5 unexpected tax breaks you can claim on your tax return

  • There are several legitimate ways to pay less taxes.
  • Tax deductions reduce your taxable income, while tax credits lower your tax bill.
  • A few of the most under-the-radar tax breaks include deductions for jury duty and bringing your pet to work (but only if they're working, too). 

There are several legitimate ways to pay less taxes.

There are hundreds of tax breaks available to Americans in the form of deductions, which reduce the amount of your income that's taxed, and credits, which lower your overall tax bill.

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When filing a federal tax return, you can either itemize deductions or claim the standard deduction, which is $12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for head of household filers, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.

If your itemized deductions total more than the standard deduction, it may be worth the extra time it often takes to itemize, experts say. Typical deductions filers can claim include medical expenses, charitable donations, state and local taxes (SALT), mortgage interest, and student-loan interest. Some deductions are available even if you don't itemize.

Read more: 10 things you probably didn't know you could deduct on your taxes

Tax credits can be claimed whether you itemize or not; the most popular ones include the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and the American Opportunity tax credit.

RELATED: Take a look at the tax breaks that are no longer available: 

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5 tax breaks no longer available
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5 tax breaks no longer available

1. Personal exemptions

For 2017, eligible taxpayers could claim an exemption for themselves and a spouse as well as exemptions for dependents. Each such exemption reduced taxable income by $4,050.

For 2018, however, there are no personal exemptions. Tax reform suspended them, basically meaning it made them temporarily unavailable.

Specifically, personal exemptions and many other tax breaks that were suspended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will be unavailable for tax years 2018 through 2025.

2. Moving expenses

You cannot deduct moving expenses from your 2018 taxable income, either. Tax reform suspended this deduction for everyone except active-duty members of the U.S. armed forces who are ordered to relocate.

“During the suspension, no deduction is allowed for use of an automobile as part of a move,” states IRS Publication 5307, which outlines how tax reform impacts individuals and families in tax year 2018.

Tax reform also suspended the exclusion for qualified moving expense reimbursements for everyone but active-duty military members. So, if your employer reimbursed you for moving expenses in 2018, that reimbursement will be considered taxable income.

3. Casualty and theft losses

Tax reform modified the deduction for net casualty and theft losses, making it available only to taxpayers who suffered such losses that were attributed to a federally declared disaster.

Other requirements for this deduction remain in place, however.

“The loss must still exceed $100 per casualty and the net total loss must exceed 10 percent of your [adjusted gross income],” states Publication 5307.

4. Job-related expenses

Previously, folks who itemized their tax deductions could write off what the IRS refers to as miscellaneous deductions to the extent that they exceeded 2 percent of such taxpayers’ taxable income. But miscellaneous deductions are among those that have been suspended.

Miscellaneous deductions include unreimbursed employee expenses, such as:

  • Uniforms
  • Union dues
  • Business-related meals
  • Business-related entertainment
  • Business-related travel

So, if you paid for such expenses out of your own pocket in 2018 and were not reimbursed for them by your employer, you cannot write them off on your next tax return.

5. Tax preparation fees

This is another miscellaneous deduction and thus has been suspended. It includes:

  • The cost of tax preparation software programs
  • The cost of tax publications
  • Fees for filing tax returns electronically

So, if you paid any of these expenses in 2018, you can’t write them off on your next tax return.

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But those are just a few of the many tax breaks available to Americans. Here are a few you may not have heard of:

1. Charity work deduction

If you volunteered for a charitable organization in 2018 and drove there, you can deduct the cost of parking and toll fees and some gas (14 cents per mile), according to NerdWallet.

You can also deduct up to $250 worth of supplies you purchased for charity purposes, like food for a soup kitchen, if you kept all your receipts. If you want to deduct more than $250, it requires documentation from the charitable organization.

2. Gambling losses deduction

If a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City left you nearly penniless, you can recoup some of those losses come tax time. You can include gambling losses as tax deductions if you itemize, NerdWallet explained

Money lost at a casino or racetrack qualifies, as does money spent on bingo, lottery, or raffle tickets, but only if the ticket was a loser — the amount you deduct cannot exceed the winnings you claim as income.

3. Jury duty pay deduction

If you're summoned for jury duty, your employer may offer regular pay or paid leave to attend, and the court may pay you for your time — typically between $10 and $30 a day,according to TurboTax. In both situations, the money you receive is counted as taxable income.

However, some employers require employees to hand over their jury duty pay. If that's the case, you must still claim the pay as part of your income, but on your tax return you can claim the pay as a deduction, resulting in a zero net gain.

4. Guard dog deduction

Believe it or not, the IRS may actually consider your pet's medical, training, or food costs a business expense. If you bring your dog to work and can show that they're necessary on site (maybe even protecting your business' inventory), you may be able to deduct the cost of caring for the dog, Bankrate explained. Your chances may be better if the dog is a breed that would call for a "beware of dog" sign.

5. Retirement account savings credit

The Saver's Credit enables low- to moderate-income taxpayers saving for retirement to reduce their tax bill by up to $1,000, or $2,000 if married and filing jointly.

To be eligible for the Saver's Credit, you must meet three requirements: You're at least 18 years old, not a full-time student, and aren't claimed as a dependent on someone else's return. Your adjusted gross income (AGI) also must be less than $31,500 if you're a single filer, and less than $63,000 if you're a joint filer.

Depending on your income, you can claim a credit that's equal to 50%, 20%, or 10% of the first $2,000 in contributions to your retirement account or Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account (a tax-advantaged savings account for people with disabilities and their families).

An earlier version of this post listed the college tuition and fees deduction, which has expired for the 2018 tax year.

SEE ALSO: 5 tax breaks you can't get anywhere but the US

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