Taking Standard Tax Deductions Could Cost You

By Eileen A.J. Connelly, AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — To itemize or not to itemize?

Debating the answer to that question can stall the best intentions to get a tax return filed before the April 15.

Taxpayers have two choices: take the standard deduction or itemize deductions such as mortgage interest, charitable donations and job-related spending.

Internal Revenue Service statistics show that only about 35 percent of tax returns include itemized deductions. That means it's likely many are missing out on tax savings they'd get if they claimed all they are entitled to.

The standard deduction for most taxpayers starts at $5,700 for a single person, or $11,400 for a married couple filing a joint return. A taxpayer who can claim head of household status gets $8,350 to start.

The total amount of the standard deduction you can claim can rise depending on several factors. Taxpayers who are over 65 and/or blind get an increase. You'll also get a bump up of $500 ($1,000 for married couples with joint returns) for paying real estate taxes.

And if you filed losses within any of the 59 disaster areas designated by the federal government in 2009, you'll be able to add the amount of your net loss.

This year, there's also a credit added for any sales tax paid if you bought a new car after Feb. 16, 2009.

There's a calculator to help you determine your standard deduction on the IRS Web site.

Once you have that number, you can figure out if it's better to itemize by comparing it to the total of other deductions you may claim.

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