General Tax Tips
If you or any of your dependents are enrolled in a higher education program this fall, you may qualify to claim one or more credits on your 2019 tax return.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit of up to $2,500 for a student pursuing a degree or certified credential at a college or vocational school. You may claim the credit for up to four years for each qualifying student, and you may claim multiple AOTCs if you have more than one student in your household. The AOTC is partially refundable, meaning that if your tax is reduced below zero, up to $1,000 of the credit may be refunded to you.
The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is available for household members enrolled in one or more courses at a higher learning institution, or in a qualifying course to develop or improve professional skills. A maximum nonrefundable credit of $2,000 (regardless of the number of qualifying students) may be claimed per year, for any number of years.
Both credits are subject to income limits and other eligibility restrictions. A qualified tax advisor can help you determine your eligibility for both credits
Several key tax credits end when a dependent child reaches a specified age. Here is a quick summary of the age rules for three of the most important tax credits for parents, as well as the most important exceptions:
Child and Dependent Care Credit: Child must be under 13 years of age (12 years old or younger), OR live with you more than half the year and be incapable of self-care.
Child Tax Credit (also called “Per-Child Credit”): Child must be under 17 years of age (16 years old or younger), no exceptions.
Qualifying Child for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): Child must be under 19 years of age (18 years old or younger), OR a full-time student and under 24 years of age (23 years old or younger).
For both the Child Tax Credit and the Qualifying Child for EITC rule, the child must meet the age requirement at the end of the tax year (usually, December 31). However, for the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the child only has to be below the age limit when the care is provided.
If you will lose a tax credit this year due to a child surpassing the age limit, you may need to adjust your withholding to allow for the likely increase to your total tax for the year. A qualified tax advisor can help you determine whether an adjustment is needed.
If you are a teacher, principal, counselor, or classroom aide who works at least 900 hours a year in a state-accredited school (grades K-12), you may qualify for the Educator Expense Deduction. This IRS rule allows you to deduct up to $250 on your tax forms ($500 for joint filers who are both educators) for classroom supplies that you purchase at your own expense.
Allowed expenses include traditional school supplies like rulers and markers, along with specialty items like athletic gear for physical education classes. A qualified tax advisor can help you determine which of your expenses qualify for the deduction.
You do not have to itemize deductions in order to claim the Educator Expense Deduction, but the IRS does require that you have written evidence for every expense. During this hectic back-to-school period when classroom expenses are most likely to occur, it is important to remember to save your receipts.
The IRS states that federal taxes must be paid on a “pay as you go” basis, not just at the end of the tax year. This means that if you receive significant income that is not subject to withholding, it is likely necessary for you to make estimated tax payments throughout the year. In addition to those who officially classify themselves as self-employed, many people who participate in the “gig” and/or “sharing” economy must also make these payments.
For example, if you drive for a rideshare service, rent out a spare room to travelers, or work for a few hours a week as a freelance dog walker, your income from those activities may be taxable. Because you don’t have an employer who withholds tax from paychecks, you must essentially handle the withholding yourself by making an estimated tax payment each quarter.
However, if you receive both employee income subject to withholding and additional, “side gig” income, you may be able to avoid making estimated tax payments by increasing the amount withheld from your regular paychecks. A qualified tax advisor can help you determine how much tax you are likely to owe, and whether it is more advantageous to adjust your withholding or make estimated payments.
Making sure that the correct amount of tax is being withheld from your paychecks is the best way to avoid an unpleasant IRS surprise next spring. Here’s a simple way to do a September withholding checkup:
– On your pay stub for the pay period ending August 31 or September 1, find your year-to-date federal income tax withholding. If the stub does not have this information, you can request it from your employer’s payroll manager.
– Calculate two-thirds (66.67%) of the total federal income tax you paid for tax year 2018. Increase this percentage if you received a raise for (or during) 2019. For example, use 70% if you received a small raise, or 75-80% if you received a substantial raise.
The amount you found in step 1 should be greater than or equal to the amount you found in step 2. If it is not, you can obtain a new W-4 Form from your employer and request that an additional amount be withheld from your paychecks. The IRS also has a withholding calculator that can be found at: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator.
An experienced tax pro can help you determine what this amount should be. By adjusting your withholding now, you can spread out your tax payments over several months, instead of being stuck with one large, unexpected bill in April.
The IRS may assign certain cases of overdue debts to private debt collectors, but only after giving written notice. Any payment to the private debt collectors should only be made payable to the U.S Treasury.
There are currently only four contractors authorized for collection: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Conserve of Fairport, N.Y.; Performant of Livermore, Calif.; and Pioneer of Horseheads, N.Y.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created a new deduction for many taxpayers with business income. The Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction applies to income derived from “pass-through entities”—businesses whose earnings are reported on individual owners’ tax returns rather than corporate returns. If you are a sole proprietor, partner, LLC owner, or shareholder in an S corporation, you may be eligible to claim the deduction.
If you qualify, you may be able to deduct a portion of your business earnings from your adjusted gross income (AGI) on your tax forms. Because the QBI deduction reduces your taxable income, it may result in significant tax savings.
If you have student loans, you may be able to deduct up to $2,500 per year in loan interest on your federal tax forms. Because this deduction is classified as an adjustment to your gross income, you do NOT have to itemize deductions in order to claim it.
For any loan on which you paid $600 or more in interest during the year, you should receive a Form 1098-E from the loan issuer to help you prepare your federal return.
The student loan interest deduction is phased out for individual taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income above $65,000 (or $135,000 for joint filers). Additional IRS rules may affect whether your loans qualify for the deduction.
If you purchased alternative energy equipment for your home in 2018, you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of materials and installation. Qualifying equipment may include solar water heaters, solar panels, and fuel cell systems. If you end up owing no tax for 2018, you may be able to carry any surplus energy tax credit over to future years.
Under current laws, credits for home renewable energy equipment may be reduced after 2019 and will expire completely in 2021.
If you’re starting a summer job or know a teen or student who is, here is a useful tax-saving tip:
Students and teenage employees normally have taxes withheld from their paychecks by their employer after filling out a Form W-4.
However, if the job is regarded as self-employment, like baby-sitting or lawn care can be, they should keep good records of all expenses to help maximize potential deductions.
In the case of lawn care, potential deductible expenses may include: business cards, fliers, fuel, equipment rentals, chemicals, work mileage, etc.