Recent tax laws effective for returns

Some recent tax law changes are effective for the 2004 Tax Year. If these items affect you, be sure to get the details when you prepare your tax return early next year.

Educators’ deduction

This had expired at the end of 2003, but was restored for two more years. IR-2004-124 has more information.

Clean fuel vehicle deduction

The maximum amount of this deduction was scheduled to drop this year and next, but has been retained at the $2,000 level through 2005. IR-2004-125 has information on this deduction and the newest vehicle to qualify for it.

Child tax credit

Taxpayers with a credit amount more than their tax could get a refund of the difference, up to 10 percent of the amount by which their 2004 taxable earned income exceeds $10,750. This percentage was raised to 15 percent for 2004, meaning a larger refund for many of these taxpayers.

Combat pay

Some military personnel receiving combat pay get larger tax credits because of two law changes. The new law counts excludable combat pay as income when figuring the Child Tax Credit and gives the taxpayer the option of counting or ignoring combat pay as income when figuring the Earned Income Tax Credit. Counting combat pay as income when calculating these credits does not change the exclusion of combat pay from taxable income.

For more about the effect of excludable income on the EITC, see Q&A-37 in Miscellaneous Provisions — Combat Zone Service.

For more details on combat pay, see Military Pay Exclusion — Combat Zone Service

Sales tax deduction

Taxpayers who itemize deductions will have a choice of claiming a state and local tax deduction for either sales or income taxes on their 2004 and 2005 returns. The IRS will provide optional tables for use in determining the deduction amount, relieving taxpayers of the need to save receipts throughout the year. Sales taxes paid on motor vehicles and boats may be added to the table amount, but only up to the amount paid at the general sales tax rate. Taxpayers will check a box on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, to indicate whether their deduction is for sales or income taxes.

Expense Limit for SUVs

Businesses should be aware of a change regarding the deduction for certain sport utility vehicles (SUVs) placed in service after Oct. 22. Under the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, businesses cannot take a first-year deduction of more than $25,000 for an SUV. The business would depreciate the remaining cost. (The limit for vehicles placed in service before Oct. 23 was $100,000.) The new limit does not affect other types of property where the taxpayer decides to expense the cost instead of depreciating the property.

Sale of Personal Residence Acquired in a Like-kind Exchange

Taxpayers who convert rental property to a principal residence should know that a tax law change may limit their ability to exclude gain on the sale of that residence if they obtained the property through a like-kind exchange. Generally, a taxpayer can exclude up to $250,000 of gain on the sale of a home, provided the individual has owned and used it as a principal residence for two out of the five years before the sale. The exclusion is $500,000 for a married couple if both meet the use test. The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 does not allow any exclusion if the taxpayer sells the home within five years of acquiring the property through a like-kind exchange. The new law applies to sales after Oct. 22, 2004.

Deduction for Discrimination Suit Costs

A new deduction is available for those who pay attorney’s fees and court costs in connection with discrimination suits. Taxpayers can take the new deduction whether they itemize or not. The deduction cannot exceed the amount includible in income for the year on account of a judgment or settlement resulting from the discrimination claim. Generally, personal legal expenses are not deductible, but an employee who incurs legal expenses related to doing or keeping his job could deduct these expenses on Schedule A as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, under The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, an individual with legal fees and court costs arising from a discrimination suit may deduct the costs directly from income on the front of the tax return; this is known as an above-the-line deduction.

Under this new deduction, amounts paid for attorney’s fees and court costs are deductible in computing alternative minimum tax, and are not subject to the 2 percent floor on miscellaneous itemized deductions or the overall limitation on itemized deductions. The act, signed into law on Oct. 22, 2004, describes the discrimination claims qualifying for this new deduction. Only costs paid after Oct. 22 for judgments or settlements occurring after that date qualify for this deduction.