Personal Exemption: Definition, Impact, And Elimination

Article Summary:

The personal exemption was a significant aspect of federal income tax until 2017 when it was eliminated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This exemption allowed taxpayers to reduce their taxable income based on the number of dependents they supported. This article explores what the personal exemption was, how it worked, and its elimination. Let’s dive into the details.

Understanding the personal exemption

The personal exemption was a fundamental component of the federal income tax system, allowing taxpayers to reduce their taxable income by a set amount for each person they supported financially. Let’s delve deeper into the intricacies of this tax provision and understand its significance in the context of taxation.

What was a personal exemption?

The personal exemption served as a valuable tax break available until 2017. It offered a tax deduction for each individual the taxpayer provided financial support to, including themselves, their spouse, and qualifying dependents. This deduction effectively lowered the taxpayer’s taxable income, resulting in reduced tax liability.

Personal exemption amount

In the tax year 2017, the personal exemption amounted to $4,050 per person. It’s important to note that, unlike deductions which vary based on eligible expenses, the personal exemption was universally applicable to all taxpayers, regardless of their specific financial circumstances. This made it an equitable benefit for a wide range of individuals.

Changes from 2018 to 2025

Beginning in 2018 and extending through 2025, significant changes to the tax landscape led to the elimination of the personal exemption. This change was primarily a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which overhauled the tax code. While the personal exemption vanished during this period, a notable development was the doubling of the standard deduction for most taxpayers.

This increase in the standard deduction mitigated the necessity for many taxpayers to itemize their deductions. However, it’s essential to recognize that the impact of these changes varied depending on an individual’s filing status and did not include additional exemptions for dependents.

Applying the personal exemption

Understanding how the personal exemption applied in practice is vital for comprehending its role in tax planning and filing. This section elucidates the eligibility criteria and the mechanics of applying the personal exemption.

Eligibility and phaseout

The personal exemption was available to taxpayers who met specific eligibility criteria, the most critical being that they could not be claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return. Additionally, the personal exemption was subject to a phaseout, commonly known as the Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP).

The PEP gradually reduced the personal exemption for high-income taxpayers by 2% for each $2,500 or fraction of adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding certain income thresholds. These thresholds were $261,500 for single filers, $287,650 for head of household filers, and $313,800 for joint filers. Taxpayers with an AGI above $436,300 saw a complete phaseout of the personal exemption.

Value and tax savings

The value of the personal exemption was directly linked to an individual’s tax bracket. Consequently, taxpayers in higher tax brackets experienced more substantial tax savings when claiming the personal exemption. For instance, a taxpayer with a $4,050 personal exemption would achieve tax savings of $608 in a 15% tax bracket and $1,418 in a 35% tax bracket.

This variation in tax savings highlighted the progressive nature of income taxation, where higher earners received more substantial benefits from deductions and exemptions.

The bottom line

While the personal exemption was a valuable tool for reducing taxable income until 2017, its elimination from 2018 to 2025 reshaped the tax landscape for many individuals and families. Understanding the nuances of the personal exemption, its eligibility criteria, phaseout thresholds, and the impact on tax savings can still be valuable knowledge for taxpayers as they navigate the ever-evolving world of taxation.


Here are the pros and cons of the personal exemption:

  • Reduced taxable income
  • Lower overall taxes
  • Applicable to all taxpayers
  • Eliminated from 2018 to 2025
  • Replaced by higher standard deduction
  • Varied with income level

Frequently asked questions

When was the personal exemption eliminated?

The personal exemption was eliminated from 2018 to 2025 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Who could claim a personal exemption?

Taxpayers, their spouses, and qualifying dependents were eligible to claim a personal exemption.

How was the personal exemption calculated?

It was calculated by multiplying the per-exemption dollar amount by the number of eligible family members, depending on the taxpayer’s filing status.

Could married filing separately taxpayers claim the personal exemption for a spouse?

Yes, they could, provided the spouse had zero gross income and wasn’t claimed as a dependent by any other taxpayer.

What was the impact of the personal exemption phaseout?

The personal exemption phased out for high-income taxpayers, gradually reducing the exemption for those with AGIs above certain thresholds.

Key takeaways

  • The personal exemption was available until 2017 but eliminated from 2018 to 2025.
  • Taxpayers, their spouses, and qualifying dependents were able to claim a personal exemption.
  • The personal exemption was eliminated in 2017 as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
  • Its value varied with the taxpayer’s income and tax bracket.
  • While it no longer exists, understanding its impact can still be valuable for tax planning.
View Article Sources
  1. Personal Exemptions – IRS
  2. Personal Exemptions Instructor Presentation – IRS
  3. Tax Deduction Questions & Answers – SuperMoney