Here are six tax deductions and credits that will expire at year's end -- unless Congress extends them.
1. Energy-Efficient Home Upgrades
Making energy-saving improvements to your home not only cuts down on heating and cooling costs, it also earns you a tax credit. For example, if you add extra insulation in your attic, replace drafty old windows with modern thermal-pane models, or install an energy-efficient heater or air conditioner, you're eligible for a tax credit of 10% of the cost, up to $500. You don't have to attach the manufacturer's certification that the property meets the requirements for the credit to your tax return, but you must maintain records that establish your entitlement. However, if you've claimed this credit for upgrades in past years, you can't do it again: It's a one-time deal.
2. Higher Education Expenses
The above-the-line deduction of up to $4,000 for qualified higher education expenses won't be available after 2011, so you might want to consider prepaying eligible expenses for 2012 if you haven't already reached the cap for this year. Generally, the deduction applies to tuition and fees paid in connection with enrollment at an institution of higher education during 2011 or the first three months of 2012. The maximum deduction is available to taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of up to $65,000 for singles and $130,000 for joint filers. A deduction of $2,000 is allowed for singles with adjusted gross incomes of up to $80,000, or joint filers with adjusted gross incomes up to $160,000.
3. Adoption Help
The Adoption Credit and Adoption Assistance Program lets adoptive parents claim a credit against their federal tax of up to $13,360 for "qualified adoption expenses" for each adopted child. If an employer pays the expenses, adoptive parents may be able to exclude up to $13,360 from their gross incomes. Both the credit and the exclusion are reduced (phased out) if parents' income exceeds certain limits, says Gail Rosen, a certified public accountant with Gail Rosen CPA. Though new access to the credit expires when the program ends on Jan. 1, the rules allowed the credit to be carried forward over five years, and Rosen doesn't see anything to would indicate that will change.
If you don't pay state and local income taxes -- a common situation for retired public employees or those living in 'no-income-tax' states like Florida -- you have had the choice of using the optional sales tax deduction to cut your federal income tax. After 2011, that option goes away. So if you're planning to buy big-ticket items like a new car in the near future, you might want to push them up into 2011 to get those last deductions, says Rosen.
5. Mortgage Insurance Premiums
It's bad enough that home values nationally are down to their 2003 levels. As of 2012, you won't even be able to take the mortgage insurance premium deduction. 2011 is the last time homeowners with joint adjusted gross incomes of less than $109,000 will be able to deduct the cost of mortgage insurance on a first or second home.
6. Teachers' Classroom Materials
It's something nearly all educators do these days -- buying classroom supplies and paying for them out of their own pockets. For years, K-12 teachers, instructors, counselors, principals or aides who worked in a school for at least 900 hours during a school year could claim an "above the line" deduction for up to $250 of expenses incurred for books, supplies, computer equipment or supplementary materials used in the classroom. Shop now, teachers: Starting next year, that deduction will disappear like kids vanishing from the classroom when the bell rings.