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the deduction eligibility is dependent on meeting the criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: You cannot claim the deduction if your filing status is married filing separately if you’re someone else’s dependent, or if you or your spouse were a nonresident alien for any part of 2015 and did not elect to be treated as a resident alien for tax purposes.

Work-related Educational Expenses

If education maintains or improves skills need for your job, or education is required by your employer or the law for you to keep your present salary, status, or job, and that education serves a legitimate business purpose for your employer, then any qualified education expenses you incur may be deducted.

  • Who is eligible:  If you are an employee and can itemize your deductions, you may be able to claim a deduction for the expenses you pay for your work-related education.
  • How much can be claimed: Your deduction may be the amount of your qualifying work-related expenses as well as other job and miscellaneous expenses not to exceed 2% of your AGI.
  • Income phase out
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the deduction eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: Education that will qualify you for a new business or trade cannot be deducted.

Teacher’s Educational Expenses

An eligible educator can file a deduction for unreimbursed business expenses for materials used in the classroom.

  • Who is eligible: If you are a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide for kindergarten through grade 12 classes, and you work at least 900 hours a school year, you may be eligible for the deduction.
  • How much can be claimed: up to $250 or $500 married filing jointly for any unreimbursed business expenses for classroom materials.
  • Income phase out
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the deduction eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: Qualified expenses can only be deducted for as long as the amount of your miscellaneous expenses exceed the following amounts for the tax year:
  1. The interest on qualified U.S. savings bonds that you excluded from income because you paid qualified higher education expenses,
  2. Any distribution from a qualified tuition program that you excluded from income,
  3. Any tax-free withdrawals from your Coverdell education savings accounts,
  4. Any reimbursed expenses not reported to you on box 1 of your Form W-2

Healthcare Credits

Premium Tax Credit (Affordable Care Act)

The Premium Tax Credit is a refundable credit that helps families with low to moderate income be able to afford their health care insurance bought through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

  • Who is eligible: If you, your spouse, or a dependent purchased your health insurance coverage from the federally facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, you may be eligible to claim a premium tax credit.
  • How much can be claimed: It is dependent upon premiums paid and family size. To see if you qualify and how much you may be eligible to claim, take the eligibility quiz on the IRS website.
  • Income phase out: Your household income must be at least 100, but no more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line for your family size.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the credit eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: Anyone who is married filing separately (without exemptions) and dependents cannot file for this credit.

Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC)

The Health Coverage Tax Credit is a tax credit that pays 72.5% of qualified health insurance premiums for eligible individuals and their families.

  • Who is eligible: You may only take the HCTC if you are an eligible trade adjustment assistance recipient, alternative recipient, reemployment recipient, an eligible pension benefit guarantee corporations pension recipient, or the family member of one of the previously listed recipients who is deceased.
  • How much can be claimed: 72.5% of qualified health insurance premiums for eligible individuals and their families.
  • Income phase out: If you meet the eligibility to receive any of the qualified health plans offered through a Health Insurance Marketplace and all plans that were previously qualified for the HCTC qualify for the HCTC for 2015, you are eligible for the credit.
  • Cap on frequency: According to the IRS website, “For 2014 and 2015 only: qualified coverage includes qualified health plans offered through a federally facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace. For 2016 and beyond: Health Insurance Marketplace coverage will no longer be qualified coverage for the HCTC.”
  • Who can’t claim credit: Anyone who can be claimed as a dependent

Healthcare Deductions

Medical and Dental Expenses

Medical and Dental expenses may be included on Form 1040 (itemized deductions) if you meet certain criteria.

  • Who is eligible: anyone with eligible medical or dental expenses may include their itemized expenses for deductions.
  • How much can be claimed: you may deduct only the amount by which your total qualified medical expenses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) or 7.5 percent if you or your spouse is 65 or older.
  • Income phase out: There is no income phaseout for this deduction.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: You may not claim medical care expenses that are not meant to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness. You can’t include general health expenses, such as vitamins or a vacation, for example.

Health Savings Account (HSA) credit

If you have a health savings account, you can claim a tax deduction for contributions you, or someone other than your employer, make to your HSA even if you do not itemize your deductions on Form 1040.

  • Who is eligible: To be eligible you must be covered under a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) on the first day of the month and have no other health coverage.
  • How much can be claimed: all contributions made to your HAS either by you or someone other than your employer may qualify as a deduction.
  • Income phase out: you must qualify to hold an HSA
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: You cannot be enrolled in Medicare or claimed as a dependent.

