One of the most common misunderstandings about filing an income tax return is the difference between deductions and credits. Deductions reduce the amount of a taxpayer’s income before tax is calculated. For example, on your individual return, you can either take the standard deduction or itemize deductions if it will reduce your taxable income more. Credits, on the other hand, reduce the actual tax due, dollar-for-dollar, generally making them more valuable than deductions.
For example, the tax savings from a $1,000 deduction would depend on your tax bracket; it would save you $150 if you’re in the 15% tax bracket, but it would save you $350 if you’re in the 35% tax bracket. A $1,000 credit, on the other hand, would save you $1,000 in taxes regardless of your tax bracket. (These examples assume no income-based phaseout or limit applies to the deduction or credit.)
Some credits, such as the Child Tax Credit, are partially or fully refundable. This means that if a taxpayer’s tax liability is less than the amount of the credit, the taxpayer can possibly receive the difference as a refund.
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