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What is Your Adjusted Gross Income

It doesn’t matter whether you file your income tax return on the 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ form; you can always find your adjusted gross income (AGI) above the “total income” line. When using tax forms 1040 or 1040A, your AGI is reported at the bottom of the first page of the form. However, if you file the one-page 1040EZ form instead, your AGI is the same as total income. But the best way to find your AGI is to understand how it’s calculated.

Calculating Adjusted Gross Income

Gather all of your information returns, such as W-2s and 1099s, that report the income you earn during the tax year. Since your total income is the starting point for all income tax returns, compute your total earnings for the year excluding any tax-exempt income you receive such as municipal bond interest. There are separate lines on the return for every possible category of income you receive, so when calculating adjusted gross income, it’s important that you don’t miss anything; otherwise your AGI will be incorrect. Keep in mind that your total income includes more than just employment and self-employment earnings. If you receive a 1099-INT, you may have to report interest income, or if it’s a 1099-DIV, your dividends may be taxable as well.

Deductions for AGI

After calculating your total income, you then need to determine your eligibility for each deduction listed in the AGI section of your return, which the IRS commonly refers to as “adjustments to income.” This is essential since your AGI is equal to total income minus the sum of all adjustments to income. Adjustment to income deductions typically cover expenses you incur for job-related moving expenses reported on Form 3903, deductions for tuition, fees and student loan interest and a portion of your self-employment tax payments, which cover your contributions to the Social Security and Medicare programs and a limited amount of contributions you make to a traditional IRA.

Adjusted Gross Income on 1040

All income tax forms will provide clear instructions on the above calculation before you report your final AGI number on the last line of your 1040 or 1040A. The IRS will always clearly identify your AGI and even requires that that you report it on two separate lines of the tax return. But since tax forms change ever year, you can’t always assume that AGI will be reported on the same line, which is why you should try to understand the AGI calculation.

AGI and MAGI

The bigger your federal AGI number is, the more IRS restrictions you’ll face when evaluating which deductions and credits you can take, such as the earned income credit, the credit for child and dependent care expenses and both the American opportunity and lifetime learning credits for school expenses. The IRS uses your Modified Adjusted Gross Income, or MAGI, to determine your eligibility for many tax benefits. However, you shouldn’t confuse MAGI with your AGI. Your MAGI can be different amounts within the same tax year depending on which tax benefit you’re evaluation, whereas your AGI is fixed in amount.

IRS Reference:
Definition of Adjusted Gross Income