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When you file a tax return, you usually have a choice to make: whether to itemize deductions or take the standard deduction. You should compare both methods and use the one that gives you the greater tax benefit.
The IRS offers these six facts to help you choose.
1. Figure your itemized deductions. Add up the cost of items you paid for during the year that you might be able to deduct. Expenses could include home mortgage interest, state income taxes or sales taxes (but not both), real estate and personal property taxes, and gifts to charities. They may also include large casualty or theft losses or large medical and dental expenses that insurance did not cover. Unreimbursed employee business expenses may also be deductible.
2. Know your standard deduction. If you do not itemize, your basic standard deduction amount depends on your filing status. For 2012, the basic amounts are:
• Single = $5,950
• Married Filing Jointly = $11,900
• Head of Household = $8,700
• Married Filing Separately = $5,950
• Qualifying Widow(er) = $11,900
3. Apply other rules in some cases. Your standard deduction is higher if you are 65 or older or blind. Other rules apply if someone else can claim you as a dependent on his or her tax return. To figure your standard deduction in these cases, use the worksheet in the instructions for Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
4. Check for the exceptions. Some people do not qualify for the standard deduction and should itemize. This includes married people who file a separate return and their spouse itemizes deductions. See the Form 1040 instructions for the rules about who may not claim a standard deduction.
5. Choose the best method. Compare your itemized and standard deduction amounts. You should file using the method with the larger amount.
6. File the right forms. To itemize your deductions, use Form 1040, and Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can take the standard deduction on Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.
For more information about allowable deductions, see Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, and the instructions for Schedule A. Tax forms and publications are available on the IRS website at IRS.gov You may also call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to order them by mail.
Additional IRS Resources:
- Interactive Tax Assistant tool – How Much is My Standard Deduction?
- Schedule A (Form 1040), Itemized Deductions and instructions
- Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return and instructions
- Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax
If you use part of your home for your business, you may qualify to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. Here are six facts from the IRS to help you determine if you qualify for the home office deduction.
1. Generally, in order to claim a deduction for a home office, you must use a part of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes. In addition, the part of your home that you use for business purposes must also be:
• your principal place of business, or
• a place where you meet with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or
• a separate structure not attached to your home. Examples might include a studio, workshop, garage or barn. In this case, the structure does not have to be your principal place of business or a place where you meet patients, clients or customers.
2. You do not have to meet the exclusive use test if you use part of your home to store inventory or product samples. The exclusive use test also does not apply if you use part of your home as a daycare facility.
3. The home office deduction may include part of certain costs that you paid for having a home. For example, a part of the rent or allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes and utilities could qualify. The amount you can deduct usually depends on the percentage of the home used for business.
4. The deduction for some expenses is limited if your gross income from the business use of your home is less than your total business expenses.
5. If you are self-employed, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure the amount you can deduct. Report your deduction on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business.
6. If you are an employee, you must meet additional rules to claim the deduction. For example, in addition to the above tests, your business use must also be for your employer’s convenience.
For more information, see Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home. It’s available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Additional IRS Resources:
- Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home
- Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business
- Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home
- A Home-Office Tax Deduction Refresher (businessweek.com)
- When Work at Home Yields Tax Deductions (forbes.com)
- How to Determine Your Home Office Qualifies for a Tax Deduction (business2community.com)
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.
In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer.
Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.
For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings. Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.
All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.
Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.
Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:
- The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
- Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
- The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
- The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
- Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.
The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:
- Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
- The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
- Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.
Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.
Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.
There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:
- Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
- Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
- Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
- Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.
Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.
The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.
The Franchise Tax Board has announced that taxpayers affected by the retroactive personal income tax increase (Proposition 30), may pay the amount due with their 2012 tax return. Taxpayers subject to underpayment of estimated tax penalties may request relief by completing Form 5808 Underpayment of Estimated Taxes by Individual and Fiduciaries and completing Part 1, question 1 with the explanation that the underpayment is due to Proposition 30.