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Tax Credits to Help Offset College Costs

Barnard College, 1913 (LOC)

Tax Credits To Help Pay For College

Check out these tax credits to help offset the cost of college – presented below by the IRS from their tax tips series.

  1. American Opportunity Credit  This credit, originally created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has been extended for an additional two years – 2011 and 2012. The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student and is available for the first four years of post secondary education. Forty percent of this credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you owe no taxes. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment. The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is below $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing a joint return).
  2. Lifetime Learning Credit  In 2011, you may be able to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for a student enrolled in eligible educational institutions. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for an eligible student, but to claim the credit, your modified adjusted gross income must be below $60,000 ($120,000 if married filing jointly).
  3. Tuition and Fees Deduction  This deduction can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000 for 2011 even if you do not itemize your deductions. Generally, you can claim the tuition and fees deduction for qualified higher education expenses for an eligible student if your modified adjusted gross income is below $80,000 ($160,000 if married filing jointly).
  4. Student loan interest deduction  Generally, personal interest you pay, other than certain mortgage interest, is not deductible. However, if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $75,000 ($150,000 if filing a joint return), you may be able to deduct interest paid on a student loan used for higher education during the year. It can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $2,500, even if you don’t itemize deductions.

For each student, you can choose to claim only one of the credits in a single tax year. However, if you pay college expenses for two or more students in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. You can claim the American Opportunity Credit for your sophomore daughter and the Lifetime Learning Credit for your senior son.

You cannot claim the tuition and fees deduction for the same student in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You must choose to either take the credit or the deduction and should consider which is more beneficial for you.

Tax Guidance – Election of Reduced Research Credit

TD 9539 contains final regulations that amend the regulations concerning the election to claim the reduced research credit.  The final regulations simplify how taxpayers make the election and affect taxpayers that claim the reduced research credit.These final regulations simplify the section 280C(c)(3) election to have the provisions of section 280C(c)(1) and (c)(2) not apply by requiring the election to be made on Form 6765, “Credit for Increasing Research Activities.”  The form must be filed with an original return for the taxable year filed on or before the due date (including extensions) for filing the income tax return for such year.  An election, once made for any taxable year, is irrevocable for that taxable year.

My morning drive with Rush Limbaugh – OMG His Tax Knowledge Cracks Me Up

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Obs...

Love My Morning Drive With Rush

By Stacie Kitts, CPA

I’ve considered myself a bleeding heart liberal Democrat ever since I knew what a Democrat was, an interesting political choice for a successful business owner / Certified Public Accountant living in the OC. But an even more interesting dichotomy is how much I enjoy my morning drive listening to the lunatic ravings political commentary of Rush Limbaugh.

I can’t help myself. It’s like comedy hour really.

Now I know there are a lot of people who like Rush and that’s okay, I’m not judging. However, this morning he was so over the top that I couldn’t resist making him the subject of this blog post.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit I arrived at work before Mr. Limbaugh’s ranting commentary concluded so he may have redeemed himself later in his broadcast.

Here is what I thought I heard – no quotes here because I am recalling this from memory.

  1. Obama wants to tax the rich by increasing the 15% tax rate that many wealthier Americans enjoy on the sale of their investments. ( I have also heard this point made on several other news broadcasts)
  2. The 15% tax rate is a double taxation because wealthy Americans have already paid taxes at a 35% rate on the money they invested.

**********

First, I want to start this discussion by helping my readers to understand that different types of income are taxed at different rates. (I promise I will get to Rush’s points – I can hardly wait to tackle those) This varies from the regular tax rates that you might be familiar with.

So the basic tax rate schedule looks like this for 2011:

Tax Rate

Single

Married Filing Joint

Married Filing Separate

Head of Household

10% Up to $8,500 Up to $17,000 Up to $8,500 Up to $12,150
15% $8,501 – $34,500 $17,001 – $69,000 $8,501 – $34,500 $12,151 – $46,250
25% $34,501 – $83,600 $69,001 – $139,350 $34,501 – $69,675 $46,251 – $119,400
28% $83,601 – $174,400 $139,351 – $212,300 $69,676 – $106,150 $119,401 – $193,350
33% $174,401 – $379,150 $212,301 – $379,150 $106,151 – $189,575 $193,351 – $379,150
35% Over $379,150 Over $379,150 Over $189,575 Over $379,150

But here is what you may not know – tax law has all kinds of exceptions. In addition to the “regular” tax rates mentioned above, there is a whole host of other tax rates that might apply to your income.

