Category Archives: Tax Deducations

2014 tax breaks: Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year end

WASHINGTON – In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty — once again — for millions of individuals and businesses.

Lawmakers let these tax breaks lapse almost every year, even though they save businesses and individuals billions of dollars. And almost every year, Congress eventually renews them, retroactively, so taxpayers can claim them by the time they file their tax returns.

2014 tax breaks: Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year endNo harm, no foul, right? After all, taxpayers filing returns in the spring won’t be hurt because the tax breaks were in effect for 2013. Taxpayers won’t be hit until 2015, when they file tax returns for next year.

Not so far. Trade groups and tax experts complain that Congress is making it impossible for businesses and individuals to plan for the future. What if lawmakers don’t renew the tax break you depend on? Or what if they change it and you’re no longer eligible?

“It’s a totally ridiculous way to run our tax system,” said Rachelle Bernstein, vice president and tax counsel for the National Retail Federation. “It’s impossible to plan when every year this happens, but yet business has gotten used to that.”

Some of the tax breaks are big, including billions in credits for companies that invest in research and development, generous exemptions for financial institutions doing business overseas, and several breaks that let businesses write off capital investments faster.

Others are more obscure, the benefits targeted to film producers, race track owners, makers of electric motorcycles and teachers who buy classroom supplies with their own money.

There are tax rebates to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from a tax on rum imported into the United States, and a credit for expenses related to railroad track maintenance.

A deduction for state and local sales taxes benefits people who live in the nine states without state income taxes. Smaller tax breaks benefit college students and commuters who use public transportation.

A series of tax breaks promote renewable energy, including a credit for power companies that produce electricity with windmills.

The annual practice of letting these tax breaks expire is a symptom a divided, dysfunctional Congress that struggles to pass routine legislation, said Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a senior Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

“It’s not fair, it’s very hard, it’s very difficult for a business person, a company, to plan, not just for the short term but to do long-term planning,” Lewis said. “It’s shameful.”

With Congress on vacation until January, there is no chance the tax breaks will be renewed before they expire. And there is plenty of precedent for Congress to let them expire for months without addressing them. Most recently, they expired at the end of 2011, and Congress didn’t renew them for the entire year, waiting until New Year’s Day 2013 — just in time for taxpayers to claim them on their 2012 returns.

But Congress only renewed the package though the end of 2013.

Why such a short extension? Washington accounting is partly to blame. The two-year extension Congress passed in January cost $76 billion in reduced revenue for the government, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. Making those tax breaks permanent could add $400 billion or more to the deficit over the next decade.

With budget deficits already high, many in Congress are reluctant to vote for a bill that would add so much red ink. So, they do it slowly, one or two years at time.

“More cynically, some people say, if you just put it in for a year or two, then that keeps the lobbyists having to come back and wine-and-dine the congressmen to get it extended again, and maybe make some campaign contributions,” said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst for CCH, a consulting firm based in Riverwoods, Ill.

This year, the package of tax breaks has been caught up in a debate about overhauling the entire tax code. The two top tax writers in Congress — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. — have been pushing to simplify the tax code by reducing tax breaks and using the additional revenue to lower overall tax rates.

But their efforts have yet to bear fruit, leaving both tax reform and the package of temporary breaks in limbo. When asked how businesses should prepare, given the uncertainty, Camp said: “They need to get on board with tax reform, that’s what they need to do.”

Further complicating the issue, President Barack Obama has nominated Baucus to become U.S. ambassador to China, meaning he will soon leave the Senate, if he is confirmed by his colleagues.

As the Senate wound down its 2013 session, Democratic leaders made a late push to extend many of the tax breaks by asking Republican colleagues to pass a package on the floor of the Senate without debate or amendments. Republicans objected, saying it wasn’t a serious offer, and

the effort failed.

So should taxpayers count on these breaks as they plan their budgets for Income Tax 2014?

