Taxes 
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Watch Out for these Expired Tax Breaks

ExpiredDuring the last two years, many of us have become accustomed to a number of tax breaks that were instituted to help during a time of economic difficulty. However, these tax breaks were never meant to last forever — and they haven’t. Tax breaks that you might have been counting on are disappearing, and you might be in trouble.

In some cases, the disappearing tax breaks are a bit of a nuisance. In other cases (especially for those who should have taken a required minimum distribution on an IRA in 2010), though, the absence of a tax break you have come to rely on might be a little more difficult to deal with financially. As you file your taxes, here are some things to be aware of with regard to a reduction in tax breaks.

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 Taxes 
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Itemizing Taxpayers Must Wait to File Tax Returns

You know how it took until the 11th hour for Congress to extend the Bush era tax cuts? One of the consequences of that late change to the tax structure was that the IRS had been preparing for the the tax cut to expire. That means that they’re not ready to process tax returns based on current tax law.

I usually tell people that they should get their tax documents in order as early as possible if they expect a refund. There’s no reason to wait until April 15th to file if you’re waiting on a refund. The average tax refund last year was over three grand… why wait until April to get your own money back?

Sadly, while you might be ready whenever you receive your W-2 and 1099s in early February, it turns out that the IRS won’t be. According to CNN Money:

The delay affects both paper and electronic filers who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. That includes those claiming the new Educator Expense Deduction, which credits grade school teachers for out-of-pocket expenses of up to $250.

It also includes those claiming deductions for college students, covering up to $4,000 of tuition, which is claimed on Form 8917, though the IRS said there will be no delays for those that claim other education tax credits.

It stinks but you can blame your Congressional representatives for it!


 Taxes 
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Why You Should Put Off Year-End Charitable Contributions

We’re getting close to the end of the year and as everyone does their year end tax planning, it’s important to remember that not all “last minute tax tips” work for everyone. It’s important to analyze your particular tax situation before blindly following these ideas – RJ Weiss shares with us why you might want to wait until January 1st, 2011 to make those charitable donations.

Now that December is here, prepare yourself for Christmas music, crowded malls, and of course, the hundreds of personal finance articles about “Year-End Tax Planning.”

Many of these articles do serve a purpose. However, the majority, do more harm than good.

A common topic among articles about year-end tax planning is the deduction of charitable contributions. What many taxpayers don’t understand is that charitable contributions are only deductible if you itemize your deductions, which only makes sense for about 25% of taxpayers.

The purpose of this article is to discuss how you still might be able to benefit from charitable contributions, even if you don’t plan on itemizing this year. In order to do that, let’s review what deductions are.
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 Taxes 
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The Standard Deduction

Tax deductions are wonderful, aren’t they? While they’re not as good as a nice tax credit, tax deductions can reduce your tax liability significantly depending on your income tax bracket.

In the United States, you have two options when it comes to claiming deductions. You can go the easy route of claiming the standard deduction, which is a set amount each year that requires no documentation, or you can itemize your deductions, which allows you to select which deductions you want to claim and requires you to back it up with documentation.

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 Personal Finance 
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What if the mortgage interest deduction didn’t exist?

Welcome to the first edition of our What If? series, where we wonder aloud and ponder some of financial life’s great mysteries. This first edition will take a look at the mortgage interest deduction, one of our most popular tax deductions, because it was featured by the deficit reduction commission just last week.

First we’ll take a brief look at the deduction itself and then discuss what if it didn’t exist, followed by what if it went away? I think the two are vastly different questions and I hope you’ll chime in with what you think.

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 NEWS 
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Wyden-Gregg Tax Plan: The Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2010

United States Capitol BuildingThis year will mark the final year of many of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts from 2001 and 2003. Many deductions and tax cuts are set to expire this year and there’s a lot of talk about what Congress and President Obama will do. One plan that was thrown out about a month ago is the Wyden-Gregg Tax Plan, titled S. 3018 The Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2010.

It’s sponsored by Ron Wyden, Democrat Senator from Oregon, and Judd Gregg, Republican Senator from New Hampshire, and it was introduced in late February. You can read the text of the draft bill here but here were the big takeaways I read. According to OpenCongress, the bill is currently in the Committee on Finance.

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 NEWS 
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New Car Sales & Excise Tax Deduction

Beater Used CarIf you bought a car between February 16, 2009 and January 1, 2010 (non-inclusive), and you paid a sales tax or excise tax, you may be able to deduct it from your income taxes. This was one of the provisions of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The car, light truck, or motorcycle has to weigh less than 8,500 pounds and you must have purchased it new. You cannot take the deduction if you purchased a used car or if you leased it and this deduction is not related to the Cash for Clunkers program. You can deduct the sales or excise tax up to the first $49,500 of the purchase price. If you live in a state without a sales tax, like Delaware, you can deduct other fees and taxes as long as they’re collected by the government on sales. Fees collected by the dealer are not deductible.

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 Taxes 
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Tax Audit Red Flags

Red Flags!Last month I had the pleasure of talking to Rich Preece, Director of Product Management for TurboTax, about the improvements they’ve made to this year’s version of the tax preparation software. One area that they’ve improved is in their Audit Risk Results section, which identifies parts of your return that might trigger an audit. They reviewed the audited returns and collected the top twenty five to thirty reasons they believed triggered an audit. Then they look at your return, see if there are similarities, and bring them to your attention. It’s a feature from year’s past but it was the first time I really paid much attention to it. The purpose of the Audit Risk section isn’t to dissuade you from taking deductions that are rightfully yours, it’s designed to remind you to take a microscope to that section to make sure you did everything correctly.

For example, a common audit trigger is the child and dependent care credit. To claim the credit, you need to provide the social security number of the child or dependent. It’s not uncommon for a divorced couple to both claim a child if they are filing separately. What ends up happening is that when the first tax return is processed, the social security number is claimed. When the second tax return is processed, an audit flag is triggered because the child’s social security number was claimed in another tax return. So the purpose of these features, and of the following list of tax audit red flags, is to identify areas you need to take a closer look. Don’t let the fear of an audit stop you from claiming what is rightfully yours, but be careful.

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