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What is AGI?

If you’re like most taxpayers, you’re probably more interested in what your taxable income is rather than what your AGI, or federal adjusted gross income, is. But when preparing your 1040 form this year, you should pay close attention to your AGI since it can have a significant impact on your tax return.

Calculating Adjusted Gross Income

The AGI calculation is the same for all taxpayers, but if you file on a 1040A or 1040EZ, you’ll notice abbreviated versions of it. Calculating your AGI first requires you to compute the sum of all income you report on the return, referred to as “total income.” Total income includes all earnings that aren’t tax-exempt, such as wages from your job, self-employment earnings, alimony payments and interest from a bank or other financial account. You then reduce total income by all “adjustment to income” deduction you can take. Note, however, that you calculate AGI before taking exemptions, the standard deduction and itemized deductions, which are reported in later sections of the tax return.

Deductions for AGI

Adjustments to income are deductions that reduce your total income to calculate your AGI. These deductible expenses can change each year, but they typically cover half of your self-employment tax liability, payments of alimony you make to a former spouse, contributions to traditional IRAs and contributions to certain health savings accounts, or an HSA. However, only the full-length 1040 form allows you to deduct every adjustment available, provided you’re eligible for it. When filing on Form 1040A, the IRS significantly reduces the number of adjustments available. But if you file on Form 1040EZ, no adjustments are available and your AGI is always the same as your total income.

Reduce Adjusted Gross Income

There are a number of tax deductions you may qualify for that may need to be reduced by a percentage of the AGI you report. If you itemize deductions on Schedule A and report medical and dental expenses, you’ll have to reduce the total by 7.5 percent of your AGI. Generally, the lower your AGI is, the less you have to reduce your deductions by. Even your adjustments to income can be subject to AGI limitations. This may initially seem confusing, but the IRS uses your modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI, as a threshold amount for determining your eligibility for certain adjustments to income. For most taxpayers, MAGI is oftentimes your AGI before taking any deduction for the adjustment in question. For example, the student loan interest deduction uses your MAGI, which requires you to use the amount of your AGI without deducting student loan interest.

Additional AGI Implications

If your state requires the filing of annual income tax returns, your federal adjusted gross income may also impact your state income tax bill. Many states use your AGI as the starting point for calculating state taxable income. Your AGI also impacts your eligibility for tax credits, such as the lifetime learning credit for your education expenses. For example, the IRS will require your MAGI to be less than a certain amount before you can take the credit.

IRS Form 1040