Barry Dolowich, Tax Tips: Itemized versus standard deduction

Peninsula Premier Admin

Question: In 2020, I donated $3,000 last year to my church. Even though I generally do not itemize my deductions, can I still get some tax benefit for this donation on my 2020 income tax returns?

Answer: Taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions are entitled to a standard deduction. Generally, you have the choice of itemizing deductions or taking the applicable standard deduction amount, whichever figure will result in a higher deduction.

The amount of the standard deduction varies according to the taxpayer’s filing status. This deduction reduces adjusted gross income in arriving at taxable income. The following are the standard deduction amounts available in 2020 to individuals other than those who are age 65 or older or who are blind. Those married filing jointly and surviving spouses have a standard deduction of $24,800, those married filing separately $12,400, head of household filers $18,650, single filers $12,400.

Taxpayers who are age 65 or older, or who are blind, receive an additional standard deduction amount that is added to the basic standard deduction reflected in the above table. The additional amount for married individuals (whether filing jointly or separately) and surviving spouses is $1,300, while the additional amount for single individuals is $1,650.

When married taxpayers file separate returns, both spouses should either itemize their deductions or claim the standard deduction. If one spouse itemizes and the other does not, the non-itemizing spouse’s standard deduction amount will be zero, even if each spouse is age 65 or older or blind.

Itemized deductions are claimed on Schedule A of Form 1040. The following is a listing of the most commonly allowed itemized deductions:

· Medical and dental expenses above 7.5% (10% for 2021) of your adjusted gross income for 2020

· State and local income taxes paid

· Real estate taxes paid

· Mortgage interest and points paid

· Investment interest paid (limited to investment income)

· Gifts to charity (cash and noncash, and subject to various adjusted gross income limitations)

· Gambling losses to the extent of gambling winnings

Please note that the combined amount of state and local taxes is limited to $10,000.

Now, back to your question. If the total amount of your itemized deductions including your generous charitable contribution is less than your allowed standard deduction, then utilizing the standard deduction will save you tax dollars (with no tax benefit for your charitable contribution). If the addition of the charitable contribution brings your itemized deductions to an amount greater than your allowed standard deduction, then the contribution will have given you a tax benefit. The tax benefit can be quantified by multiplying your marginal tax bracket by the difference (up to the $3,000 contribution) between the total itemized deductions and the allowed standard deduction.

Even if you utilize the standard deduction, all is not lost: following the tax law changes per the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, cash donations of up to $300 made in 2020 are deductible without having to itemize.

Barry Dolowich is a Certified Public Accountant and owner of a full-service accounting and tax practice with offices in Monterey. He can be reached at 372-7200. Please address any questions to Barry at PO Box 710 Monterey, CA 93942 or email:

Contributed by local news sources

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