“The best thing I would say is, budget accordingly,” said Jackie Perlman, principle tax research analyst at The Tax Institute. “As the saying goes, hope for the best but plan for the worst. Then if you get it, great, that’s a nice perk. But don’t count on it.”

Discuss this and more at the Income Tax Forums.

Late Start for I.R.S. 2012 Income Tax Processing

Bad news coming out of the IRS today. The IRS will not start processing 2012 Income Tax Returns until January 30th, 2013.

Here is the article from the IRS:

IRS Plans Jan. 30 Tax Season Opening For 1040 Filers

IR-2013-2, Jan. 8, 2013

WASHINGTON — Following the January tax law changes made by Congress under the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), the Internal Revenue Service announced today it plans to open the 2013 filing season and begin processing individual income tax returns on Jan. 30.

The IRS will begin accepting tax returns on that date after updating forms and completing programming and testing of its processing systems. This will reflect the bulk of the late tax law changes enacted Jan. 2. The announcement means that the vast majority of tax filers — more than 120 million households — should be able to start filing tax returns starting Jan 30.

The IRS estimates that remaining households will be able to start filing in late February or into March because of the need for more extensive form and processing systems changes. This group includes people claiming residential energy credits, depreciation of property or general business credits. Most of those in this group file more complex tax returns and typically file closer to the April 15 deadline or obtain an extension.

“We have worked hard to open tax season as soon as possible,” IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller said. “This date ensures we have the time we need to update and test our processing systems.”

The IRS will not process paper tax returns before the anticipated Jan. 30 opening date. There is no advantage to filing on paper before the opening date, and taxpayers will receive their tax refunds much faster by using e-file with direct deposit.

“The best option for taxpayers is to file electronically,” Miller said.

The opening of the filing season follows passage by Congress of an extensive set of tax changes in ATRA on Jan. 1, 2013, with many affecting tax returns for 2012. While the IRS worked to anticipate the late tax law changes as much as possible, the final law required that the IRS update forms and instructions as well as make critical processing system adjustments before it can begin accepting tax returns.

The IRS originally planned to open electronic filing this year on Jan. 22; more than 80 percent of taxpayers filed electronically last year.

Who Can File Starting Jan. 30?

The IRS anticipates that the vast majority of all taxpayers can file starting Jan. 30, regardless of whether they file electronically or on paper. The IRS will be able to accept tax returns affected by the late Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch as well as the three major “extender” provisions for people claiming the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction and educator expenses deduction.

Who Can’t File Until Later?

There are several forms affected by the late legislation that require more extensive programming and testing of IRS systems. The IRS hopes to begin accepting tax returns including these tax forms between late February and into March; a specific date will be announced in the near future.

The key forms that require more extensive programming changes include Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits), Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization) and Form 3800 (General Business Credit). A full listing of the forms that won’t be accepted until later is available on IRS.gov.

As part of this effort, the IRS will be working closely with the tax software industry and tax professional community to minimize delays and ensure as smooth a tax season as possible under the circumstances.

Updated information will be posted on IRS.gov.

More information here.

IRS – An Examination of the 1040 & The Income Tax Law


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2013 Income Tax Update

Overview

This may be the final year that the so-called Bush tax cuts remain in effect, unless Congress acts to further extend them. The Bush tax cuts, enacted in 2001 and 2003, were originally scheduled to expire for tax years beginning in 2011. However, President Obama signed legislation in late 2010 that temporarily extended the Bush tax cuts through 2012.

Many commentators agree that Congress is unlikely to extend the Bush tax cuts prior to the November elections, but uncertainty remains as to whether Congress will take action following the elections. Provided that Congress fails to extend the Bush tax cuts, many significant rate changes and other substantive changes will take effect in 2013. This article summarizes the major federal income tax changes that are scheduled take effect in 2013 if Congress allows the Bush tax cuts to expire, certain other changes scheduled to take effect independent of the Bush tax cuts, and planning strategies to reduce the impact of these changes. If you or your company would like to discuss any of these scheduled changes or planning strategies, please contact any member of the Tax and Employee Benefits Team.

