December 1, 2011 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm #600939
(from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine)
Years ago, the fellow who was running the IRS at the time told Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine that he figured millions of taxpayers overpaid their taxes every year by overlooking just one of the money-savers listed here.
Don’t be one of those millions: Cut your tax bill to the bone by claiming all the breaks you deserve — including some you may have forgotten or never even knew about.
1) State Sales Taxes
Although all taxpayers have a shot at this write-off, it makes sense primarily for those who live in states that do not impose an income tax. You must choose between deducting state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes. For most citizens of income-tax states, the income tax is a bigger burden than the sales tax, so the income-tax deduction is a better deal.
The IRS has tables that show how much residents of various states can deduct, based on their income and state and local sales tax rates. But the tables aren’t the last word. If you purchased a vehicle, boat or airplane, you get to add the sales tax you paid to the amount shown in the IRS table for your state.
The same goes for any homebuilding materials you purchased. These add-on items are easy to overlook, but big-ticket items could make the sales-tax deduction a better deal even if you live in a state with an income tax. The IRS has a calculator on its Web site to help you figure the deduction
2) Reinvested Dividends
This isn’t really a tax deduction, but it is an important subtraction that can save you a bundle. And this is the break former IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg told Kiplinger’s that a lot of taxpayers miss.
If, like most investors, you have mutual-fund dividends automatically invested in extra shares, remember that each reinvestment increases your “tax basis” in the fund. That, in turn, reduces the taxable capital gain(or increases the tax-saving loss) when you redeem shares.
3) Out-of-Pocket Charitable Deductions
It’s hard to overlook the big charitable gifts you made during the year, by check or payroll deduction (check your December pay stub).
But the little things add up, too, and you can write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity. For example, ingredients for casseroles you prepare for a nonprofit organization’s soup kitchen and stamps you buy for your school’s fundraising mailing count as a charitable contribution. Keep your receipts and if your contribution totals more than $250, you’ll need an acknowledgement from the charity documenting the services you provided.
If you drove your car for charity in 2011, remember to deduct 14 cents per mile plus parking and tolls paid in your philanthropic journeys
4) Student-Loan Interest Paid by Mom and Dad
Generally, you can only deduct mortgage or student-loan interest if you are legally required to repay the debt. But if parents pay back a child’s student loan, the IRS treats it as though the money was given to the child, who then paid the debt.
So, a child who’s not claimed as a dependent can qualify to deduct up to $2,500 of student-loan interest paid by Mom and Dad. And he or she doesn’t have to itemize to use this money-saver.
Mom and Dad can’t claim the interest deduction even though they actually foot the bill since they are not liable for the debt.
5) Job-Hunting Costs
If you’re among the millions of unemployed Americans who were looking for a job in 2011, we hope you kept track of your job-search expenses … or can reconstruct them.
If you’re looking for a position in the same line of work, you can deduct job-hunting costs as miscellaneous expenses if you itemize. Such expenses can be written off only to the extent that your total miscellaneous expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.
Job-hunting expenses incurred while looking for your first job don’t qualify
6) Moving Expenses to Take Your First Job
As we just mentioned, job-hunting expenses incurred while looking for your first job are not deductible. But, moving expenses to get to that position are. And you get this write-off even if you don’t itemize.
To qualify for the deduction, your first job must be at least 50 miles away from your old home. If you qualify, you can deduct the cost of getting yourself and your household goods to the new area.
If you drove your own car, your mileage write-off depends on when during 2011 you moved. For moves from January 1 through the end of June, the standard mileage rate is 19 cents a mile; for moves during the second half of the year, a 23.5 cents a mile rate applies. In either case, boost your deduction by any amount you paid for parking and tolls
7) Military Reservists’ Travel Expenses
Members of the National Guard or military reserve may tap a deduction for travel expenses to drills or meetings. To qualify, you must travel more than 100 miles from home and be away from home overnight.
If you qualify, you can deduct the cost of lodging and half the cost of your meals, plus an allowance for driving your own car to get to and from drills. For qualifying trips during January through June, 2011, the standard mileage rate is 51 cents a mile; for driving during the second half of the year, the rate is 55.5 cents a mile. In any event, add parking fees and tolls. And, you don’t have to itemize to get this deduction
8) For the Self-Employed: Deduction of Medicare Premiums
Folks who continue to run their own businesses after qualifying for Medicare can deduct the premiums they pay for Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D and the cost of supplemental Medicare (medigap) policies. This deduction is available whether or not you itemize and is not subject the 7.5% of AGI test that applies to itemized medical expenses.
One caveat: You can’t claim this deduction if you are eligible to be covered under an employer-subsidized health plan offered by your employer (if you have a job as well as your business) or your spouse’s employer
9) Child-Care Credit
A credit is so much better than a deduction; it reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar. So missing one is even more painful than missing a deduction that simply reduces the amount of income that’s subject to tax.
You can’t double dip. Expenses paid through a plan can’t also be used to generate the tax credit. But get this: Although only $5,000 in expenses can be paid through a tax-favored reimbursement account, up to $6,000 for the care of two or more children can qualify for the credit. So, if you run the maximum through a plan at work but spend even more for work-related child care, you can claim the credit on as much as $1,000 of additional expenses. That would cut your tax bill by at least $200
10) Estate Tax on Income in Respect of a Decedent
This sounds complicated, but it can save you a lot of money if you inherited an IRA from someone whose estate was big enough to be subject to the federal estate tax. Basically, you get an income-tax deduction for the amount of estate tax paid on the IRA assets you received. Let’s say you inherited a $100,000 IRA, and the fact that the money was included in your benefactor’s estate added $45,000 to the estate-tax bill.
