When you are doing your federal income taxes and do not itemize deductions, you are permitted to take the federal income tax standard deduction. This is an amount set forth by the Government to reduce your tax liability. Each year this amount goes up by a $150. The standard deduction for persons filing single and those that are married but filing separately in 2012 is $5,950. Heads of household are able to deduct $8,700 and married couples filing jointly or qualifying surviving spouses are able to deduct $11,900.
It is important that you understand that you cannot take both the federal income tax standard deduction and itemize your deductions. It has to be one or the other. The exception to these standard deductions is if you are either blind or over the age of 65. An additional amount, to be determined when you are doing your worksheets, is available to add to this standard deduction. Most taxpayers find it more beneficial to take the standard deduction rather than itemize since it is often a larger amount.
If you are someone that itemizes, do your return twice to compare. See what your refund would be by itemizing and what it would by with just the standard deduction. Where this gets confusing is if you are a married couple. Even if you are filing separately, if one of you itemizes, neither of you can claim the standard deduction. Weigh out your options before deciding which one to take.
Another item to keep in mind is that the IRS does not recognize same-sex couples or domestic partnerships as a married couple. You would both file single or one could file head of household and the other single. The only argument would be who would file head of household and get the bigger federal income tax standard deduction.