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Expenses You Didn’t Know Were Tax Deductible

Expenses you didn't know were tax deductible

Tax deductions can help lower your tax bill and even increase your tax refund on your return. While most people are aware of common deductions like mortgage interest, charitable donations, and medical expenses, there are a plethora of lesser-known expenses that could potentially save you money on your taxes. There are several tax deductions you might not know are deductible.  

Sales Taxes 

For taxpayers who itemize deductions, you can deduct either state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes paid throughout the year. In some tax years and states, it might make sense to itemize your deductions rather than take the standard deduction. This deduction can be particularly advantageous for residents of states with no income tax or for those who made significant purchases subject to sales tax. For example, if you made a large purchase like a vehicle or engagement ring, you could deduct sales taxes off your federal return. Or, if you live in a state that does not impose a state income tax, you could write off the sales tax you paid that year.   

Medical Expenses 

You can deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your AGI if you itemize your deductions. On the other hand, if you’re self-employed, you may be able to deduct 100% of your health insurance premiums. To qualify, you must have no other health insurance coverage. You may only deduct the amount of business income earned that year.   

Home Office Deduction 

Any space in your home used exclusively for conducting business can be deducted at $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet. This home office deduction is meant for self-employed individuals. In other words, if you are a W-2 employee who works remotely, you do not qualify. 

Charitable Contributions

Cash donations to approved charities can be deducted for up to 50% of your AGI. However, you must be substantiated with bank statements or receipts. Non-cash donations can be deducted at fair market value. Even out-of-pocket expenses for charitable work can be deducted. For example, you can deduct the cost of gasoline to travel to complete charitable work. Alternatively, you can deduct mileage. The standard mileage rate for charitable travel in 2023 was 14 cents per mile and it will remain at this rate in 2024. 

Be sure to confirm that the charity has a tax-exempt status with the IRS before donating if you plan to claim a deduction. A few examples of approved organizations include a trust, foundation, church, synagogue, or other religious organizations, and veterans’ organizations. 

Child & Dependent Care 

If you pay a babysitter to watch your children while you work, look for work or attend school full-time, you may be able to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit. This can also apply to care for an elderly parent. They must live with you and qualify as a dependent.   

Student Loan Interest 

If you are required to repay student loan debt, you can deduct the interest paid, up to $2,500. If your parents paid your student loan debt, the IRS views that money as a gift to you used to pay the loan. In this case, you can deduct up to $2,500 of the student loan interest they paid. That is as long as they do not claim you as a dependent on their tax return.  

College Expenses  

While most people are familiar with the deduction for tuition and fees, other educational expenses may also be deductible. This includes costs for workshops, seminars, and even certain textbooks and supplies. In addition, some states even allow you to deduct contributions made to your 529 College Savings Plan.

State Tax Deductions 

Your state may also offer its own set of unusual tax breaks. For example, Hawaii offers a tax deduction to taxpayers who maintain an “Exceptional Tree,” like the native Norfolk Pine. This deduction is up to $3,000 per tree and can be claimed once every three years. Alaska offers a deduction of up to $10,000 to offset the cost of whaling, which involves hunting whales to give the blubber and skin back to the community. New Mexico allows its residents to stop paying state income taxes once they reach 100 years old, as long as they’ve been a resident for the last six months. 

Tax Relief for Taxpayers 

Every tax situation is different. There are countless deductions and credits taxpayers can claim on their federal or state returns. Overall, the best thing to do is speak with a tax preparer about which deductions and credits you are eligible for and what substantiation might be needed to claim them. However, do remember claiming deductions without proper substantiation can lead to audits and delays in processing your return. 

If You Need Tax Help, Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation 

What is the VITA Program?

What is the VITA Program?

Tax season can often be a stressful time for many individuals and families, especially those with limited financial resources or complex tax situations. Fortunately, there exists a vital resource that provides much-needed assistance to these individuals: the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Developed by the IRS, the VITA program offers free tax help to those who need it most, ensuring that everyone has access to accurate tax preparation services regardless of their income level. 

What is the VITA Program? 

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is a federal initiative that provides free tax preparation and filing assistance to low-to-moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, non-English speakers, and the elderly. It operates through a network of community-based organizations, nonprofits, and local government agencies, staffed by trained volunteers who assist taxpayers in completing their tax returns accurately and efficiently. 

Key Features and Benefits 

There are several reasons why taxpayers should take advantage of the VITA program if they qualify for it. 