Many of these “exceptions” are a decrease to the regular tax rates. For example:

  1. Qualified dividend income starting in 2003 and ending in 2012 has a maximum tax rate of 15%.
  2. Long Term Capital Gains income (selling stock you held for more than 12 months for example) is taxed at a maximum rate of 15% from years 2003-2012. The maximum rate increases to 20% in year 2013.

Income types that will increase your tax above the regular rate are:

  1. Self employment income (so if you are a business owner, you will likely pay more than the “regular” rates)
  2. Penalty taxes for early withdrawals of retirement investments (so if you pull money out of your 401K before you are eligible you will pay more than the “regular” rates)

Other exceptions to the regular tax include:

  1. Alternative minimum tax
  2. Depreciation recapture

So what is the argument?

It is simply this – working American’s, the ones who “work for a living” and are likely receiving a paycheck and Form W2 at the end of the year are paying taxes at a higher rate than individuals who make most of their income from investments. In addition, those American’s receiving a paycheck are also paying Social Security and Medicare taxes on top of the regular tax.

And why does this equate to the wealthiest Americans pay less tax? As Warren Buffett pointed out, working Americans don’t have the “extra” funds to invest. Middle America spends the money earned from their jobs on day-to-day living, not on investments that could earn income at a lower rate.

I like visual aides so here is one to help make the point:

If you are married and filing jointly and your taxable income after everything you can deduct, is $70,000 (and assuming all your income came from your paycheck) you will pay to our government in the form of Federal Taxes 25% of your income – on top of the social security taxes withheld from your check.

Married Filing Joint

Income

Total tax including social security)

Joe Tax Payer 70,000

$21,700

Warren Buffett 70,000

$10,500

Now that you know a bit more about how the tax system works – I hope – here are my answers to what Rush implied:

  1. Obama wants to tax the rich by increasing the 15% tax rate that many wealthier Americans enjoy on the sale of their investments .

Well, no Obama wants to tax income earned from investments similar to the way working Americans are taxed. Does this equate to taxing the rich more? More than what? -If most of your income is coming from investments – More than now – YES. More than the average American – well DUH NO.

  1. The 15% tax rate is a double taxation because wealthy Americans have already paid taxes at a 35% rate on the money they invested.

First, how does Rush know that wealthy Americans paid 35% on the income they invested? As we have learned, there are all kinds of ways income is taxed. And second, you only pay tax on the net profit – the increase in the value of the investment after you sell it and have control of the cash. The amount used to purchase the asset is subtracted from the profit to come up with the taxable amount and therefore is NOT taxed twice. (see post script)

Post Script: It appears Rush’s comment on the 35% rate relates to income that is taxed at the corporate level before being distributed out at dividends or capital gains.

The tax policy blog explains:

The reality is that capital gains and dividends are taxed at a lower rate at the individual level because this income has already been taxed at 35 percent at the corporate level before it was distributed to shareholders. Both Mr. Obama and his tax advisor Warren Buffett seem unaware that the U.S. has the 4th highest overall tax rate on dividend income among the largest industrialized countries in the OECD at 49.5 percent. Only Denmark (56.5 percent), France (55.9 percent) and the United Kingdom (54 percent) tax dividends at a higher rate.

So here is my take on the argument above:

If I earn money from my job (for which I pay taxes) and I take my money (lets say $1.00) to the grocery store and buy my dinner, then the grocery store takes my $1.00 and adds it to their profits (for which they pay taxes) leaving oh say $.85 – and then they buy merchandise from a vender using my $.85 and that vender adds it to their profits (for which they are taxed) and so on and so on. My dollar, or portions of my dollar were taxed over and over and over.

