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IRS tax formsWith Christmas trees up and holiday music playing 24/7, April 18 seems a world away. But it's never too early to start planning and getting your paperwork together for Income Tax time, say the experts.

Besides making the most of your flexible spending account and taking advantage of changes with the Roth IRA, here are five things to keep in mind when figuring out your 2010 tax bill.No More Forms By Mail
For the first time, the IRS is not mailing paper returns. If you want to file paper returns, you're going to have to download the forms and schedules from the IRS website yourself. After all, said J.K. Lasser Institute's Barbara Weltman, more than 35% of all 2009 tax returns were filed from home computers.

Make the Most of Credits, Deductions and Exemptions
Tame your tax bill by taking advantage where you can. For example, if you installed new insulation, a furnace, windows or anything that makes your home more energy efficient before the end of the year, you may qualify for up to $1,500 in home energy efficiency tax credits, says Bob Meighan, a CPA and vice president of TurboxTax.

There are also higher credit amounts for adoption, higher exemption amounts for the alternative minimum tax and higher standard deduction for heads of households.

Optimize New Tax Breaks
Weltman says that unlike last year, there is no phase-out of personal exemptions and itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers. And for the self-employed who buy their own health insurance, in 2010, they can not only continue to deduct it as a personal expense, they can also use it to reduce their net earnings from self-employment for the purpose of the self-employment tax.

Re-evaluate Your Tax Withholding
According to Meighan of TurboTax, almost 80% of all filers got a refund of about $3,000, so if you're one of them, he recommends that "you may want to adjust your payroll withholding for 2011 so you're getting more take home pay on a regular basis."

Get Back-Up
If you're going to maximize your write-offs, you may need to attach more documents than last year. For example, says Weltman, if you claim the adoption credit, you will need to submit to the IRS a copy of the adoption decree or order for domestic adoptions and, where applicable, certification of a special needs child. Foreign adoptions require the child's Hague Adoption Certificate, an IH-3 visa, or a foreign adoption decree translated into English. If the child's country of origin is not a party to the Hague Convention, then attach a copy of the translated decree or an IR-2 or IR-3 visa.

Claiming the first-time home-buyer credit? Be prepared to submit the HUD-1 settlement statement.

"Every little deduction, credit, and other tax break you can claim adds up to big tax savings, enabling you to keep more of what you earn," Weltman says.

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Cities with the Lowest Tax Rates

The total amount of tax you pay reaches far beyond what you owe the federal government. Depending on where you live, most likely you're required to pay additional taxes, including property and sales tax. The disparity between the amount of tax you pay in a low-tax city and that in a high-tax city can be dramatic. Living in any of these 10 cities could save you a bundle, although the exact amount may fluctuate based on your income and lifestyle choices.

Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

Much ado is made in the press about federal tax brackets, but cities can carry a tax bite of their own. Even if you live in a state that has no income tax, your city may levy a variety of taxes that could eat away the entire benefit of living in an income tax-free state, including property taxes, sales taxes and auto taxes. Consider all the costs before you move to one of these cities, and understand that rates may change based on your family's income level.

Great Ways to Get Charitable Tax Deductions

Generally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as a deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

A Freelancer's Guide to Taxes

Freelancing certainly has its benefits, but it can result in a few complications come tax time. The Internal Revenue Service considers freelancers to be self-employed, so if you earn income as a freelancer you must file your taxes as a business owner. While you can take additional deductions if you are self-employed, you'll also face additional taxes in the form of the self-employment tax. Here are things to consider as a freelancer when filing your taxes.

Tax Deductions for Voluntary Interest Payments on Student Loans

Most taxpayers who pay interest on student loans can take a tax deduction for the expense ? and you can do this regardless of whether you itemize tax deductions on your return. The rules for claiming the deduction are the same whether the interest payments were required or voluntary.

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