Tax Cuts & Jobs Act: 2018 Standard Deduction and Exemptions

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made dramatic changes that affected pretty much every US taxpayer. This is the first article of the series of articles on the Act. I will start this series with the discussion of simple US domestic issues (such as 2018 standard deduction and personal exemptions), then gradually turn to more and more complex US domestic and international tax issues, and finish with the examination of the highly complex issues concerning E&P income recognition for US owners of foreign corporations and the new type of Subpart F income.

Today, I will focus on the 2018 standard deduction and exemptions.

Standard Deduction for the Tax Year 2017

Standard deduction is the amount of dollars by which you can reduce your adjusted gross income (“AGI”) in order to lower your taxable income and, hence, your federal income tax. The standard deduction is prescribed by Congress. If you use standard deduction, you cannot itemize your deductions (i.e. try to reduce your AGI by the amount of actual allowed itemized deductions) – you have to choose between these two options.

Standard deduction varies based on your filing status (there is an additional standard deductions of individuals over the age of 65 or who are blind).

For the tax year 2017, the standard deduction are as follows: $6,350 for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately, $12,700 for married couples filing a joint tax return and $9,350 for heads of household.

2018 Standard Deduction and Exemptions

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the 2018 standard deduction will virtually double in size: $12,000 for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately, $24,000 for married couples filing a joint tax return and $18,000 for heads of household. All of these amounts will be indexed for inflation.

It is important to point out, however, that these increased standard deduction amounts will only last until 2025. Then, the standard deduction should revert to the old pre-2018 law.

Personal Exemptions & Impact of 2018 Standard Deduction

Personal exemption is an additional amount of dollars by which the Congress will allow you to reduce your AGI (already reduced by either standard deduction or itemized deductions). When IRC Section 151 was enacted in 1954, the idea behind a personal exemption was to exempt from taxation a certain minimal amount a person needs to survive at a subsistence level.

Personal exemption can be claimed for you and your qualified dependents; in case of joint tax returns, each spouse is granted a personal exemption. However, a personal exemption for a spouse can be claimed even if the spouses are filing separate tax returns, but certain requirements have to be met.

For the tax year 2017, the personal exemption amount is $4,050. The exemption is subject to a phase-out at a certain level of income.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 repeals personal exemptions for the tax years 2018-2025. After 2025, the law reverts to the one that existed as of the tax year 2017. In other words, the increase in 2018 standard deduction will be at least partially offset by the elimination of 2018 personal exemption.

In some cases, where taxpayers claim many personal exemptions for their dependants, the elimination of personal exemptions may actually result in the increase in taxation (compared to the 2017 law) despite the increase of 2018 standard deduction. Of course, such an increase in taxation needs to take into account potential increase in child tax credit under the new law. Hence, in order to assess the full tax impact of the tax reform for large families, one needs to consider other factors in addition to just 2018 standard deduction.

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