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April 1, 2009 > Federal tax law changes for individual returns

Federal tax law changes for individual returns

Submitted By Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP

You know tax laws are confusing when even presidential cabinet picks have trouble figuring out how much they owe. Here are some recent tax code revisions that apply to individual taxpayers.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit
The First-Time Homebuyer Credit works like an interest-free loan which must be repaid over a 15-year period. This credit is available to first-time homebuyers whose closing date occurs on or after April 9, 2008, and before July 1, 2009. The maximum credit is the lesser of $7,500 or 10 percent of the purchase price (unless married filing separately, in which case each return receives $3,750).

Single taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income up to $75,000, and married couples with AGI up to $150,000, qualify for the full credit amount. The credit is completely phased out if AGI exceeds $95,000 for single returns and $170,000 for joint.

To qualify as a first-time homebuyer you, or your spouse if filing jointly, must not have owned a principal residence for three years before the purchase date. Participating in the tax credit is easy. It is claimed on your federal income tax return. No other forms or applications are required. Just be sure the qualifications for a first-time homebuyer and the income limitations are met. Repayment must begin two years after the purchase.

Congress is considering an expanded homebuyer tax credit which would increase from $7,500 to $15,000 and include anyone buying a principal residence, not just first-time homebuyers. If the credit is approved, it will apply to home purchases that occur within a year after the bill is signed. This would be a true tax credit, which does not have to be repaid.

Rebate Recovery Credit
The Rebate Recovery Credit is a one-time benefit for some taxpayers. You may qualify for the credit if:
* You did not receive an economic stimulus payment.
* You received less than the maximum economic stimulus payment in 2008 because your qualifying or gross income was either too high or too low.
* Your family gained an additional qualifying child in 2008.
* You could be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return in 2007, but cannot be claimed as a dependent on another return in 2008.
* You did not have a valid Social Security number in 2007 but received one in 2008.

In other words, if your rebate is higher using 2008 information, you will receive the difference. The maximum credit is $600 ($1,200 if filing jointly) plus $300 for each qualifying child. The rebate will show up as an additional credit on 2008 tax returns.

Capital Gains
New for 2008, you pay no tax on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains if your tax bracket is 15 percent or less (taxable income up to $32,550 for single taxpayers, $43,650 for heads of household and $65,100 for married filing jointly).

Second Home Tax Increase
In the past, one was able to sell a second home and exclude $500,000 in profit from capital gains tax. This is no longer the case. Now only a portion of the profit is excluded from tax, depending on how long the property has been owned. For example, if a married couple owned a vacation home for eight years, then lived in it for two more years before selling, only 20 percent of their profit would be excluded from capital gains tax.

Increased Section 179
Some taxpayers can elect to recover all or part of the cost of certain qualifying property, up to $250,000 for 2008, by claiming a Section 179 deduction. In doing so, a taxpayer deducts depreciation up front rather than over the life of the asset. It is especially important to remember that the Section 179 deduction may be taken only on assets acquired for use in trade or business, not on property used for other income-producing activities, such as rental units. See Publication 946, How to Depreciate Property, for detailed rules on the Section 179 deduction.

50 Percent Special Depreciation Allowance
The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 provides for a special 50 percent depreciation allowance for qualified properties placed in service in 2008.

IRA Contribution Increase
The IRA contribution limit for 2008 has increased from $4,000 to $5,000 for a traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Arrangement. The IRA deduction may be taken if your AGI is less than $63,000 for a single filer and $105,000 for married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er). Those who were 50 or older before January 1, 2009, can contribute $6,000 or their taxable income for the year, whichever is less.

Real Property Tax Additional Deduction
If you use the standard deduction when filing your taxes and you are a property owner, you will be allowed to take a limited property deduction in addition to the standard deduction. The deduction is the lower of property taxes paid or $500 ($1,000 if married filing jointly).

Standard deduction amount for 2008 is $5,450 for single and married filing separately, $8,000 for head of household, and $10,900 for married filing jointly.

Itemized Deduction
If your 2008 AGI is more than $159,950 ($79,975 if married filing separately), your itemized deductions are reduced by 1 percent of the excess AGI over the threshold amount. Medical expenses, casualty and theft losses, gambling losses, and investment interest expenses are not subject to the reduction.

Personal Exemption
Personal exemption amount for 2008 is $3,500. The exemption amounts are subject to phase out if your AGI exceeds $119,975 for married filing separately, $159,950 for single, $199,950 for head of house hold, and $239,950 for married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er). The exemptions are reduced by 2% for every $2,500 of AGI over the threshold.

Alternative Minimum Tax
The AMT exemption increased in 2008. The amounts are:
* $46,200 for single and head of household,
* $69,970 for married filing jointly, and
* $34,975 for married filing separately.

The exemptions are subject to phase out if your alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI) exceeds $75,000 for married filing separately, $112,500 for single and head of household, and $150,000 for married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er). The exemptions are reduced by 25 percent of AMTI over the threshold amount.

You may be eligible to earn the minimum tax credit (MTC) if you paid AMT generated by deferral items, which cause temporary difference in taxable income over time, in a prior year. A portion of the MTC may qualify as an "AMT refundable credit" which equals the greater of 1) 50% of the long-term unused MTC or 2) the prior year AMT refundable credit.

Try the AMT Assistant found at http://apps.irs.gov/app/amt2008/ to determine whether you may be required to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Consult with a tax advisor to discuss tax planning strategies to minimize your AMT.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit
You may be able to take a credit if you made energy-saving improvements to your home in 2008. For credit purposes, costs are considered paid when the original installation is completed. If an item is used for business purposes more than 20 percent of the time, the credit only applies to that portion of the costs not used for business.

You may be able to recoup 30 percent of the cost of qualified solar electric, solar water heating, fuel cell, small wind energy, and geothermal heat pump properties. This includes labor costs for onsite preparation, assembly, or original installation and for piping or wiring to connect it to the home. This credit is limited to:
* $2,000 for qualified solar electric property,
* $2,000 for qualified solar water heating property,
* $500 for each half kilowatt of capacity of qualified fuel cell property,
* $500 for each half kilowatt of capacity of qualified small wind energy property (not to exceed $4,000), and
* $2,000 for qualified geothermal heat pump property.

Also new for this year, the non-business energy property credit is available for items such as high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, water heaters, windows, doors, and insulation installed in 2009.

Child Tax Credit
A taxpayer may claim a child tax credit up to $1,000 for each qualifying child of the taxpayers.

Additional child tax credit is available for certain individuals get a refund even if they do not own any tax. To the extent the child credit exceeds the taxpayers' tax liability, the qualified taxpayers are eligible for a refundable credit equal to 15% of earned income in excess of a threshold dollar amount. The threshold amount is reduced to $8,500 in 2008.

Kiddie Tax
For 2008, a child under 19 (or 24 if a fulltime student) is required to pay tax if he or she receives more than $1,800 in investment income (interest, dividends, royalties, etc.). Amounts over $1,800 are taxed at the parents' highest marginal tax bracket.

To be subject to the Kiddie Tax, the child must:
* Be a fulltime student if 19-23 years old,
* Have at least one living parent,
* Have not filed a joint tax return,
* Have not made enough income to provide for at least half of his or her support.

Late Filing Penalty
The minimum penalty for failure to file within 60 days of April 15 has increased to $135 or the balance of the tax due on your return, whichever is smaller.

For more information, visit www.groco.com or call (877) CPA-2006.

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