Tax Planning for 2018

(Courtesy: IRS website)

Real Estate Tax Deduction — There is an additional standard deduction for those who don’t itemize their deductions, but pay real estate taxes. The additional deduction amount is equal to the amount of real estate taxes paid up to $500 for single filers or up to $1,000 for joint filers. This deduction is available for the 2015 and 2016 tax years and increases your standard deduction.

Tuition and Fees Deduction — You may be able to deduct qualified tuition and required enrollment fees up to $4,000 that you pay for yourself, your spouse or a dependent. You do not have to itemize to take this deduction. However, a taxpayer cannot take both the tuition and fees deduction and education credits (Hope & Lifetime Learning Credits) for the same student in the same year. Income limits and other special rules apply to each of these provisions. To determine whether your expenses are qualified, refer to IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education. The 2016 edition is available soon online. This publication also describes other education-related tax benefits.

Educators’ Out of Pocket Expense Deduction — The educator expense deduction allows teachers and other educators to deduct the cost of books, supplies, equipment and software used in the classroom. Eligible educators include those who work at least 900 hours during a school year as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide in a public or private elementary or secondary school. Worth up to $250, the educator expense deduction is available whether or not the educator itemizes deductions on Schedule A.

New Rules for “Cash” Charitable Contributions — Since tax year 2007, to deduct any charitable donation of money, you must have a bank record, credit card statement or a written communication from the recipient showing the name of the organization and the date and amount of the contribution. In determining what may be deducted as a charitable contribution, see IRS Publication 526 for 2008 to be released in the near future.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — This credit is offered by the federal government to working families and individuals. You may qualify for the earned income tax credit, or EITC, if you worked, but did not earn a lot of money. EITC is a refundable tax credit meaning you could qualify for a tax refund even if you did not have federal income tax withheld. If you qualify, the amount of your EITC will depend on whether you have children, the number of children you have, and the amount of your wages and income. For more information, go to or see IRS Publication 596 for 2008.

Recordkeeping — Are your tax records organized? The IRS encourages taxpayers to take the time now to gather and organize their records to reduce stress at tax time. For tips, see Publication 552, Recordkeeping for Individuals, for 2008.

Electronic Filing — The IRS encourages taxpayers to consider e-filing their tax returns. Nearly 90 million returns were filed electronically this year, accounting for about 58 percent of all filers. E-filing is easy, safe and accurate. The fastest way for you to receive a tax refund is to use IRS e-file and choose direct deposit. You can receive your refund in as little as ten days with IRS e-file and direct deposit. The error rate of an e-filed return is less than 1 percent compared to 20 percent for a paper tax return. IRS e-file is the most efficient way to prepare your taxes, particularly taking into consideration the 2008 tax law changes. About 70 percent of taxpayers can prepare and file electronically for free when they enter through and use Free File.

Planning Your Income — Some taxpayers, such as the self-employed, may have some discretion regarding when they receive income. Properly deferring income until next year can lower your taxable income and tax bill this year. This strategy will, however, raise your tax bill next year. Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business, may be of help. And many taxpayers also have some control over their income via the sale of investments to incur a gain or loss. This is generally a key area of decision-making for investors. These decisions must be made and executed by Dec. 31 to be counted on a 2008 tax return. Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses, for 2008, explains the rules.

Retirement Savings — Taxpayers have various options to save for retirement. You need to be mindful of their contribution deadlines and limits. For example, Dec. 31 is the deadline for contributions to a 401(k) plan, while April 15 is the deadline for IRA contributions. Taxpayers can get help from their 401(k) plan administrators where they work. Publication 560, Retirement Plans for Small Business, and Publication 575, Pensions and Annuity Income, may also help. You have more time to make contributions to individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) for a given tax year. You generally have until April 15 of the following year. Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements, for 2008, can answer most questions.

New children — If you had or adopted a child in 2008, you should get a Social Security number for that child as soon as possible to ensure that you can include the child as a dependent on your 2008 return. Also, having or adopting a child in 2008 may mean you will receive a larger recovery rebate credit.