Source: Felipe J. Contreras / Flickr

Source: Felipe J. Contreras / Flickr

Telling Tips is a series of articles from local experts to help you save money, make better decisions and plan for a better future.

You may find it financially wise to spend just one night soon, thinking about your taxes. If you don’t, you forfeit the right to complain when your tax return is completed. Now is pretty much the last time to keep more of your hard-earned money by making those financial tweaks that will cut your tax bill for 2013. Yes, you can make some small moves after the end of the year, like investing in an IRA, but the big moves must be made now. It’s too late on January 1.

Are you getting a refund next year? Were you stressed last tax season? It’s coming – and fast.

Here are some changes in the law that took effect this year, as well as some popular deductions and credits to which you may be entitled.

Increase In Top Tax Rate

Beginning in 2013, a new top tax rate of 39.6 percent takes effect. This rate applies to taxable income in excess of $450,000 (joint returns and surviving spouses), $425,000 (heads of household), $400,000 (unmarried other than head of household and surviving spouse), and $225,000 (married filing separately).

Increased Tax Rate On Certain Capital Gains And Dividends

While the favorable tax rates in effect before 2013 for capital gains and dividend income were generally made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, a new 20-percent rate applies to amounts which would otherwise be taxed at the 39.6-percent rate. Thus, tax rates of 0, 15, and 20 percent apply to capital gain and dividend income, depending on your tax bracket. These rates apply for alternative minimum tax purposes also.

New Taxes Take Effect In 2013

There are a couple of new taxes that take effect in 2013: a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income above a threshold amount, and a .9 percent additional tax on wages and self-employment income above a threshold amount. For both taxes, the threshold amount is $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly or $125,000 for married filing separately). Income taken into consideration in calculating net investment income includes most rental income and net gain attributable to the disposition of property other than property held in a trade or business. Thus, this generally covers sales of interests in a partnership or “S” corporation.

Increased Threshold For Deducting Medical Expenses

Medical and dental expenses that exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year are deductible. For years before 2013, that percentage was 7.5 percent. For 2013 and later years, the deduction floor is increased to 10 percent. However, for any tax year ending before January 1, 2017, the floor is 7.5 percent if you or your spouse has reached age 65 before the end of that year.

Reduction In Personal Exemptions And Itemized Deductions For High-Income Taxpayers

In addition, there is a reduction in personal exemptions and itemized deductions for taxpayers with adjusted gross income higher than $250,000 (unmarried other than head of household and surviving spouse), $300,000 (joint returns), $275,000 (head of household), and $150,000 (married filing separately), which will have the effect of increasing taxes on affected taxpayers. You need to consider whether these new taxes affect you and, if so, whether you have paid a sufficient amount of taxes through withholdings and estimated tax payments so as to avoid any underpayment of estimated tax penalty.

State And Local Sales Tax Deduction

One provision scheduled to expire at the end of 2013 is the election to deduct state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes. Thus, if you are thinking of purchasing a large-ticket item that will generate a larger deduction than the state and local income tax deduction, purchasing the item in 2013 may be beneficial.

Deduction For Eligible Teacher Expenses

Another provision that expires this year is the deduction for eligible teacher expenses. For tax years beginning before 2014, eligible educators (i.e., teachers) can deduct from gross income up to $250 of qualified expenses they paid during the year. If spouses are filing jointly and both were eligible educators, the maximum deduction on the joint return is $500. However, neither spouse can deduct more than $250 of his or her qualified expenses. (This will probably be renewed for 2014.)

Expiring Energy-Related Tax Credits

There are two expiring energy-related tax credits that may be worth looking at. One such credit is the residential energy credit, which is available only through the end of 2013. If you are contemplating energy improvements to your home, you may want to accelerate the improvements into 2013. The credit is 10 percent of the amounts paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the tax year and the amount of residential energy property expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year, up to a maximum credit of $500.

Another “green” credit due to expire at the end of the year is the credit for qualified two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles. The credit is equal to the lesser of 10 percent of the cost of such a vehicle or $2,500.

Student Loan Interest Deduction

If you had any student loans during the year and your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is within certain limits, you may deduct up to $2,500 of interest paid on that loan in computing adjusted gross income. For 2013, the deductible amount is phased out if your MAGI is between $60,000 and $75,000 ($125,000 and $155,000 if filing a joint return). You cannot take a student loan interest deduction if your MAGI is $75,000 or more ($155,000 or more if filing a joint return). The deduction is not available if your filing status is married filing separately.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

If you paid any qualified education expenses during the year, you may be eligible for the American Opportunity tax credit. The maximum credit amount is $2,500 per year for each eligible student. The amount of the credit for each student is calculated as 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualified education expenses paid for the student and 25 percent of the next $2,000 of such expenses paid. The credit may be reduced, however, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

For 2013, MAGI between $80,000 and $90,000 ($160,000 and $180,000 for joint filers) is used to determine if there is any reduction. If your MAGI is in excess of $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers), the amount of the credit is phased out by multiplying the otherwise allowable credit by a fraction, the numerator of which is the amount by which your MAGI exceeds $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers), and the denominator of which is $10,000 ($20,000 for joint filers). No credit is allowed if your MAGI is $90,000 or more ($180,000 or more for joint filers).

Transfers To Roth Accounts

New in 2013 is an expansion of the option for a taxpayer with a 401(k) plan that includes a qualified Roth contribution program to transfer an amount from his or her regular (pretax) elective deferral account into a designated Roth account in the same plan. In 2012, this was allowed only for participants who were at least 59-and-one-half years-old. That age limitation does not apply in 2013 and, while the transfer is subject to regular income tax, no early distribution penalty applies. Subsequent distributions from the Roth account, assuming applicable requirements are met, will be tax free.

Qualified Principal Residence Debt Exclusion

Generally, you recognize income when debt is discharged. However, there is a special rule for the discharge of qualified principal residence debt (i.e., mortgage debt). The discharge of such debt is generally excludable from gross income for discharges through 2013.

Qualified principal residence debt is debt that is incurred to buy, build, or substantially improve your principal residence and that is secured by that residence. It also includes debt secured by your principal residence that is used to refinance qualified principal residence debt, but not in excess of the outstanding principal amount of the debt that is refinanced.

Alternative Minimum Tax

If you are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), your deductions may be limited. Thus, if you anticipate that you will be subject to the AMT, you need to consider the timing of deductible expenses that may be limited under AMT.

QUIP:  Having a good tax accountant sort out your taxes can save you time — about 10 years, in fact.

Joseph Reisman, of Joseph S. Reisman & Associates, has been serving tax prep and business accounting expertise from his Coney Island Avenue office for more than 25 years. Check out the firm’s website.

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