Deductions that could dramatically cut your tax bill
For all the talk about taxes during the “fiscal cliff” debate at the end of 2012, many people are still left wondering what it means to them as the April 15 filing date approaches.
"'Is it a big deal? Or is it business as usual?' are questions I'm hearing," says Scott Halliwell, a certified financial planner with USAA. "While many issues were resolved, a lot of taxpayers still aren't sure how their tax returns and deductions are affected.”
If you're one of those people, brush up on these 10 deductions before tackling your tax return. They are worth reviewing, as they could lower your tax bill.
1. Traditional IRA contributions. You have until April 15 to contribute up to $5,000 to a traditional IRA for 2012 and, if you qualify, deduct it on your tax return. Here are some guidelines:
If you were 50 or older on the last day of 2012, you can contribute up to $6,000.
If you (and your spouse if you're married) weren't covered by an employer's retirement plan in 2012, you can generally deduct your contribution in full.
If you were covered by an employer plan, you can only take a full deduction if your modified adjusted gross income was $58,000 or less ($92,000 or less for married couples filing jointly). Your deduction is reduced if your modified adjusted gross income is higher. If your spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work but you weren't, you're eligible to take a full or partial deduction if your combined adjusted gross income was below $183,000. See IRS Publication 590 for more details.
2. Self-employed retirement plans. If you work for yourself, you can open a Simplified Employee Pension IRA by April 15 and deduct your contribution on your 2012 return. SEP IRAs may be an easy way to create your own retirement plan, and they can allow much higher contributions than traditional IRAs. Contributing to a SEP IRA does not exclude you from making an IRA contribution, but it may affect whether you can take a deduction for it. (A SEP IRA is considered an employer-sponsored plan).
3. Mortgage interest. You're allowed to deduct interest paid on your primary mortgage, as well as home equity loans, home improvement loans and lines of credit. In general, you may deduct interest on up to $1 million of primary mortgage debt and up to $100,000 of home equity balances.
4. State and local taxes. The federal government generally allows taxpayers to deduct property and income taxes paid to state and local governments.
5. Sales tax. If you didn't pay much state income tax - or live in a state that doesn't tax income at all - you may be able to choose to deduct sales tax instead. And you typically don't need receipts - simply calculate an assumed amount using an IRS table or online calculator.
6. Charitable gifts. Make sure you have the right documentation. Cash contributions - regardless of the amount - require a canceled check or dated receipt. Any contribution of $250 or more requires bank or payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgement from the charity. Noncash contributions valued at more than $5,000 generally require an appraisal.
7. Education costs. Up to $2,500 in interest on loans for qualified higher education expenses may be deductible if your adjusted gross income is less than $75,000 ($150,000 if you're married and filing a joint return). A portion of your tuition and fees may be deductible if your adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less ($160,000 on a joint return).
8. Medical and dental costs. You may be able to deduct these expenses if they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
9. Health insurance. In general, self-employed taxpayers may be able to deduct all of their health insurance premiums.
10. Health savings accounts. If your family was covered by a high-deductible health insurance plan in 2012, you may be able to contribute up to $6,250 to a health savings account ($3,100 if it only covered yourself). Contributions are deductible, and similar to IRAs, you have until April 15 to contribute for the 2012 tax year.