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How do I calculate taxable income?

4 min read

4 min read

At a glance

Learning how to calculate your taxable income involves knowing what items to include and what to exclude. Simply stated, it’s three steps. You’ll need to know your filing status, add up all of your sources of income and then subtract any deductions to find your taxable income amount.

So, how do you determine your taxable income exactly? This post will break down the details of how to calculate taxable income using these steps.

Keep in mind, your income is part of what determines how much you owe in federal and state income taxes. As you prepare your tax return, it helps to understand how the tax law views your income and how to determine taxable income.

How to determine taxable income: Step-by-step

How to calculate taxable income on form 1040

Step 1: Determine Your Filing Status

First, determine your filing status. If you are married, your best option is usually to file jointly. If you file your taxes jointly with your spouse, you are required to add all of your income together to determine the total. You can combine your deductions, and you pay your taxes jointly.

Even if you are married, though, you can decide to file separately. When you file separately, it means each of you adds up your income, and you pay your taxes separately. You have to divide up your deductions. Both of you can’t use the same expenses to calculate the amount of your separate deductions. Some states have property rules that require married couples who file separate returns to combine certain income and expenses owned by both spouses and then split the income and expenses equally on the returns. These states are known as community property states.

If you aren’t married, you file as single. In some cases, single people and those that are considered unmarried for tax purposes may file as head of household.

Step 2: Consider Your Types of Income

The IRS requires you to report all of your income. This includes your side income, interest income, and other income on top of what you might have earned from wages and tips. All of this income is reported directly on your Form 1040 or Schedule 1.

Your total gross income is determined by adding up all types of income that you have received during the calendar/tax year. There are different lines on the front of the Form 1040 and Schedule 1 for different types of income, but by the time you get to the end, you will have added it all up.

If you file separately instead, you will need to be careful about which income belongs on yours and your spouse’s return. You will need to verify whose name is on which assets and report the income accordingly. If you live in a community property state, different rules apply, and you may each have to report 50% of the community income. You will also need good records dividing up deductions since you both won’t be able to use the same expenses when you calculate your deductions. For help figuring this out, use our easy-to-use income tax calculator.

Step 3: Calculate Deductions and Taxable Income

The next question you should be asking yourself is “How do I figure my taxable income?” This step will help you find your taxable income, after deductions.

Once you report all of your income on your Form 1040 and Schedule 1, you will then have the chance to adjust your income on Schedule 1.

Using Schedule 1, you may be able to reduce your income with the help of contributions to a traditional IRA, student loan interest, self-employment deductions, and other expenses. Adding these up on line 22 of Schedule 1 gives you the total adjustments. Your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is then calculated by subtracting the adjustments from your total income.

Your AGI is the next step in figuring out your taxable income. You then subtract certain deductions from your AGI. The resulting amount is taxable income on which your taxes are calculated. Typically you can take either the standard deduction or itemized deductions. If you’re a business owner you may also be eligible for the qualified business income deduction.

After you figure your tax, you may be eligible for certain credits that lower your tax liability, such as the child tax credit and education credits.

If you are married, it’s possible to run the calculations more than one way to decide what would result in the lowest household tax liability. Run the numbers as married filing jointly, as well as for filing separately, and then see which will lead to less money paid in taxes total.

Help with how to calculate taxable income is here

If you’d rather not go it alone, we’re always here to help. Whether you make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable tax pros or choose one of our online tax filing products, we’ll help you determine your taxable income as part of preparing your return. Plus, you can count on H&R Block to help you get back the most money possible.

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