The Wonderful World of Tax Season, 2011

Margaret Atkins MunroLet's Talk About MoneyLeave a Comment

Times may change, civilizations may rise and fall but there is nothing surer than inevitability—taxes are, for good or ill, forever and the April filing deadline is just around the corner.

2010 was a year filled with tax legislation and new regulations. In addition to changing how we will deliver and pay for health care in the future, we altered small business rules, the standard deduction, personal exemptions and a host of credits.

What follows is a partial listing of items that you may find useful in preparing your 2010 income tax returns. In this list, you will find some that will benefit you, others that will hurt your pocket, yet others that provide opportunities you may not be aware of; and as always, a variety that will test your patience:

 For those who own their own home but cannot itemize their deductions, Congress failed to extend the $500 addition to the standard deduction ($1,000 for those who file using Married Filing Joint status) for real estate taxes you paid on your principal residence;

 If you collected unemployment at any time during 2010, you have to pay income tax on every penny. The $2,400 reduction you might have received in 2009 disappears in 2010, even though you may be suffering economically just as severely this year as you did last;

 On the plus side, if you had significant income in 2010, none of your itemized deductions and personal exemptions will phase out because you earned too much;

 The $400 Making Work Pay credit ($800 for Married Filing Joint filers) has been extended for 2010. Provided you earned income from wages, tips, or self-employment in 2010, you’re entitled to take this credit again.

 The Economic Recovery Payment ($250 per eligible recipient of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement or Veteran’s benefits) and the Special Credit for Certain Government Retirees ($250 per eligible federal or state retiree) were not extended for 2010. But, be careful here—if you should have received the credit in 2009, but did not, claim the amount in 2010 that you were entitled to receive in 2009 that you did not;

 If you were fortunate enough to purchase a first home in 2010 and could take advantage of the First Time Homebuyer Credit, make sure you claim it if you haven’t already on your 2009 Form 1040; the credit is worth up to $8,000, and it’s totally refundable to you. But if you took the government up on its very kind offer of a tax-free loan in 2008 (the 2008 version of the First Time Home Buyers Credit), watch out—2010 is the year you must start repaying that loan;

 You may be one of the many people who converted a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA in 2010, assuming that you would elect to spread that taxable income over 2 years, 2011 and 2012. But do the calculations! If 2010 wasn’t a particularly profitable year for you, and you’re hoping things will improve in 2011 and 2012, you may actually save money if you claim the full amount of that income on your 2010 income tax return. Remember, until you make the election to defer the income into later years, you keep your options open;

 It’s still not too late to contribute to an IRA account. You have until April 18th, 2011 to make your 2010 contribution;

 And, if you turned 70 ½ in 2010, you have until April 1, 2011 to make the first required minimum distribution from your IRA accounts, and from your company retirement accounts if you have already retired;

 If you own a small business, you can depreciate 100% of the purchase price of new business assets purchased between September 9, 2010 and December 31, 2011; from January 1 – September 8, 2010, you may only depreciate 50% of those assets in the first year;

 There are new regulations for tax preparers this year, and all preparers who aren’t C.P.A’s, Enrolled Agents (licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury) or attorneys are required to comply with them. This means that anyone preparing or signing your return must have a Preparers Identification Number (PTIN);

 Finally, for those who love to file their returns early in order to get their refunds, don’t be surprised if the person preparing your taxes tells you that you can’t file your return until mid to late February. They are not being difficult, and neither is the I.R.S. Instead, blame it all on Congress, who waited until late in the lame duck session to pass legislation that will save most of us money.

One final note: this year, the tax filing deadline is extended for everyone until April 18th in honor of Emancipation Day, which is, apparently, celebrated in Washington D.C. to mark the freeing of 3,000 slaves in the District of Columbia in 1862. How ironic that, this year, the commemoration of this particular day of autonomy serves to extend our national angst over reporting our mandated taxation.