$6,000 for setting up an IRA is paltry compared with the $37,000 for another transaction.
A $5,000 or $6,000 deduction for IRA contributions, a $4,000 deduction for college tuition and fees, a $1,000 child tax credit — these are hefty tax breaks for which a taxpayer may understandably yearn. But they’re small beans when compared with the tens of thousands of dollars in savings some reap through deductions and credits.
How about taking a $50,000 deduction for state and local taxes paid, a $37,000 deduction for medical expenses, a $28,000 deduction for mortgage interest, or a $21,000 deduction for charitable contributions?
Those are the average amounts claimed for each of those deductions in 2008 by taxpayers with adjusted gross income higher than $250,000, the group with the highest average claim for each of those deductions that year, said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst with CCH Inc., a Riverwoods, Ill.-based tax publisher and unit of Wolters Kluwer. (The average dollar amounts are rounded, and count only those taxpayers who claimed that particular deduction.)
Some tax breaks “basically don’t have any limit,” Luscombe said. For example, to take the medical-expense deduction your expenses must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
“That puts a floor on it, but as far as a top number, the more medical expenses you have, the higher the deduction,” Luscombe said. (Some deductions discussed here are restricted or disallowed under the alternative minimum tax.)
For taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $30,000 to $50,000 in 2008, the average deduction for state and local taxes was about $3,800; for medical expenses, $6,000; mortgage interest, $9,000; charitable contributions, $2,200, according to CCH.
For taxpayers with AGI of $50,000 to $100,000, the average deduction for state and local taxes was about $6,000; medical expenses, $7,000; mortgage interest, $10,600; charitable contributions, $2,700.
The mortgage-interest deduction is limited by the value of your home — generally speaking, you can claim it for interest paid on mortgage indebtedness up to $1 million, plus another $100,000 of home-equity debt. See this IRS page for more on the mortgage-interest deduction.
Meanwhile, some credits don’t have an upper limit, Luscombe said. The residential energy-efficient property credit for installing solar, wind or geothermal systems is worth 30% of the amount spent — whatever that amount is.
But don’t confuse that credit with the one for home energy-efficient upgrades, such as new windows and doors. That credit was worth up to $1,500 in 2010 but lawmakers reduced it for 2011, in the Tax Relief Act passed in December.