Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2011
With tax season in full swing, almost everyone is preoccupied with tax returns, W-2s, and old receipts. Preparing your taxes can be very stressful, as can paying the tax bill that comes as a result.
However, while paying your taxes may be a requirement, paying too much in taxes is not. There are many unique and specific deductions that can be used to defray your total tax bill, so long as you know what to do and what you are looking for. It is especially wise to familiarize yourself with new tax deductions that are available starting this year. Congressional legislation, such as the Small Business Jobs Act, has introduced many new and improved deductions. The following are ten of the most commonly overlooked tax deductions to keep in mind while preparing your tax returns this year.
1. Healthcare Tax Credit
If you own a small business that pays for at least half of its employees' healthcare coverage, you're eligible for a tax credit of up to 35 percent of what you spend on the health insurance premiums. The credit is maximized for businesses that have ten or fewer employees that average $25,000 or less in annual wages so smaller businesses are favored here. If you have a qualifying business (based on number of employees and average annual wages) but aren't paying for at least half of your employees' healthcare coverage, now is the time to consider changing your practices because the maximum available credit will be raised to 50 percent in 2014.
2. Health Insurance Deduction for the Self-Employed
In past years, the money you spent on health insurance premiums was only eligible as a deduction on your income tax, not your self- employment tax. This year, however, it's available as a deduction on both taxes. Don't forget to include it twice when you prepare your returns.
3. Depreciation on Your Business Car or Truck
Depreciation on new passenger vehicles purchased to use in a business are significantly higher this year than last, building on top of the usual first-year deduction that is allowed. Gas and maintenance on this vehicle (and others already purchased for your business) are also deductible for any transportation you do for the business. For example, if you own a furniture store and have a truck you use exclusively for delivering furniture, 100% of gas and maintenance will be deductible, including any money you pay for parking and toll roads.
4. Out of Town Business Travel Costs
Almost any travel you do for business is deductible on your taxes for at least some percentage. This includes business meals, travel costs (think baggage fees!), and hotel rooms for the duration of your trip. The key here is to keep the receipts from your travels for use while preparing your taxes.
5. Home Office Deduction
Working out of a home office can provide you with many deductions on your taxes that you may not be aware of. Almost all business owners can take deductions for qualifying newly acquired equipment and computer software and fees charged to the business account including ATM fees, credit card fees, and bank charges. However, business owners with a home office can also deduct for the business space used in the home and for the percentage of internet and phone used in running the business.
6. Professional Fees and Classes Deductions
Many other costs associated with running a business are also deductible. Any professional fees that you pay to continue in your career are deductible on your tax return, as well as much of the costs of attending classes, seminars, and training sessions. Subscriptions to professional journals, newspapers, and books are also included as tax deductions. Finally, any membership fees you pay to trade organizations, professional groups, or chambers of commerce count as well.
7. Charitable Non-Cash Contributions
Giving to charity is good for everyone because it helps the less fortunate and is a deduction on your tax return. If you don't have the money to make a donation this year, you can always charge the donation. Tax deductions are usually taken when the purchase is made, not when the charge is paid off so it will still apply for this year. You can also take a deduction on almost anything donated to charity such as old clothes, used books, and old furniture. The only qualification for the deduction on donation of items is that for items like clothes and household goods, the items need to be in good or better shape. In the case of an audit, you must have the written receipt to get the deduction so be sure you get a receipt for all your donations before you leave.
8. Energy Savings Home Improvement Credit
If over the last year you built a new home, remodeled your current home, or replaced anything within your home, check out the IRS's list of home improvement credits that are available to you. One main credit offered is for putting in new energy saving appliances, windows, doors, roofs, or basically anything that is identified as energy saving. The energy saving home improvement credit is particularly helpful because it allows for a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax, although it does have a maximum limit of $1500. Still, if you spend less than that on the improvements, the credit cuts down the amount you'll owe in April by more than the usual tax credit or deduction can.
9. Investment and Tax Expenses
One of the most easily forgotten tax deductions is for the money spent on investments and tax preparation. In general, things like fees for planning out your taxes by a lawyer and/or an accountant qualify as tax preparation fees and are deductible, as well as the usual tax costs you have. Almost anything spent on investments counts too as a deduction in this category. Fees paid to your broker and IRA, subscriptions to investment magazines, long distance phone calls to your broker and/or investment advisors, even mileage to go see them all qualify as deductible investment expenses. The only restriction for this deduction is that the total of all these expenses must be greater than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income before the deduction can be used.
10. Retirement Tax Credit
This credit actually has two great benefits. First, any contributions in to your retirement account aren't taxed as of now so it's a great idea to get a jumpstart in building your retirement account while this provision lasts. Second, you get a credit on the first $2,000 you invest, resulting in a reduction on your taxes. Contributions to retirement accounts aren't the only things that qualify here either. IRAs and Roth IRAs, Employee Pension plans, and 401k's all qualify for the deduction when a contribution is made.
One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from paying too much in taxes this year is to get educated about the different tax deductions and credits that are available to you. Learning how the way you live your life can save you money at tax time is very beneficial to lowering your tax bill and can really save you in the end on things you are already doing. These ten deductions can serve as a good starting point for your tax preparation and provide some guidance on what to look for in other deductions.
By Deborah Sweeney, THE HUFFINGTON POST