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Taxes: To Itemize or Not?

By Terry Savage on January 23, 2019

 

Have you noticed that one part of the federal government that isn’t shutting down is the Internal Revenue Service? While employees are being forced back to work without pay to process refunds, they are also there to collect your taxes. It reminds me of the old saying about the only certainties in this world being death and taxes!

The first big issue on everyone’s mind this year is whether to itemize. We’re about to see the real impact of two significant changes in the tax law. The first is the increase in the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for a joint return. No longer will the dependent exemption reduce your tax bill, but the increase in the standard deduction is expected to move about 90 percent of taxpayers to use the standard deduction, up from about 70 percent in previous years.

That trend toward not itemizing will be accentuated by the second big change: the limit of $10,000 on deductions for state and local taxes (income, sales and real estate taxes), whether you’re filing a single or joint return. Capping those popular deductions in high-tax states pushes more people away from itemizing.

But how do you know where your own break-even point is for itemizing or not? Thankfully, TurboTax has provided the answer right up front this year. As you start the process, this popular tax program will ask you some basic questions that will help easily determine if you will benefit from claiming the standard deduction or itemizing.

Or, if you go to the TurboTax.com website and click on the link to its blog, there is a quick online calculator that will ask five simple questions and then show you whether you will benefit from itemizing or not. You do not have to use TurboTax to use this calculator.

Once you’ve made that important decision, TurboTax has some other advice specific to your personal situation. Key points about changes:

—Self-employed people get a new tax benefit called the Qualified Business Income Deduction, which may allow you to deduct up to 20 percent of your “qualified business income.” Of course, the key is the details — and this program has limitations based on type of business and income.

—Unreimbursed employee expenses are no longer deductible under the new tax law. Nor can you deduct moving expenses, except if you are active duty military.

—Alimony deductions change for divorces finalized in 2019 and later. Alimony payments will no longer be a deduction for the paying spouse or income to the receiving spouse.

—Although the exemption for dependents went away, you can still get some credits. The child tax credit was raised to $2,000 from $1,000 and the income limits to get the credit were increased to $200,000 for those filing singly and $400,000 married filing jointly. And there’s a new expanded definition of “qualifying child.” Plus, there is a new $500 credit for non-child dependents such as elderly parents or children over age 17.

These are but a few key changes. Have your eyes glazed over yet? Do you dread the task of doing your taxes? Then you are a prime candidate for help. TurboTax offers live help from TurboTax Live CPAs and enrolled agents, who can see your screen (but not you, lounging in your pajamas!) as you go through the process — all starting at $50. The TurboTax Live experts, with an average of 15 years’ experience, can even review, sign and file your tax return for you. And you can talk to a TurboTax expert year-round.

There’s free help from volunteers available from the IRS through the VITA program, available to those earning $54,000 or less. And tax preparers like TurboTax and TaxAct participate in the IRS Free File Program for those with incomes below $66,000. Here’s a link to the FreeFile program at www.IRS.gov.

It’s time to get started. The government may continue its shutdown, but it still wants your taxes on time! And that’s The Savage Truth

 

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