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.
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.
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State Sales Taxes
This write-off 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 deduction is a better deal.
If you purchased a vehicle, boat, airplane or even home-building materials, you get to add the state sales tax you paid to the amount shown in IRS tables for your state, to the extent the sales tax rate you paid doesn't exceed the state's general sales tax rate.
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 when you redeem shares.
Forgetting to include the reinvested dividends in your basis -- which you subtract from the sale proceeds to pinpoint your gain -- means overpaying your tax.
Out-of-Pocket Charitable Deductions
You can write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing good works.
The money you spend on ingredients for casseroles you prepared for a soup kitchen, for example, or on stamps you buy for your school's fund-raiser counts as a charitable contribution.
Also, if you drove your car for charity in 2010, remember to deduct 14 cents per mile.
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.
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.
If you're among the millions of unemployed Americans who were looking for a job in 2010, keep track of your job-search expenses. 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, but only to the extent that the total of your total miscellaneous itemized deductions 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
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, including 16 1/2 cents per mile for driving your own vehicle for a 2010 move, plus parking fees 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 55 cents per mile for driving your own car to get to and from 2010 drills. In any event, add parking fees or tolls. You get this deduction regardless of whether you itemize.
Health Insurance Deduction to Reduce Self-Employment Tax
Business owners have always been allowed to deduct health insurance premiums for themselves and their family in computing adjusted gross income on the front page of Form 1040. For 2010, they can also deduct the cost of those health insurance premiums in calculating self-employment tax on Schedule SE.
The IRS has hidden this write-off on line 3 of Schedule SE. On that line, you are told to add your self-employment income from lines 1 and 2, subtract the amount claimed on line 29 of Form 1040 (your health insurance premiums) and enter the net amount on line 3.
It's easy to overlook the child-care credit if you pay your child-care bills through a reimbursement account at work. Although only $5,000 of such 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 allowed by your work plan, you can claim the credit on as much as $1,000 of additional expenses you pay for work-related child care. 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 2009 state tax return in the spring of 2010? Then, for goodness sake, remember to include that amount with your state-tax deduction on your 2010 return, along with state income taxes withheld from your paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments.
When you buy a house, you get to deduct points paid to get your mortgage in one fell swoop. When you refinance a mortgage, though, you have to deduct the points over the life of the 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 the amount gradually over the life of the new loan.
Jury Pay Paid to Employer
Many employers continue to pay employees' full salary while they serve on jury duty, and some require the employees to turn over their jury fees to the company coffers. The only problem is that the IRS demands that you report those fees as taxable income. To even things out, you get to deduct the amount paid to your employer.
But how do you do it? There's no line on Form 1040 labeled "jury fees." Instead the write-off goes on line 36, which purports to be for simply totaling up the 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.
American Opportunity Credit
This tax credit, which has been extended through 2012, 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 (regular and AMT), it is partially refundable.
Making Work Pay Credit
You've probably been enjoying the fruits of this credit via reduced payroll tax withholding throughout the year. But to lock in your savings -- by reducing your tax bill by $400 if you're single or $800 if you're married and file a joint return -- you'll need to actually claim the credit on your 2010 tax return -- and you'll use Schedule M to do so.
The credit is equal to 6.2% of your earned income, capped at $400 or $800. For single filers, it starts phasing out at $75,000 of adjusted gross income and dries up at $95,000. The phase-out zone for couples is $150,000 to $190,000.
Credit For Energy-Saving Home Improvements
You can claim a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of energy-saving home improvements up to a maximum of $1,500. This cap applies to both 2009 and 2010 combined, so if you claimed the maximum $1,500 in 2009, you don't get another crack at it for 2010. The credit applies to biomass fuel stoves, qualifying skylights, windows and outside doors, and high-efficiency furnaces, water heaters and central air conditioners.
For 2011, this credit goes back to pre-2009 limits (for example, $500 maximum credit for all years with no more than $200 for windows).
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
As part of the year-end law extending the Bush tax cuts, 50% first-year bonus depreciation was extended and expanded retroactively to let filers write off 100% of the cost of qualified assets placed in service between September 9, 2010 and December 31, 2011. In effect, filers get to claim unlimited expensing. 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 late in 2010.
Break on the Sale of Demutualized Stock
We're talking about stock that a life-insurance policyholder receives when an insurer switches from being a mutual company owned by policyholders to a stock company owned by stockholders. The IRS's long-standing position is that such stock has no "tax basis" so that, when the shares are sold, the taxpayer owes tax on 100% of the proceeds of the sale. But after a long legal struggle, a federal court ruled that the IRS is wrong. The court didn't say what the basis of the stock is, but many experts think it's whatever the shares were worth when they were distributed to policyholders.
If you sold stock in 2010 that you received in a demutualization, be sure to claim a basis to hold down your tax bill.
We put this last because it's hard to imagine any taxpayer missing this big a tax break. But some deadlines were extended and you don't want to miss out if you qualify for the credit. First-time home buyers and longtime homeowners qualify for this break in 2010 as long as they either closed a home sale by April 30, 2010 or entered into a binding contract to purchase a home by April 30th and closed on the deal no later than September 30th. The credit is $8,000 for first-time home buyers (someone who didn't own a home in the three years leading up to the purchase of a new home) and $6,500 for longtime homeowners (those 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).
Also, if you purchased a home in 2010 and want your credit quicker, you are allowed to claim it early by filing an amended 2009 tax return.