Homeowners Deductions

Mortgage Interest Credit

The mortgage interest credit helps lower-income individuals afford home ownership.

  • Who is eligible: you may be eligible for the credit if you were issued a qualified Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) from your state or local government.
  • How much can be claimed: Only the interest amount shown on your MCC qualifies for the credit.
  • Income phase out: Your total mortgage balance cannot be more than $1 million ($500,000 married filing separately)
  • Cap on frequency: if you qualify, you can claim the credit on Form 8396 each year for part of the home mortgage interest you pay.
  • Who can’t claim credit: anyone without a qualified Mortgage Credit Certificate cannot claim credit.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

This is a credit for expenses related to energy saving improvements to your primary residence.

  • Who is eligible: anyone who makes eligible residential energy efficient improvements to their home is eligible.
  • How much can be claimed: up to 30 percent of your expenses made for qualified solar electric systems, solar water heaters, fuel cell property, small wind energy property, and geothermal heat pumps can be claimed, or up to a total combined credit limit of $500.
  • Income phase out: there is no income phaseout for this tax credit.
  • Cap on frequency: The credit is only available until December 31, 2016.
  • Who can’t claim credit: NA

Low-Income Housing Credit for Owners

This is a credit for owners of residential low-income rental buildings.

  • Who is eligible: owners of low-income rental buildings
  • How much can be claimed: your state’s housing credit agency will complete Part I of Form 8609 Low-Income Housing Credit Allocation and Certification (PDF), for each low-income building you own.
  • Income phase out: There is no income phaseout for this credit
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: if your building doesn’t meet certain criteria you cannot claim credit.

Family and Dependents Deductions

Adoption Credit

The adoption credit is a nonrefundable tax credit for qualified adoption expenses paid to adopt an eligible child, including adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses, and re-adoption expenses.

  • Who is eligible: Any family with an eligible adopted child may claim this credit. You may be eligible for the credit for the adoption of a child with special needs, even if you do not have any qualified expenses.
  • How much can be claimed: You may be able to take a tax credit of up to $13,400 for qualified expenses paid to adopt an eligible child.
  • Income phase out: The credit is reduced if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) falls between $201,010 and $241,010, and is zero if your MAGI is above $241,010.
  • Cap on frequency: Until the adoption is finalized, you take the credit in the year after your qualified expenses were paid or incurred. If the adoption becomes final, you take the credit in the year your expenses were paid or incurred.
  • Who can’t claim credit: There is an income exclusion for employer-provided adoption assistance.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

This is a credit for the costs of care that you incur for a qualifying dependent while you work or look for work.

  • Who is eligible: caretakers who incur expenses for care costs while they work or look for work, may qualify.
  • How much can be claimed: 35% of your care costs can be claimed, or up to $3000 for the care of one individual or $6,000 for the care of two or more qualifying individuals.
  • Income phase out: the percentage you are allowed to claim is dependent on your AGI.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: You cannot claim this credit if your care provider is your spouse, the parent of your qualifying individual, your own child who is under the age of 19, or a dependent for whom you or your spouse may claim an exemption on your return. You also cannot claim this credit if you are married and filing separately.

Child Tax Credit

The child tax credit is for people who have a qualifying child or children.

  • Who is eligible: anyone with a qualifying child and income level may qualify
  • How much can be claimed: Up to $1000 per qualifying child age 16 or younger, depending on your income. If the amount of your Child Tax Credit is greater than the amount of income tax you owe, you may be able to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Income phase out: Your MAGI cannot be more than $110,000 married filing jointly, $75,000 as a single filer, or $55,000 married filing separately.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: If your child does not qualify based on age, relationship, support, dependent, citizenship, or residence you cannot claim this credit.

Income and Savings Credits

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

The EITC is a tax benefit for working people with low to moderate income which reduces the amount of tax you owe and may give you a refund.

  • Who is eligible: you must meet certain requirements, based on income and number of dependents, and file a tax return. Also, many people with disabilities or people who have children with disabilities qualify for EITC.
  • How much can be claimed: The maximum amount of credit for Tax Year 2015 is:
  • $6,242 with three or more qualifying children
  • $5,548 with two qualifying children
  • $3,359 with one qualifying child
  • $503 with no qualifying children
  • Income phase out: Earned income and adjusted gross income (AGI) must be between $1 and $53,267, depending on the number of qualifying children claimed.
  • Cap on frequency: You must have been at least 25 but under 65 years old at the end of the tax year to claim this credit without a qualifying child.
  • Who can’t claim credit: If your investment income is more than $3,400 for the year, you cannot claim this credit.

