By: Gary M. DellaPosta, CPA
In late December Congress finally took action, passing the tax extender bill, officially known as the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (H.R. 5771), which was signed into law by President Obama.
The good news is that these tax provisions are retroactive to January 1, 2014. The bad news is that they expired on December 31, 2014. Even so, you might be able to take advantage of them when you file your 2014 tax return. Let's take a look at some of the tax provisions most likely to affect taxpayers when filing their 2014 tax returns.
1. Teachers' Deduction for Certain Expenses
Primary and secondary school teachers buying school supplies out-of-pocket may be able to take an above-the-line deduction of up to $250 for unreimbursed expenses. An above the line deduction means that it can be taken before calculating adjusted gross income.
2. State and Local Sales Taxes
Taxpayers that pay state and local sales tax can deduct the amounts paid on their federal tax returns (instead of state and local income taxes)--as long as they itemize. In other words, if you're thinking of buying a big ticket item such as a boat or car and live in a state with sales tax, you might want to think about buying it this year.
3. Mortgage Insurance Premiums
Mortgage insurance premiums (PMI) are paid by homeowners with less than 20 percent equity in their homes. These premiums were deductible in tax years 2012, 2013, and once again in 2014; however, this tax break ended on December 31, 2014. Whether it will be extended for 2015 is unknown. Mortgage interest deductions for taxpayers who itemize are not affected.
4. Exclusion of Discharge of Principal Residence Indebtedness
Typically, forgiven debt is considered taxable income in the eyes of the IRS; however, this tax provision, which was extended through and expired at the end of 2014, allows homeowners whose homes have been foreclosed on or subjected to short sale to exclude up to $2 million of cancelled mortgage debt. Also included are taxpayers seeking debt modification on their home.
5. Distributions from IRAs for Charitable Contributions
Taxpayers who are age 70 1/2 or older can donate up to $100,000 in distributions from their IRA to charity. Some people do not want to take the mandatory minimum distributions (which are counted as income) upon reaching this age and instead can contribute it to charity, using it as a strategy to lower income enough to take advantage of other tax provisions with phaseout limits.
6. Parity for Mass Transit Fringe Benefits
This tax extender allows commuters who used mass transit in 2014 to exclude from income (up to $250 per month), transit benefits paid by their employers such as monthly rail or subway passes, making it on par with parking benefits (also up to $250 pre-tax). Like the other tax extenders, this provision expired at the end of last year (2014). In 2015, pre-tax benefits for mass transit commuters drop to a maximum of $130 per month, while parking benefits remain at $250.
7. Energy Efficient Improvements (including Appliances
This tax break has been around for a while, but if you made your home more energy efficient in 2014, now is the time to take advantage of this tax credit on your 2014 tax return. The credit reduces your taxes as opposed to a deduction that reduces your taxable income, and is 10 percent of the cost of building materials for items such as insulation, new water heaters, or a wood pellet stove.
Note: This tax is cumulative, so if you've taken the credit in any tax year since 2006, you will not be able to take the full $500 tax credit this year. If, for example, you took a credit of $300 in 2012, the maximum credit you could take this year is $200.
8. Qualified Tuition and Expenses
The deduction for qualified tuition and fees, extended through 2014, is an above-the-line tax deduction, which means that you don't have to itemize your deductions to claim the expense. Taxpayers with income of up to $130,000 (joint) or $65,000 (single) can claim a deduction for up to $4,000 in expenses. Taxpayers with income over $130,000 but under $160,000 (joint) and over $65,000 but under $80,000 (single) can take a deduction up to $2,000; however, taxpayers with income over those amounts are not eligible for the deduction.
Qualified education expenses are defined as tuition and related expenses required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. Related expenses include student-activity fees and expenses for books, supplies, and equipment as required by the institution.
9. Donation of Conservation Property
Also extended through 2014 was a tax provision that allowed taxpayers to donate property or easements to a local land trust or other conservation organization and receive a tax break in return.
10. Small Business Stock
If you invested in a small business such as a start-up C-corporation in 2014, consider taking advantage of this tax provision on your 2014 tax return. If you held onto this stock for five years, you can exclude 100 percent of the capital gains--in other words, you won't be paying any capital gains. If you waited until January 2015 however, you will only be able to exclude 50 percent of the capital gains.
In addition to the tax extenders, there's also good news for people with disabilities. Attached to the extender bill is the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act that allows people who were disabled before the age of 26 (and including family and friends) to contribute up to a combined total of $14,000 a year to an ABLE account. Accumulated earnings are tax free. Also, money held in the account would not disqualify the disabled person from receiving federal assistance benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income--provided it is not used to pay for housing, transportation, education and wellness.
Gary DellaPosta is a CPA and founder of the firm. A graduate of Bryant University, he is a member of the American Institute of CPA's as well as the Massachusetts Society of CPA's. In addition to providing accounting, tax and advisory services to individuals and businesses, he also provides litigation support to attorneys and has been recognized as an expert in numerous Massachusetts' courts. Mr. DellaPosta serves on the Board of the Barnstable County Mutual Insurance Co., where he serves on the audit, investment and employee benefit committees. He also serves as the Treasurer of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod, is a Director at The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod and is a former director of Eastern Bank and Plymouth Savings Bank.
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