By now, some of you may already have your 2010 W-2 and 1099s in hand. If not, it won't be long. So it's not too soon to think about starting your 2010 Form 1040. Before you begin, there are some key changes to note. Here's what you need to know.
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Due Date is April 18
Even though April 15 falls on a Friday this year, the deadline for your 2010 Form 1040 is Monday April 18. Reason: Emancipation Day is a District of Columbia holiday, and it falls on April 15. So the tax filing deadline for the whole nation is deferred to April 18 . If your return won't be ready by then, you can extend the deadline all the way out to October 17 by filing Form 4868 on or before April 18.
No More Phase-Outs for Itemized Deductions and Exemptions
For years, high-income folks have seen their write-offs for the most popular itemized deduction items (including mortgage interest, state and local income and property taxes, and charitable donations) reduced by a nasty phase-out rule. Another nasty phase-out rule reduced or eliminated personal and dependent exemption deductions. Thankfully, both phase-outs were completely repealed for 2010 as part of the Bush-era tax cuts. So you can write off the full amount of your itemized deductions and exemptions on your 2010 Form 1040 without any worries and without having to fill out phase-out worksheets to penalize yourself. More good news: the recent tax cut extension legislation repealed the phase-outs for 2011 and 2012 as well.
Liberalized Adoption Credit
For 2010, the maximum adoption credit was increased to $13,170 (up from $12,150 in 2009). In addition, the credit was made 100% refundable for the 2010 tax year (previously, it was nonrefundable). That means you'll receive a check for any leftover adoption credit after your federal income tax bill has been reduced to zero. To claim the credit, fill out Form 8839 (Qualified Adoption Expenses), and enter the credit on line 71 of Form 1040.
One-Time Break for Self-Employed Individuals
Self-employed folks can generally deduct their health insurance premiums on page 1 of Form 1040 (use line 29 for 2010). The deduction reduces their federal income tax bills, which is nice. However, the self-employed have never been allowed to deduct those premiums when calculating their self-employment tax bills on Schedule SE. Good news: for 2010 only, you can deduct health insurance premiums on line 3 of Schedule SE. So those premiums will reduce both your income tax bill and your SE tax bill. Unfortunately, this break will not be available for 2011 and beyond unless Congress extends it.
Homebuyer Credit Repayment Rules Kick In
As I explained in an earlier column, you may have to repay part or all of the credit claimed for a 2008 or 2009 home purchase with your 2010 Form 1040.
In most cases, however, only those who purchased homes in 2008 will be affected. They will generally have to repay 1/15 of the credit with the 2010 Form 1040. If this rule impacts you, fill out Form 5405 (First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit), and enter the repayment amount as an addition to your tax bill on line 59 of Form 1040.
Real Estate Tax Deduction for Non-Itemizers is Gone
For 2008 and 2009, unmarried individuals who did not itemize could write off up to $500 of state and local real property taxes by claiming an increased standard deduction. Married joint-filing couples could write off up to $1,000. This add-on standard deduction deal for real estate taxes expired at the end of 2009, and it was not reinstated for 2010.
Deductions for Sales Taxes on New Vehicle Purchases Are Gone
The 2009 Stimulus Act created a temporary write-off for non-itemizers who paid state and local sales taxes on new vehicles purchased between 2/17/09 and 12/31/09. The write-off came in the form of an additional standard deduction allowance. Similarly, itemizers were allowed to claim an extra itemized deduction for such taxes. Both breaks lapsed at the end of 2009, and they were not reinstated for 2010.
Break for Unemployment Benefits Is Gone
In 2009, the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits was federal-income-tax-free. This break was not continued for 2010. Therefore, 100% of 2010 unemployment benefits generally must be reported as income on Form 1040 (use line 19).
Your Tax Preparer Might E-File Your Return This Time
Over the last few years, Congress has made tax-law changes that place increasing pressure on professional return preparers to electronically file more and more returns. As a result, your preparer might be forced to e-file your 2010 Form 1040 even if your returns for earlier years have always been done on paper. Get used to it.