The best approach to tax planning is starting early in the year. But it's never too late, even as the April tax filing deadline approaches, for some last minute tax savings tips. After all, a taxpayer's obligation is to pay their fair share of income taxes, and not a dollar more.
It's possible to contribute to an individual retirement account any time prior to the April filing deadline. In fact, this is perhaps the only account an individual can open after the New Year and still claim on the prior year's federal income tax form.
Keep in mind that Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible; however, Traditional IRA contributions may be deductible depending on the filer's modified adjusted gross income, and whether or not they're already covered by an employer's pension plan.
In recent years, the child and education tax credits have been more generous. That means additional tax-savings opportunities for parents of children; especially those with dependents attending a college or university.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, or ATRA, makes permanent the $1,000 CTC (this was scheduled to revert to $500). The Child Tax Credit allows parents to reduce their federal income taxes owed by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under age 17. To qualify for this tax credit the child must be:
ATRA permanently extended the increase in the maximum credit rate for the child and dependent care tax credit (CDCTC) from 30% to 35%. Working parents that pay for the care of a dependent under the age of 13 may be eligible for the dependent care tax credit for all qualifying expenses. In 2015 and 2016, the maximum credit a family can take is between 20 to 35% of qualifying expenses, with a deduction cap of $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two children.
In the 2015 and 2016 tax years, it's possible to deduct up to $4,000 for higher education tuition and qualifying fees. This deduction is phased out starting at $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint returns.
In 2014 and 2015, taxpayers that qualify can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest, regardless of whether they itemize their taxes. This deduction is phased-out starting at $65,000 for single filers and $130,000 for joint filers.
There are two additional education credits that can help lower a tax bill. The first is the Hope Credit, which is worth up to $2,500 for each qualifying student. The Hope Credit is available during the first four years of postsecondary education.
The Lifetime Learning Credit can be claimed if not seeking, or eligible for, the Hope Credit. It's possible to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for all students enrolled in eligible educational institutions. There is no limit to the number of years the Lifetime Learning Credit can be claimed for each student.
In 2015 and 2016, the Hope credit is phased out starting at adjusted gross income levels of $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers, while the Lifetime Learning credit is phased out starting at adjusted gross income levels of $55,000 ($55,000 also in 2016) for single filers and $110,000 ($111,000 in 2016) for joint filers.
Even if a taxpayer doesn't own a business, they may still be able to deduct certain business-related expenses if they purchased something for their job and were not reimbursed by an employer. For example, job related travel is deductible on an income tax return. Receipts will be needed as proof of these expenses.
Individuals that work for more than one employer in any tax year, and have earnings in excess of $118,500 in 2015 and 2016, may have paid too much Social Security tax. Individuals can claim a refund on Form 1040 when they file their personal income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.
Tax deductible charitable donations can be in other forms besides check or cash. When donating a car, clothing, shoes, furniture, or other items of value to a recognized charity, detailed records and receipts will be needed as proof for a deduction. The mileage driven for charity is also tax deductible. Back in 2007, the recordkeeping rules for gifts to charity were made more stringent; it's important to know all of the applicable requirements before taking a deduction.
Finally, here is a tax deduction checklist, which summarizes the types of savings a filer should be looking for when preparing their return:
Note: Some of the above items can be taken as miscellaneous itemized deductions and as such are deductible to the extent they exceed 2% of the filer's AGI. In the case of medical and dental expenses, they are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of the filer's AGI.
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