Individual Income Tax Rates

If Congress allows the Bush tax cuts to expire, ordinary income tax rates will increase for most individual taxpayers beginning in 2013. As discussed below, qualified dividend income that is currently taxed at long-term capital gain rates will be taxed at these higher ordinary income rates. The following table sets forth the scheduled rate increases, using 2012 dollar amounts which will be adjusted for inflation in 2013.

Tax Brackets (2012 Dollar Amounts) Marginal Rate
Unmarried Filers Married Joint Filers
Over But Not Over Over But Not Over 2012 2013
$0 $8,700 $0 $17,400 10% 15%
8,700 35,350 17,400 70,700* 15% 15%
35,350 85,650 70,700* 142,700 25% 28%
85,650 178,650 142,700 217,450 28% 31%
178,650 388,350 217,450 388,350 33% 36%
388,350 388,350 35% 39.6%

* In 2013, this dollar amount will decrease to 167% of the amount for unmarried taxpayers in the same bracket (which is $58,900 in 2012), rather than 200% of the amount for unmarried taxpayers under current law. This change will have the effect of putting more middle-income joint filers in the 28% bracket and increasing the “marriage penalty” for many taxpayers.

Long-Term Capital Gain Rates

The maximum rate on long-term capital gain is scheduled to increase from 15 to 20 percent in 2013. Individual taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent ordinary income tax brackets currently pay no tax on long-term capital gain. These taxpayers are scheduled to be subject to a 10 percent long-term capital gain rate in 2013. An 18 percent maximum rate will apply to capital assets purchased after 2000 and held for more than five years. Additionally, the 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax discussed below will increase the effective rate of tax on long-term capital gains for certain higher-income taxpayers to as high as 23.8 percent. The following table sets forth the scheduled rate increases.

Maximum Rates 2012 2013 2013 (including Medicare contribution tax)
Long-Term Capital Gain 15% 20% 23.8%
Qualified 5-Year Capital Gain 15% 18% 21.8%

Planning Strategies. If Congress fails to take action as the year-end approaches, investors who were otherwise considering selling appreciated stocks or securities in early 2013 should give additional consideration to selling in 2012 to take advantage of the lower rate, assuming they will have held the asset for longer than one year. Additionally, business owners who are considering selling their business in the near future should consult with their tax adviser to discuss whether electing out of the installment method for an installment sale in 2012 would be more advantageous from a tax planning perspective.

Dividend Income Rates

The Bush tax cuts created the concept of “qualified dividend income,” which currently allows dividends received from domestic corporations and certain foreign corporations to be taxed at the taxpayer’s long-term capital gain rate. Additionally, qualified dividend income earned by mutual funds and exchange-traded funds may be distributed to shareholders and treated as qualified dividend income by the shareholder. Prior to the Bush tax cuts, all dividend income was taxed as ordinary income. If Congress fails to extend these provisions, the qualified dividend income provisions will expire, and all dividends will once again be taxed as ordinary income. Most notably, taxpayers in the highest marginal income tax bracket who currently enjoy the 15 percent rate on qualified dividend income will be taxed at 39.6 percent for dividends received from the same issuer in 2013. Additionally, the 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax discussed below will increase the effective rate of tax on dividend income for certain higher-income taxpayers to as high as 43.4 percent. The following table sets forth the scheduled rate increases.

