Updated: 12/20/2011 10:24 AM ET|
Last-minute moves to cut your taxes
Along with tidings of comfort and joy, the holidays bring a rush of opportunities to cut your 2011 taxes. Hint: Keep those receipts when you give to charities.
The holidays are approaching fast. And my gift to readers is a gentle reminder to make those last-minute tax moves.
I say this every year: Your tax planning for your 2011 return should have started last December. It's more complicated this year because tax laws have changed again. They always do.
Still, there are moves you can and should make before Dec. 31 to trim your 2011 tax bill.
Let's start with the simple things.
The easy stuff
Charitable donations. If you contribute to your church, your college, the local dog pound, the United Way, organizations that help with disaster relief or whatever, make these donations before Dec. 31.
And make sure, before you file your tax return, that you have a receipt from the organizations that benefited from your generosity.
If you don't have the cash, find out whether the organization can process a donation via credit card. As long as the donation is made by Dec. 31, it's valid as a 2011 deduction, even if you don't pay the bill until next year.
Separately, any contributions of clothes or household goods must be in good condition or better to qualify for a deduction. If a single item has a value of $500 or more, an appraisal is required. The Internal Revenue Service can deny a deduction for items of minimal value.
Complicating any deductions are the requirements on record keeping. This is important.
To deduct a cash donation, regardless of the amount, you must have a bank record or a written communication from a charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Acceptable bank records include canceled checks or bank or credit union statements containing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.
Your flexible spending account, or FSA. This isn't exactly a tax savings, but if you don't use the dollars you contribute to a flex plan, you lose them.
The IRS allows purchases made up through March 15, 2012, to count. Your employer can give you a debit card for your FSA spending. That eliminates a whole lot of paperwork. In the past, you could even pay for nonprescription drugs through an FSA. But Congress changed the rules again, and 2010 was the last year nonprescription drugs qualified. Now, only prescription drugs and insulin can be paid tax-free out of your FSA.
Be careful, though. Unless your employer's plan also is amended to allow the March 15 extension, you won't qualify.
Mortgage interest. Make your Jan. 1, 2012, mortgage payment by Dec. 31, 2011. Remember to add the extra interest paid to what your bank reports on its Form 1098 -- it'll get your payment in 2012 and won't report it for 2011. But you paid it in 2011, so it adds to your deduction this year. (The downside is that you won't be able to deduct the payment from your 2012 return. But offset that with a payment of your January 2013 mortgage in December 2012.)
Real-estate taxes. If you pay your own real-estate taxes, make any payments due in the beginning of 2012 by Dec. 31, 2011. My fourth-quarter real-estate tax is due Feb. 1, 2012. By paying before the end of 2011, I can get the deduction a year earlier. (Again, you can't deduct payments made in 2011 from your 2012 return.)
One note: Taxes aren't allowed as a deduction under the alternative-minimum-tax computation. If you think you will be hit by the AMT, don't prepay.
Homebuyer credits. If you didn't own a principal residence during the past three years prior to buying a home, you qualify as a first-time homebuyer. You must have had a binding contract by April 30, 2010, and closed by September 30, 2010, to qualify. If you meet those criteria, you get a refundable credit of 10% of the purchase price, up to $8,000.
You may also qualify if you've owned a principal residence for at least five years and bought a new one within the time limits above. The house doesn't have to be new. But it has to be a new principal residence. If the house cost more than $800,000, or if you weren't yet age 18, you don't qualify. This credit is limited to $6,500.
The homebuyer credits phase out for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes of $125,000 to $145,000 and for joint filers with incomes of $225,000 to $245,000.
If you failed to claim this credit last year, you can still get it by filing an amended return, Form 1040X. Keep in mind that in the tax world, terms such as "first-time homebuyer" don't necessarily mean "first-time homebuyer."
Medical and miscellaneous deductions. Medical expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions have "floors." For medical expenses, only those in excess of 7.5% of your adjusted gross income count toward tax deductions. Miscellaneous itemized expenses have to exceed 2% of your AGI to qualify.
An important point: Your health insurance premiums count so long as you're not paying them out of a flexible spending account. Premium payments for long-term care also count. But they may be limited depending on your age.
If you're going to exceed the floor, accelerate your expenses. Prepay your orthodontist or your tax preparer. Mail your checks on or before Dec. 31, 2011. Alternatively, if you're not going to exceed your floors, defer the deductions to 2012. You may exceed your floors then.
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I find completely asinine that the Obama Administration took the 30% deduction for home energy improvements and just obliterated it to a measly 10%. With all of his bullsh*t talk about green power and renewable energy this is the time to help people not make it harder!!
We spend BILLIONS to bail out banks, car companies, etc but how about a BAILOUT for US the regular AMERICAN people? I was going to spend the money on a tank less water heater that would have cost me right around $1,200 but I would have been able to write off just over $350 of it, now it is not even worth the time for a measly $120.
Our PUPPETS in DC talk about energy independence but where is the help for us regular people? And they say rich people ($200K and up) should pay more in taxes. Well I don't know about you but most of my friends are lucky if they make $40K a year.
So much for being rich.............
Those who mentions "entitlement recipient", I just want to remind you that you will never receive all you have paid over 45-50 years for SS/Med care + employer input, since all middle income people have paid over a million, when adjusted for inflation, and for FED Rate interest charged banks, I am sure the Fed gov pay us with the same honesty they expected from us tax payers.
I have paid 1,260,000 Dollars, so it i time to start paying the stolen money!
But I know most of you are fooled by the US government to think, you get an entitlement!, like it is some kind of gift
End the Fed and its greedy evil intimidation
End the Tax on Unapportioned wages,
Call for a flat tax.
Ron Paul 2012
some good advice. not all the people need to itemize. if your totals in itemizing is higher than your standard deduction go for it. if it's below, you are better off with the standard deduction.
now if you run a business: itemizing is your best route to go and depreciating whatever you use for your business.
are you in school and paid full tuition? make sure you tell your tax pro about that. there are some credits that you can possibly qualify for
getting new appliances: make sure its a tax credit (not all appliances qualify). when it comes to windows, if you are replacing double sided window with new double sided windows, you don't qualify. its really good to know about your fed and state tax laws.
Can't we at least get through the year and have "a Happy New Year" without thinking about friggin taxes???? Or if this was a story to help people why publish on Dec. 30th......guess slow news day
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