“Just write it off.”
“Go ahead and deduct it.”
“I think there’s a tax credit for that.”
Although you might have heard or even uttered one of the sentences above, have you ever wondered what it actually means? While both tax deductions and tax credits can save you a significant amount of money on your taxes, they work in significantly different ways.
What is a Tax Deduction?
A tax deduction is a result of a tax-deductible expense or exemption which reduces your taxable income. A common tax deduction on your federal income tax return is the standard deduction. An example of how this works: If your income was $50,000, your standard deduction (if single or married filing separately) would reduce your taxable income by the 2018 standard deduction of $12,000, so your taxable income would now be $38,000.
What is a Tax Credit?
Unlike tax deductions, tax credits are subtracted from your tax liability (not taxable income). A common tax credit is the Child Tax Credit. If you have a qualifying child, you can take a credit of up to $2,000 per child against the taxes you owe in 2018. If you have a total federal income tax liability of $3,500, the Child Tax Credit for one child would reduce that tax liability to $1,500.
Is a Tax Deduction Better Than a Tax Credit? Is a Tax Credit Better Thank a Tax Deduction?
If you were ever faced with a hypothetical choice between a $100 tax deduction and a $100 tax credit, you would most likely prefer to receive the credit. Unlike a tax deduction, a $100 tax credit reduces your tax dollar-for-dollar ($100). On the other hand, a tax deduction reduces your taxable income by $100. The resulting amount of tax you save depends on your marginal tax bracket (in everyday language: your tax bracket). If you are in the 24% tax bracket in 2018, a $100 tax deduction reduces your taxes by $24. On the other hand, a $100 credit would reduce your taxes by $100.
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