Maximum Rates 2012 2013 2013 (including Medicare contribution tax)
Qualified Dividend Income 15% 39.6% 43.4%
Ordinary Dividend Income 35% 39.6% 43.4%

Planning Strategies. Because of the impending increase to tax rates applicable to dividends, owners of closely held corporations should consider declaring and paying a larger-than-normal dividend this year if the corporation has sufficient earnings and profits. Owners should carefully plan any such distributions, as distributions in excess of the corporation’s earnings and profits will reduce the shareholder’s stock basis and subject the shareholder to increased long-term capital gain taxable at potentially higher rates when the shareholder subsequently disposes of the stock. Owners of closely held corporations should consult their tax adviser to discuss dividend planning and other strategies such as leveraged recapitalizations to take advantage of the low rate currently applicable to qualified dividend income.

New Medicare Contribution Tax

A new 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on certain unearned income of individuals, trusts, and estates is scheduled to take effect in 2013. This provision, which was enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), is scheduled to take effect regardless of whether Congress extends the Bush tax cuts. For individuals, the 3.8 percent tax will be imposed on the lesser of the individual’s net investment income or the amount by which the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain thresholds ($250,000 for married individuals filing jointly or $200,000 for unmarried individuals). For purposes of this tax, investment income includes interest, dividends, income from trades or businesses that are passive activities or that trade in financial instruments and commodities, and net gains from the disposition of property held in a trade or business that is a passive activity or that trades in financial instruments and commodities. Investment income excludes distributions from qualified retirement plans and excludes any items that are taken into account for self-employment tax purposes.

Planning Strategies. Until the Department of Treasury issues clarifying regulations, uncertainty remains regarding which types of investment income will be subject to this new tax. Taxpayers whose modified AGI exceeds the thresholds described above should consult their tax adviser to plan for the imposition of this tax. Specifically, business owners should discuss with their tax adviser whether it would be more advantageous to become “active” in their business rather than “passive” for purposes of this tax. Owners of certain business entities such as partnerships and LLCs should also consider whether a potential change to “active” status in the business could trigger self-employment tax liability. Investors in pass-through entities such as partnerships, LLCs, and S corporations should also review the tax distribution language in the relevant entity agreement to ensure that future tax distributions will account for this new tax.

Additionally, individuals will have a greater incentive to maximize their retirement plan contributions since distributions from qualified retirement plans are not included in investment income for purposes of the tax. While distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans are not included in investment income for purposes of the tax, they do increase an individual’s modified AGI and may push the individual above the modified AGI threshold, thus subjecting the individual’s other investment income to the tax. Individuals may also consider converting their traditional retirement plan into a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) this year since Roth distributions are not included in investment income and do not increase the individual’s modified AGI. Although the Roth conversion would be taxable at ordinary rates, individuals should consider converting this year to avoid the higher ordinary rates scheduled to take effect in 2013.

Reduction in Itemized Deductions

Under current law, itemized deductions are not subject to any overall limitation. If the Bush tax cuts expire, an overall limitation on itemized deductions for higher-income taxpayers will once again apply. Most itemized deductions, except deductions for medical and dental expenses, investment interest, and casualty and theft losses, will be reduced by the lesser of 3 percent of AGI above an inflation-adjusted threshold or 80 percent of the amount of itemized deductions otherwise allowable. The inflation-adjusted threshold is projected to be approximately $174,450 in 2013 for all taxpayers except those married filing separately.

Planning Strategies. Because the overall limitation on itemized deductions will automatically apply to higher-income taxpayers, planning strategies are limited and highly individualized. Accelerating certain itemized deductions in 2012 to avoid the limitation may trigger alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability in 2012. Taxpayers should consult with their tax adviser to discuss the impact of this limitation and whether it may be advantageous to accelerate certain deductions, if possible, to 2012.

Reduction in Election to Expense Certain Depreciable Business Assets

Taxpayers may currently elect to expense certain depreciable business assets (Section 179 assets) in the year the assets are placed into service rather than capitalize and depreciate the cost over time. Section 179 assets include machinery, equipment, other tangible personal property, and computer software. Computer software falls out of this definition in 2013. The maximum allowable expense cannot exceed a specified amount, which is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount of Section 179 assets placed into service exceeding an investment ceiling. Both the maximum allowable expense and the investment ceiling will decrease next year, as shown in the table below.

