Taxpayer asks:

Dear Taxgirl:

Assuming the total itemized deductions available to an individual in 2018 are exactly the same as the standard deduction, what are the reasons to take one approach over the other?

Taxgirl says:

For most taxpayers, you have the option of adding up your itemized deductions and using that amount or using the standard deduction. The standard deduction amount is a flat amount based on your filing status. Thanks to a tax reform-induced bump in the standard deduction, more taxpayers will be opting out of itemizing deductions in 2018.

But even before tax reform, most taxpayers claimed the standard deduction. Why? It’s easy. There’s no extra math, and you don’t need to file a Schedule A.

If the total of your itemized deductions is higher than the standard deduction, then you’d want to itemize, assuming you qualify to do so. But if they were exactly the same? In most cases, I’d choose the standard deduction.

Why? As noted above, it’s easier. It doesn’t require the preparation of a Schedule A which might keep your tax prep fees down. It may also reduce your adjustment or audit risk since there is less chance of mistake (no math!) and no requirement to keep supporting documentation.

There are a few instances, however, when you may not claim the standard deduction. For example, if your filing status is married filing separate (MFS), you have to coordinate your return with your spouse. If one spouse chooses to itemize, the other must also itemize; if one spouse claims the standard deduction, the other must also claim the standard deduction.

Some international taxpayers aren’t eligible to claim the standard deduction. A nonresident alien (more on that here) may not claim the standard deduction; some exceptions may apply including students and business apprentices from India (check out Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens for more information). Similarly, a dual-status alien may not claim the standard deduction.

In some cases, your standard deduction may be smaller or bigger than the flat amount. If you can be claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return, your standard deduction will be limited. If you are over age 65 or blind, your standard deduction may be increased.

Again, most of the time, it’s a quick comparison to determine whether to claim the standard deduction or itemize your deductions. You’re just looking for the bigger number. But, assuming that the numbers are equal – and you’re not barred from claiming the standard deduction – I’d opt for the standard deduction. Of course, if you use a tax professional, he or she can help you determine which option works best for you.

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to “ask the taxgirl.”

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.

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