Monday, October 25, 2010

Questions for the Tax Lady: October 25th, 2010

Check out the following new Questions for the Tax Lady answers and feel free to ask me questions through one of the links below. You can send me an email, direct message or @ reply, and I will do my best to get an answer for you!

Question: Roni, if I donate Halloween candy and costumes to a local children’s home, is that deductible?

Answer: What a fun idea and a wonderful thing to do for those kids. Dressing up for Halloween is such a big part of childhood; I love the idea of helping underprivileged kids experience that!

To answer your question, yes you should be able to deduct the contribution so long as the children’s home is a recognized tax-exempt charitable organization. If you aren’t sure, you can ask the organization or you can check out to be sure. And remember, you will need some written acknowledgement of your donation from the children’s home, like a thank you letter.

Question: What are the differences between tax credits, deductions, and exemptions?

Answer: I’m so glad you asked this question, people use these terms interchangeably, and it drives me a little nuts.

A deduction refers to something you spent money on that can be deducted from your taxable income. The amount of the deduction varies based on what the expense was, how much you spent and IRS eligibility requirements. For example: if you donate $1,000 to a recognized charity, you could deduct your taxable income by $1,000.

An exemption allows you to reduce your taxable income, much like a deduction. However, exemptions are given in set dollar amounts ($3,650 in 2010) and are not tied to your actual expenses. Instead they are generally tied to the number of people you support. For example, you can claim an exemption for yourself, one for your spouse if you file jointly, and one additional exemption for each taxable dependent you support.

The tax bill impact of deductions and credits is tied to your tax bracket. If you are in the 25% tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction results in a $250 reduction in tax your tax bill. In the same vein - still assuming a 25% tax bracket - that $3,650 exemption will result in a $912.50 reduction in tax bill.

A tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction in your tax bill. Credits are usually tied to how you spend money, or your income and family status. So, if you have a $100 tax credit, it will result in lowering your total tax bill by $100. Tax credits are almost always more beneficial than deductions.

There are refundable and non-refundable types of credits. A refundable credit means that if the amount of your credit exceeds the amount of taxes due, you can actually get a refund check for the rest. (For example, if your tax bill is $500, and you have a refundable credit for $1,000, you could actually get a refund check for $500.). Non-refundable credits can only result in a reduction of your tax bill, but not give you a refund. For example, if you have a $500 tax bill, and a $1,000 non-refundable tax credit, your tax bill will be reduced to zero, but you would not get a check for $500.

I hope this helps clarify these tax terms for you. Understanding the differences can help you make better tax choices.

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