2012 2013
Maximum allowable expense $139,000 $25,000
Investment ceiling 560,000 200,000

Planning Strategies. The change in law will both significantly decrease the dollar amount of Section 179 assets that may be expensed and cause the phaseout to be triggered at a lower threshold. Accordingly, business owners should consider placing Section 179 assets into service in 2012 to take advantage of the immediate tax benefit. Additionally, purchases of qualifying computer software should accelerated to 2012 if possible, as such purchases will no longer qualify for expensing in 2013.

AMT Preference for Gain Excluded on Sale of Qualified Small Business Stock

Taxpayers may exclude from their income all or part of the gain from selling stock of certain qualified C corporations that the taxpayer held for more than five years. The percentage of gain that may be excluded depends upon when the taxpayer acquired the stock (a 100 percent exclusion applies only to qualified stock acquired between September 28, 2010 and December 31, 2011). Under current law, 7 percent of the excluded gain is a preference item for AMT purposes. In 2013, this tax preference is scheduled to increase to 42 percent of the excluded gain (or 28 percent of the excluded gain for stock acquired after 2000). Gain excluded on stock for which the 100 percent exclusion applies will not be a tax preference for AMT purposes.

Planning Strategies. The increase in the percentage of excluded gain that will be treated as a tax preference for AMT purposes effectively eliminates the tax benefit of selling qualified small business stock. Those who are structuring a new business venture should reconsider forming a C corporation to take advantage of this provision, and should consult with their tax adviser to consider other entity choices. Owners of qualifying businesses who are considering selling their stock in the near future should also give additional consideration to a 2012 sale to take advantage of the current 7 percent AMT preference rate before the AMT preference rate increases in 2013.

Built-in Gains Tax Applicable to Certain S Corporations

Businesses that have converted from a C corporation to an S corporation are potentially subject to a corporate-level 35 percent built-in gains tax (BIG tax) on the disposition of their assets to the extent that the aggregate fair market value of the corporation’s assets exceeded the aggregate basis of such assets on the conversion date. In the case of fiscal years beginning in 2011, the BIG tax does not apply if the five-year anniversary of the conversion date has occurred prior the beginning of the fiscal year. However, in the case of fiscal years beginning in 2012 or thereafter, the BIG tax will not apply only if the ten-year anniversary of the conversion date has occurred prior to the beginning of the fiscal year.

Planning Strategies. Owners of S corporations that are still in their 2011 fiscal year and that are considering selling corporate assets (or stock if a Section 338(h)(10) election will be made) within the near future should consider selling in the current fiscal year, if possible, to the extent their conversion to S corporation status occurred more than five, but less than ten years prior to the beginning of the fiscal year. For example, a C corporation that converted to an S corporation at the beginning of its fiscal year commencing October 1, 2005 would not be subject to the BIG tax on any of its built-in gain if it sold assets at any time prior to September 30, 2012, but would be subject to the tax if it sold assets on or after October 1, 2012.

