A little tax savvy now can add up to cash later, if you act before the end of the year.
“Most people do not prepare a tax estimate ahead of tax season,” said Thomas Durkee, certified public accountant and principal at Averett Warmus Durkee Thomas Durkee in Orlando, Fla. “Putting one together ensures that you’re not underpaid and therefore subject to penalties. This also gives people the opportunity to adjust federal withholding or pay, and their estimated tax payment, as necessary.”
Even with the New Year waiting in the wings, there is still time to do some fine tuning on your tax return.
“Energy-saving-improvement tax credits are still available for purchases of qualifying property. People can still contribute to retirement plans. If they have the money to do so, people can make annual gifts of up to $13,000 per recipient. Charitable contributions — including appreciated property — can still be made,” Durkee said.
So give your taxes a tune-up before it’s too late. Here are a few suggestions from the Internal Revenue Service; for more information, forms and publications, go online to http://www.irs.gov or call toll-free 1-800-829-1040 for information (1-800-829-3676 for forms and publications):
• Plan your income. Deferring income until next year can lower your taxable income and tax bill this year, though you may be raising your tax bill next year. The sale of investments to incur a gain or loss must be executed by Dec. 31 to be counted on your 2009 return.
• Residential energy property credit. There is a new energy tax credit for homeowners who make energy-efficient improvements to their existing homes. The credit covers adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning systems. The new law increases the credit rate to 30 percent of the cost of all qualifying improvements and raises the maximum credit limit to $1,500 for improvements placed in service in 2009 and 2010.
• Home buyer credit. First-time home buyers who purchase in 2009 or early 2010 can get a credit of up to $8,000. A new law also provides a “long-time resident” credit of up to $6,500 to others who do not qualify as first-time homebuyers. To qualify this way, a buyer must have owned and used the same home as a principal or primary residence for at least five consecutive years of the eight-year period ending on the date of purchase of a new home as a primary residence. For qualifying purchase contracts entered into by April 30, 2010, and closed by June 30, 2010, eligible taxpayers may claim the credit on either their 2009 or 2010 tax returns.
• Vehicle sales-tax Deduction. Taxpayers who buy certain new vehicles after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010, can deduct the state and local sales taxes they paid. The deduction is up to $49,500 of the purchase price of a qualified new car, light truck, motor home or motorcycle. The amount of the deduction is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $125,000 and $135,000 for individual filers and between $250,000 and $260,000 for joint filers. The deduction is available even if you do not itemize deductions.
• Moving expenses. Your moving expenses may be deductible on your federal tax return. If your employer reimburses you for the cost of the move, you may have to include some of the reimbursement in income. Check out IRS Publication 521, Moving Expenses.
• Educator classroom-expense receipts. If you’re an educator who used your own funds to purchase items for use in the classroom, you may be able to deduct up to $250 of those expenses on your tax return.
• New children. If you had or adopted a child in 2009, you should get a Social Security number for that child as soon as possible to ensure you can count the child as a dependent on your 2009 return.
• Charitable contributions. Make your donations no later than Dec. 31 to a charity recognized by the IRS. You must have acceptable documentation for all donations. Check out IRS Publication 78 for more information.
• Tap IRA for charity: Taxpayers at least 70 1/2 years old can make a tax-free transfer of up to $100,000 directly from an IRA to a tax-exempt charity by Dec. 31 without paying any tax on the distribution.
• Economic recovery payment. If you received a $250 Economic Recovery Payment in 2009 from the Social Security Administration, that payment does not have to be reported on your federal tax return, but it may affect your eligibility for the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. If you did not work in 2009, you are not eligible for the tax credit and should not be affected. If you did work and received the payment, your tax credit may be reduced.