Credit for the Elderly or Disabled

This credit is for elderly or disabled taxpayers who meet certain criteria.

  • Who is eligible: Taxpayers aged 65 or older or who are retired on permanent and total disability and who have received disability income for the tax year may qualify.
  • How much can be claimed: Eligible taxpayers can claim between $3,750 and $7,500.
  • Income phase out: AGI or the total of nontaxable social security, pensions, annuities, or disability income must not exceed the income limits.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years, after age 65, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: non-citizens and non-residents aliens may not claim this credit.

Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)

The Saver’s Credit is a tax credit meant to help low to moderate-income workers save for retirement by either increasing your refund or reducing the taxes you owe when you make qualifying payments into retirement savings.

  • Who is eligible: any qualified taxpayers who, by April 18, 2016, deposits money into a new IRA or existing IRA, or who makes an elective deferral (contribution) by the end of the year to a 401(k) plan or similar workplace program.
  • How much can be claimed: the maximum credit is $1,000 or $2,000 for married couples, though the actual amount received is often much less, due to other claimed credits and deductions.
  • Income phase out: AGI cannot exceed $30,500 individually, $45,750 for the head of household, or $61,000 for those married filing jointly.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: Anyone under 18, who studied as a full-time student during the previous tax year, or who is being claimed as a dependent cannot claim this credit.

Credit to Holders of Tax Credit Bonds

A non-refundable tax credit available to holders of eligible bonds. Tax credit bonds allow the bond holder to receive a tax credit instead of some or all of the interest on a bond.

  • Who is eligible: bond holders of clean, renewable energy bonds issued before 2010, new clean, renewable energy bonds, qualified, energy conservation bonds, qualified school construction bonds, qualified zone academy bonds, and build America bonds may be eligible for the credit.
  • How much can be claimed: The credit allowed for the current year may be limited based on your tax liability.
  • Income phase out: the credit is based on qualified tax credit bonds, not income level.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: In some instances, you can’t claim the credit if you elect to receive credit for interest paid on the bond.

Foreign Tax Credit

The foreign tax credit allows you to choose to take income taxes that you paid during the year to a foreign country or lands in U.S. possession as a credit or deduction against your U.S. income tax.

  • Who is eligible: qualifying taxpayers who pay eligible taxes in a foreign country.
  • How much can be claimed: your foreign tax credit can’t be more than your U.S. tax liability, multiplied by the fraction of your taxable income from sources outside the United States over your total taxable income from U.S. and foreign sources.
  • Income phase out: $230,450 if married filing jointly, $115,225 if married filing separately, $189,300 if single, or $209,850 if the head of household.
  • Cap on frequency: It is available for an unlimited number of tax years as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Who can’t claim credit: you can’t take a credit or deduction for foreign income taxes paid on income that you exclude from the U.S. tax under any of the following:
  1. Foreign earned income exclusion.
  2. Foreign housing exclusion.
  3. Income from Puerto Rico exempt from U.S. tax.
  4. Possession exclusion.

Itemized Deductions

Use Schedule A (Form 1040) to see which itemized deductions you qualify for. Generally, your federal income tax will be less if you take the larger of your itemized deductions or your standard deduction.

If you do itemize your deduction, however, you can deduct a part of your medical and dental expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses, and amounts you paid for certain taxes, interest, contributions, and miscellaneous expenses. You can also deduct certain casualty and theft losses.

The following is a list of just some of the itemized deductions you may qualify for:

  • Deductible taxes
  • Property Tax
  • Real Estate Tax
  • Sales Tax
  • Charitable Contributions
  • Gambling Loss
  • Union Expenses
  • Moving Expenses
  • Alimony Paid
  • Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Losses

Don’t miss out on credits and deductions

If you believe that you may qualify for a reduction in your tax liability, or even a refund through a tax credit, be sure to research the listed tax credits or deductions before you file your 2015 taxes.

By taking the time to gather all appropriate documents, and researching your eligibility for credits and deductions, you could drastically slash your tax liability and even qualify for a hefty tax return.