Tax deductions and credits can save you money at tax time, but many taxpayers miss them because they don't realize things they do in their everyday life can give them more money back.
One thing you should know is tax deductions and credits help your tax situation in two different ways: Tax deductions can save you money by lowering your taxable income. Tax credits directly reduce the taxes you owe, and if you qualify, you can claim a credit whether you itemize your deductions are not.
Here are seven of the most-missed tax deductions and credits you don't want to overlook:
1. Charitable contributions. Our lives are busy, and taxpayers may forget what donations they gave last year may get them a bigger refund. If you cleaned out your bulging closet and dropped off clothing or household goods at your favorite charity, don't forget this may be deductible on your tax return.
2. Tuition and fees deduction. Taxpayers taking a full course load and working toward a degree can receive education benefits through the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college expenses, but those who took even just one class to further their career may be able to take the tuition and fees deduction. With this credit, you can deduct up to $4,000 for tuition and fees, books and educational supplies for you, your spouse or dependents. This tax deduction is especially important to remember if you qualify because the offer expires after tax year 2013.
3. State and sales tax deduction. Taxpayers can deduct state income taxes, but what about people who live in states that don't have a state income tax? The state and local sales tax deduction is useful for those who don't pay state income tax because they can deduct sales tax paid on purchases. Even people who live in states that pay state income tax can benefit if they paid more sales tax due to large purchases. This is another tax that is going away after the 2013 tax year, so don't miss out on this one.
4. Earned income tax credit. The earned income tax credit is a refundable tax credit given to filers who earn low- to moderate- income from their jobs. The credit can be worth up to $6,044, depending on income and how many dependents you have, but one in five tax filers overlook this opportunity, according to the internal revenue service. You have to file your taxes in order to get it, so even if you make less than $10,000 (the IRS' minimum income filing requirement) you should still file your taxes.
5. Job searching. If you were looking for a job last year, you may be able to deduct costs related to your job search -- even if you didn't secure a new one. Job search expenses such as preparing and sending résumés, fees to placement agencies and even travel related to searching for a new job can be included.
6. Retirement s aver's credit. This credit is often overlooked and seldom talked about, but if you have an income up to $29,500 ($59,000 for married filing jointly) you can save for retirement and get an tax credit worth up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for couples if you contributed to a qualifying retirement plan such as an individual retirement account or 401(k). The retirement savers tax credit is a win-win situation since contributions to your IRA may also be a deduction from income.
7. Gambling losses. Taxpayers who weren't so lucky gambling last year should know that their losses can be deducted if they itemize their deductions. However, your amount of losses cannot surpass your winnings, which must be reported as taxable income. For example, if you have $2,000 in winnings and $4,000 in losses, your deduction is limited to $2,000. Make sure you have documentation such as receipts, tickets and other records to support your losses.
Lisa Greene-Lewis is a certified public accountant and TurboTax tax expert. She has more than 15 years of experience in tax preparation, including positions as a public auditor, controller and operations manager. For more tax-related tips, go to blog.turbotax.intuit.com.
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