You get to deduct that $45,000 on your tax returns as you withdraw the money from the IRA. If you withdraw $50,000 in one year, for example, you get to claim a $22,500 itemized deduction on Schedule A. That would save you $6,300 in the 28% bracket.
11) State Tax Paid Last Spring
Did you owe tax when you filed your 2010 state income tax return in the spring of 2011? Then, for goodness’ sake, remember to include that amount in your state-tax deduction on your 2011 federal return, along with state income taxes withheld from your paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments.
12) Refinancing Points
When you buy a house, you get to deduct in one fell swoop the points paid to get your mortgage. When you refinance, though, you have to deduct the points on the new loan over the life of that loan. That means you can deduct 1/30th of the points a year if it’s a 30-year mortgage. That’s $33 a year for each $1,000 of points you paid — not much, maybe, but don’t throw it away.
Even more important, in the year you pay off the loan — because you sell the house or refinance again — you get to deduct all as-yet-undeducted points.
There’s one exception to this sweet rule: If you refinance a refinanced loan with the same lender, you add the points paid on the latest deal to the leftovers from the previous refinancing — and deduct that amount gradually over the life of the new loan
13) Jury Pay Paid to Employer
Many employers continue to pay employees’ full salary while they serve on jury duty, and some impose a quid pro quo: the employees have to turn over their jury pay to the company coffers. The only problem is that the IRS demands that you report those jury fees as taxable income. To even things out, you get to deduct the amount you give to your employer.
But how do you do it? There’s no line on the Form 1040 labeled jury fees. Instead the write-off goes on line 36, which purports to be for simply totaling up deductions that get their own lines. Add your jury fees to the total of your other write-offs and write “jury pay” on the dotted line to the left
14) American Opportunity Credit
This tax credit is available for up to $2,500 of college tuition and related expenses paid during the year. The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less ($160,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return). The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above those levels.
15) Those Blasted Baggage Fees
In recent years airlines have been driving passengers batty with extra fees for baggage and for making changes in their travel plans. All together, such fees add up to billions of dollars each year. If you get burned, maybe Uncle Sam will help ease the pain. If you’re self-employed and travelling on business, be sure to add those costs to your deductible travel expenses.
16) Credit for Energy-Saving Home Improvements
Although this credit has been scaled back, it still exists and might save you some money if you made energy-saving home improvements during 2011.
The credit is worth 10% of the cost of qualifying energy savers including new windows and insulation.
The maximum credit is $500 and, if you claimed this credit in the past, you’re probably out of luck now. That $500 is the maximum credit allowed on all tax returns from 2006 to 2011.
There’s also no dollar limit on the separate credit for homeowners who install qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines. Your credit can be 30% of the total cost (including labor) of such systems installed through 2016.
17) Additional Bonus Depreciation
Business owners can write off 100% of the cost of qualified assets placed in service during 2011. This break applies only to new assets with recovery periods of 20 years or less, such as computers, machinery, equipment, land improvements and farm buildings. So don’t miss out on this big tax benefit if you placed business assets in service during 2011
18) Break on the Sale of Demutualized Stock
Taxpayers won an important court battle with the IRS over the issue of demutualized stock. That’s stock that a life insurance policyholder receives when the insurer switches from being a mutual company owned by policyholders to a stock company owned by stockholders. The IRS’s longstanding position was that such stock had no tax basis, so that when the shares were sold, the taxpayer owed tax on 100% of the proceeds of the sale. But after a long legal struggle, a federal court ruled in 2009 that the IRS was wrong.
The court didn’t say what the basis of the stock should be, but many experts think it’s whatever the shares were worth when they were distributed to policyholders. If you sold stock in 2011 that you received in a demutualization, be sure to claim a basis to hold down your tax bill.
19) Home-Buyer Credit
Most people think this credit expired in 2010 . . . and it did for most homeowners.
But, there’s a special rule for members of the uniformed armed services, the foreign service or the intelligence community who were on extended duty outside the United States at least 90 days during the period after December 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010. If you qualify and you bought a home before May 1, 2011, you may qualify for a tax credit worth $8,000 (for home buyers who didn’t own a home in the three years leading up to the purchase of a new home) or $6,500 (for longtime homeowners who continuously owned a home for at least five of the eight years leading up to the purchase of a new home).
The credit gradually disappears and is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes between $125,000 and $145,000 (for singles) and $225,000 and $245,000 (for married couples who file jointly).December 1, 2011 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm #831489
So, which of those 19 are the 10 most overlooked?December 1, 2011 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm #831490
I’m (slightly) embarassed to admit that although I carefully cut-and-pasted the article myself, the discrepancy went right by me.
BTW, the title to #15 made me think of you.December 1, 2011 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm #831491
“Keep your receipts and if your contribution totals more than $250, you’ll need an acknowledgement from the charity documenting the services you provided”
This statement is not accurate. Open IRS web-site.
If you cut ONE check for $ 250.00 or more – you need a receipt for it
If you cut a FEW checks for the same organization for total amount of $ 250.00 or more – you don’t need a receipt for each check or for the total amount of money you gave to this organization during the year. Every check treated as a separate donation.December 1, 2011 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm #831492
Over half of them are extremely unlikely to occur for anyone who is likely to be using YWN.
It also should be remember that many people in the frum community have so many dependents they don’t pay much income tax, and some won’t even itemize (high percentage are renters). THe “social security” tax (which Cain, alone, wants to repeal) is the major tax for such persons.December 2, 2011 2:39 am at 2:39 am #831493
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