This year, end of the year tax planning has become even more confusing. Why? Because Congress continues to stall on taking any action on the Bush tax cuts; this inaction could result in significant tax increases on all Americans.
President Obama put together a deal with Republican leaders last week to extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two more years. The compromise also included an extension of unemployment benefits and stopped the estate tax from increasing to 55% in 2011. However, the House of Representatives rejected the bill and have yet to pass any other tax legislation.
Why the Uncertainty is Problematic
Tax planning in prior years has always been pretty straightforward. Make donations to charities; make an extra mortgage payment, max out on your 401(k) contributions etc. However, with the possibility of a tax rate increase some experts are suggesting taxpayers wait until next year.
If your tax rate does increase next year, then it would be better to defer any deductions to 2011, when they will be more valuable. Deductions lower your taxable income, unlike credits, which are dollar for dollar benefits, so if tax rate goes up in 2011 then all of the standard end of the year deductions might be worth more if you wait until January.
What you CAN do
Although many tax laws are up in the air, there are some things you can do now that will help lower your tax liability without worry about next year’s tax rates. First of all, if you are a homeowner then you might want to consider making energy-saving improvements to your home such as adding dual pane windows or purchasing an Energy Star water heater or air conditioning system. The 30% (up to $1,500) tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. For more information on qualifying expenses, check out EnergyStar.gov.
Other Uncertain Tax Benefits
The energy credit isn't the only tax incentive currently in limbo. The new health care legislation will ban using funds from flexible spending accounts to purchase over the counter medication and claim it as a deduction starting in 2011. If you qualify for the medical expense deduction then it might be a good idea to stock up on your over the counter meds while you can still deduct the expenses.
Another deduction that might expire at the end of the year is the $250 deduction for educators. If you are a teacher, or work in a classroom then be sure to take advantage of this classroom expense deduction while you can.