Other Changes Affecting Individuals

  • Additional employee portion of payroll tax. The employee portion of the hospital insurance payroll tax will increase by 0.9 percent (from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent) on wages over $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $200,000 for other taxpayers. The employer portion of this tax remains 1.45 percent for all wages. This provision, which was enacted as part of the PPACA, is scheduled to take effect in 2013 regardless of whether Congress extends the Bush tax cuts.
  • Phaseout of personal exemptions. A higher-income taxpayer’s personal exemptions (currently $3,800 per exemption) will be phased out when AGI exceeds an inflation-indexed threshold. The inflation-adjusted threshold is projected to be $261,650 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $174,450 for unmarried taxpayers.
  • Medical and Dental Expense Deduction. As part of the PPACA, the threshold for claiming the itemized medical and dental expense deduction is scheduled to increase from 7.5 to 10 percent of AGI. The 7.5 percent threshold will continue to apply through 2016 for taxpayers (or spouses) who are 65 and older.
  • Decrease in standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly. The standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly will decrease to 167% (rather than the current 200%) of the standard deduction for unmarried taxpayers (currently $5,950). In 2012 dollars, this would lower the standard deduction for joint filers from $11,900 to $9,900.
  • Above-the-line student loan interest deduction. This deduction will apply only to interest paid during the first 60 months in which interest payments are required, whereas no such time limitation applies under current law. The deduction will phase out over lower modified AGI amounts, which are projected to be $75,000 for joint returns and $50,000 for all other returns.
  • Income exclusion for employer-provided educational assistance. This exclusion, which allows employees to exclude from income up to $5,250 of employer-provided educational assistance, is scheduled to expire.
  • Home sale exclusion. Heirs, estates, and qualified revocable trusts (trusts that were treated as owned by the decedent immediately prior to death) will no longer be able to take advantage of the $250,000 exclusion of gain from the sale of the decedent’s principal residence.
  • Credit for household and dependent care expenses. Maximum creditable expenses will decrease from $3,000 to $2,400 (for one qualifying individual) and from $6,000 to $4,800 (for two or more individuals). The maximum credit will decrease from 35 percent to 30 percent of creditable expenses. The AGI-based reduction in the credit will begin at $10,000 rather than $15,000.
  • Child credit. The maximum credit will decrease from $1,000 to $500 per child and cannot be used to offset AMT liability.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit. The phaseout ranges for claiming the credit, which vary depending on the number of qualifying children, are scheduled to decrease for joint returns. Further, the credit will be reduced by the taxpayer’s AMT liability.

Other Withholding Rate Changes
The following employer withholding rate changes will take effect in 2013:

2012 2013
Employee portion of FICA payroll taxes 4.2% 6.2%
Backup withholding rate on reportable payments 28% 31%
Minimum witholding rate under flat rate method…
…on supplemental wages up to $1 million 25% 28%
…on supplemental wages in excess of $1 million 35% 39.6%
Voluntary withholding rate on unemployment benefits 10% 15%

Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act

Regardless of whether Congress extends the Bush tax cuts, beginning in 2014, a new 30 percent withholding tax will be imposed on certain withholdable payments paid to foreign financial institutions (FFIs) and non-financial foreign entities (NFFEs) unless they collect and disclose to the IRS information regarding their direct and indirect U.S. account holders. FFIs include foreign entities that accept deposits in the ordinary course of a banking or similar business, that hold financial assets for the account of others as a substantial part of their business, or that are engaged primarily in the business of investing or trading in securities, commodities, and partnership interests. Any foreign entity that is not an FFI is an NFFE.

Withholdable payments will include U.S.-source interest, dividends, fixed or determinable annual or periodical income, and U.S.-source gross proceeds from sales of property that produce interest and dividend income. While the withholding obligation on withholdable payments to FFIs and NFFEs does not begin until 2014, FFIs will need to enter into agreements with the IRS by June 30, 2013 to avoid being subject to the withholding tax. In general, under such agreements, FFIs must agree to provide the IRS with certain information including the name, address, taxpayer identification number and account balance of direct and indirect U.S. account holders, and must agree to comply with due diligence and other reporting procedures with respect to the identification of U.S. accounts.

2013 Tax Planning: 5 Reasons to Start Now

1. The 2013 Tax Season Is Closer than You Think

 

Industry experts generally agree that proper tax planning takes an average of six months – the time it often takes experts to educate themselves on all available opportunities, determine the best approach, and implement the plan. When you consider that six months from today puts us in March 2013, suddenly next year’s tax season doesn’t seem so far away. If you really want to get the best tax outcomes in 2013: the time to start planning is now.