When a corporation makes a profit it pays taxes, just like I do. A corporation is considered a separate person distinct from its shareholders. So in the same manner as the rest of us, it takes some of the money it makes and its spends it. When it distributes its “profits” to pay investors (investors get dividends – its a perk of ownership and an incentive for them to buy the stock) those investors pay taxes on the income they receive in the same manner (all be it the investors get a tax break) as the grocery store does when I take my $1.oo profit (for which I have already been taxed) and buy my dinner.

I’m still struggling to understand why the profits that I distribute from my job to others are different than the profits distributed by the corporation.

Have You Been a Bad Bad Taxpayer? No Worries California is Willing to Give You a Break

Even if you have been a bad taxpayer, California is willing to give you a break.

Voluntary Compliance Initiative 2 (VCI 2) is an opportunity for taxpayers who underreported their California income tax liabilities, through the use of abusive tax avoidance transactions (ATAT) or offshore financial arrangements (OFA), to amend their returns for 2010 and prior tax years and obtain a waiver of most penalties.

Filing period: August 1, 2011 to October 31, 2011

Applicable tax years: 2010 and prior

Eligibility

You are eligible to participate in VCI 2 if you (or one of your related entities):

  • Filed a tax return that underreported your income or tax liability through the use of an ATAT or OFA.

You are eligible even if you:

  • Are currently under FTB examination for an ATAT or OFA.
  • Are currently under administrative protest or appeal for an ATAT or OFA.
  • Participated in the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative.

Participation

You must take the following steps to participate:

  1. File a completed Participation Agreement form with us between August 1, 2011 and October 31, 2011.
  2. Attach the form to your amended return to report all income from all sources, without regard to the ATAT and including all income from the OFA.
  3. Pay all tax and interest by October 31, 2011. See payment options for more information.

Benefits

Participation in VCI 2 will allow you to avoid:

  • The cost of litigation.
  • Certain penalties and the associated interest.
  • Criminal prosecution.

Penalties

You can avoid the following penalties under VCI 2:

  • Noneconomic Substance Transaction Understatement Penalty
  • Accuracy Related Penalty
  • Interest Based Penalty
  • Fraud Penalty

If you are eligible but do not participate, you will be subject to the full range of penalties and interest, and may be subject to criminal prosecution.

The Large Corporate Understatement Penalty (LCUP) and the Amnesty Penalty cannot be waived under this initiative.

WooHoo Mileage Rate Increases to 55.5 Cents for Last 6 Months of Year

1910 Model T Ford

Katherman Kitts & Co. LLP Mileage Rates Update

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced an increase in the optional standard mileage rates for the final six months of 2011. Taxpayers may use the optional standard rates to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business and other purposes.

The rate will increase to 55.5 cents a mile for all business miles driven from July 1, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2011. This is an increase of 4.5 cents from the 51 cent rate in effect for the first six months of 2011, as set forth in Revenue Procedure 2010-51.
In recognition of recent gasoline price increases, the IRS made this special adjustment for the final months of 2011. The IRS normally updates the mileage rates once a year in the fall for the next calendar year.

“This year’s increased gas prices are having a major impact on individual Americans. The IRS is adjusting the standard mileage rates to better reflect the recent increase in gas prices,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are taking this step so the reimbursement rate will be fair to taxpayers.”

While gasoline is a significant factor in the mileage figure, other items enter into the calculation of mileage rates, such as depreciation and insurance and other fixed and variable costs.

The optional business standard mileage rate is used to compute the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business use in lieu of tracking actual costs. This rate is also used as a benchmark by the federal government and many businesses to reimburse their employees for mileage.

The new six-month rate for computing deductible medical or moving expenses will also increase by 4.5 cents to 23.5 cents a mile, up from 19 cents for the first six months of 2011. The rate for providing services for charitable organizations is set by statute, not the IRS, and remains at 14 cents a mile.

The new rates are contained in Announcement 2011-40 on the optional standard mileage rates.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

Mileage Rate Changes

Purpose Rates 1/1 through 6/30/11    Rates 7/1 through 12/31/11 
Business 51 55.5
  Medical/Moving 19 23.5
Charitable 14 14
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