2. Uncertainty Looms Over Next Year’s Tax Climate

 

Next year’s tax climate can be best characterized by its extreme uncertainty, which will be brought on by changes resulting from the Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act, as well as by a number of provisions in the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire. This level of uncertainty will make early 2013 a chaotic time for tax planning, and it makes now an even more important time to get the planning process started.

3. You Could Still Benefit from Generous Tax Breaks that May Be Gone Next Year

 

With many provisions of the Bush tax cuts set to expire at year end, starting your 2013 tax planning now means you’ll still have a chance to take advantage of some breaks that may be history by year end. Rates are set to increase on federal income taxes (from 36 percent to 39.6 percent), long-term capital gains (from a maximum tax rate of 15 percent to 20 percent), and dividends (to be taxed as ordinary income). Waiting too long to plan for 2013 may cause you to miss out on some of these tax breaks for good.

4. The Estate Tax Is Set to Increase

 

Significant changes are also set to take place when it comes to the estate tax. This tax is set to increase from 35 percent this year to 45 percent next, and the lifetime exemption amount will go down from $5.12 million to $1 million – unless Congressional action is taken. These changes are likely to impact your plans for 2013, and they make it even more critical that you start the planning process immediately.

5. The Alternative Minimum Tax Will Greatly Expand its Reach

 

Another large tax provision certain to have an impact on many individuals is the higher Alternative Tax Exemption, or AMT patch. This exemption is set to drop from $74,450 this tax year to $45,000 next year. This means that not only will many more people have to pay the AMT patch, but the increase in taxable income will result in even more taxes that individuals pay next year. AMT may not have applied to you in the past, but this year, it may be one of many reasons for you to plan carefully for 2013.

“Regardless of what happens in Congress between now and the end of the year, people can still ensure economic stability for themselves and their future,” said Andrew Lattimer, a partner at BlumShapiro. “But the key is starting now by consulting your tax professionals while there is time to plan without being caught up in what is certain to be a chaotic early 2013.”

 

Most Overlooked Tax Deductions

But think about it for a minute: Do you think that’s the most common mistake . . . or simply the easiest to notice?

One thing we know for sure is that the opportunity to make mistakes is almost unlimited, and missed deductions can be the most costly. About 45 million of us itemize on our 1040s — claiming more than $1 trillion worth of deductions. That’s right: $1,000,000,000,000, a number rarely spoken out loud until Congress started tying itself up in knots trying to deal with the budget deficit and national debt.

Another 92 million taxpayers claim about $700 billion worth using standard deductions—and some of you who take the easy way out probably shortchange yourselves. (If you turned 65 in 2012, remember that you now deserve a bigger standard deduction than the younger folks.)

Yes, friends, tax time is a dangerous time. It’s all too easy to miss a trick and pay too much. Years ago, the fellow who ran the IRS at the time told Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine that he figured millions of taxpayers overpay their taxes every year by overlooking just one of the money-savers listed below.

 

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.

 

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 that former IRS commissioner Fred Goldberg told Kiplinger’s that a lot of taxpayers miss.

If, like most investors, your mutual fund dividends are automatically used to buy 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. Forgetting to include the reinvested dividends in your basis results in double taxation of the dividends — once when they are paid out and immediately reinvested in more shares and later when they’re included in the proceeds of the sale. Don’t make that costly mistake. If you’re not sure what your basis is, ask the fund for help.

 

 

Out-of-pocket charitable contributions

 

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 2012, remember to deduct 14 cents per mile plus parking and tolls paid in your philanthropic journeys.

 

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 loans, the IRS treats the money as if it 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.

 

Job-hunting costs

 

If you’re among the millions of unemployed Americans who were looking for a job in 2012, 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. Deductible job-search costs include, but aren’t limited to:
• Food, lodging and transportation if your search takes you away from home overnight
• Cab fares
• Employment agency fees
• Costs of printing resumes, business cards, postage, and advertising

 

The cost of moving for your first job

 

Although job-hunting expenses are not deductible when looking for your first job, moving expenses to get to that job 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 2012 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.

 

 

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, 2012, 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.

 

Deduction of Medicare premiums for the self-employed

 

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.

 

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 qualify for a tax credit worth between 20% and 35% of what you pay for child care while you work. But if your boss offers a child care reimbursement account – which allows you to pay for the child care with pre-tax dollars – that might be a better deal. If you qualify for a 20% credit but are in the 25% tax bracket, for example, the reimbursement plan is the way to go. (In any case, only expenses for the care of children under age 13 count.)

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.

 

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.

 

 

State tax paid last spring

 

Did you owe tax when you filed your 2010 state income tax return in the spring of 2012? Then, for goodness’ sake, remember to include that amount in your state-tax deduction on your 2012 federal return, along with state income taxes withheld from your paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments.

 

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.

 

Jury pay turned over to your 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.

 

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. This credit is juicier than the old Hope credit – it has higher income limits and bigger tax breaks, and it covers all four years of college. And if the credit exceeds your tax liability, it can trigger a refund. (Most credits can reduce your tax to $0, but not get you a check from the IRS.)

 

 

Deduct 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 cost to your deductible travel expenses.

 

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 2012. 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 2012.

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.

 

Additional bonus depreciation

 

Business owners can write off 100% of the cost of qualified assets placed in service during 2012. 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 2012.

 

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 2012 that you received in a demutualization, be sure to claim a basis to hold down your tax bill.

10 Things H & R Block Won't Tell You

1. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “We are NOT CPA’s, just data entry workers.”

They charge you so much more than a CPA, but in fact they are just data entry workers who took a simple test through the I.R.S. They are not anymore qualified than anyone else to do your taxes yet they charge a ridiculous fee.

2. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “We are SO Overcharging You”

They charge ridiculous fee for the actual services they offer. They will actually charge you for each form they fill out. Your costs could be four or more times more than if you used an accountant.

3. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “Your SSN is not Secure With Us”
Recently they mailed their TaxCut to their unsuspecting previous tax preparation customers. The packages displayed the customers Social Security number (SSN) on the outside of the envelopes. The SSNs were part of a longer string of numbers included on each package’s address label.

4. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “You Don’t Have to Accept Our Fees”
If you actually go into one of their offices and sit down with an employee, and the go over all of your information, typing it in, and asking questions, and at the end come up with an exorbitant fee for their services….you can say no. You do not have to accept their fee, you don’t have to pay, and you can take your paperwork and leave.

5. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “We Makes Errors”
Their employees can make the same errors as you on your tax preparation forms. Their errors will end up costing you money, and they will take no responsibility for those errors.

6. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “Rapid Refund is Not Rapid”
Filing taxes early is the best way to get a quick refund. They have no more pull with the IRS than anyone else in getting a quick refund. Early tax filers will get quick refunds from the IRS and state governments by using Tele-file or an online tax service and having the money directly deposited into a bank account or by having a check sent to their mailing address.

7. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “Our Refund Application Loan is a Scam”
Their Refund Application Loan that supposedly gets customers their refunds quickly. First, you need to approved for the loan. Second, the money could end up being deposited in the H&R Block account, not in yours. Thirdly, they will then charge you a check fee to get that refund.

8. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “We Chargee $100 for a Free Service”
They charge $100 and more for electronic filing of even the simplest of tax form, including the E-Z Form.

9. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “Our Employees are Glorified Data Entry Workers
Their employees can read, talk and type. They have no actual knowledge about tax law than the average person.

10. H&R Block Won’t Tell You: “Despite Complaints and Class Action Suits We are Still Raking in the Cash
This tax preparation service made 3.8 billion dollars in 2002.

Compiled from personal experience, anecdotal information, and actual complaints found on Consumer Affairs web sites. Find a safe, less costly and smarter alternative to H&R Block during tax season.

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