Free Tax Preparation Services 

One of the biggest advantages of the VITA program is its ability to provide free tax preparation services. For individuals and families living paycheck to paycheck, the cost of professional tax assistance can be prohibitive. VITA removes this barrier by offering its services at no cost. 

Trained Volunteer Assistance 

Volunteers in the VITA program undergo training provided by the IRS. These volunteers are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to assist taxpayers with various tax situations, including claiming credits and deductions they may be eligible for, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit

Accessibility and Inclusivity 

The VITA program aims to reach underserved communities and populations that may face barriers to accessing traditional tax preparation services. This includes non-English speakers, individuals with disabilities, and elderly taxpayers. VITA sites often offer multilingual assistance and accommodations for persons with disabilities, ensuring that everyone can receive the help they need. 

Electronic Filing and Faster Refunds 

VITA sites typically offer electronic filing options, allowing taxpayers to submit their returns quickly and securely. This not only expedites the processing of tax returns but also enables taxpayers to receive any refunds owed to them in a timely manner, providing much-needed financial relief. 

Quality and Accuracy 

Despite being a volunteer-driven program, VITA maintains high standards of quality and accuracy in tax preparation. Volunteers are trained to adhere to IRS guidelines and regulations, minimizing the risk of errors and ensuring that taxpayers’ returns are completed correctly. 

Eligibility Requirements 

Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies for the VITA program. The program is generally available to those who earn $64,000 or less, those with disabilities, or non-English speakers. It’s also important to note that the VITA program offers basic tax preparation. In other words, it will not work for you if your tax situation is complicated. Which VITA site you visit will also determine the level of expertise you receive since volunteers may not all have the same skillset. In any case, you can view the VITA locations on the IRS website.  

Tax Help for the 2024 Tax Season 

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program plays a crucial role in providing free tax assistance to millions of individuals and families across the country. By offering accessible, accurate, and reliable tax preparation services, VITA helps alleviate financial burdens and promote economic stability within communities. If you find yourself in a more complicated tax situation, there are other ways to get help. Optima Tax Relief is the nation’s leading tax resolution firm with over a decade of experience helping taxpayers with tough tax situations.   

Contact Us Today for a No-Obligation Free Consultation 

Tax Tips for Last-Minute Filers

Tax tips for last-minute filers

Filing your taxes can be stressful. Filing at the last minute can only add to the stress. As April 15th looms closer, the annual flurry of last-minute tax filers begins. Whether due to procrastination or complexity, many individuals find themselves scrambling to organize their finances and complete their tax returns before the deadline. If you haven’t filed your tax return yet, there’s no need to panic just yet. While the rush can be stressful, there are several strategies and tax tips for last-minute filers to help navigate this period efficiently and accurately. 

Know Your Facts

The most important fact to keep in mind is the tax deadline. In 2024, the tax deadline is April 15th. Other than this deadline, it’s vital to understand your specific tax situation, especially since it can vary from year to year. New changes like getting married, having a child, starting a business, or purchasing a home can alter your tax situation. Knowing which credits you can claim, or which forms you’re required to submit can help prevent last-minute errors and stress. 

Gather All Necessary Documents 

The first step for any tax filer, especially those running against the clock, is to gather all relevant documents. This includes W-2 forms from employers, 1099 forms for freelance or contract work, receipts for deductible expenses, investment income statements, and any other financial documents pertinent to your tax situation. Having all necessary paperwork on hand will streamline the filing process and minimize the chances of errors or omissions. 

Utilize Tax Preparation Software 

Tax preparation software can be a lifesaver for last-minute filers. They provide step-by-step guidance, automatic calculations, and error-checking features to simplify the filing process. These platforms also offer electronic filing options, which can expedite the submission of your return and ensure faster processing by the IRS. Additionally, many tax software providers offer mobile apps, allowing you to file directly from your smartphone or tablet for added convenience. 

Maximize Your Deductions and Credits

It’s not uncommon for taxpayers to overpay taxes or receive a smaller refund because they did not take advantage of all the tax deductions and credits they qualify for. Rushing through your taxes can help contribute to this. Common deductions include expenses related to homeownership, education, medical costs, and charitable contributions. Similarly, tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit, and Education Credits can provide significant savings. Take the time to review available deductions and credits to maximize your tax refund or minimize the amount owed. If you’re unsure, ask your tax preparer about your specific tax situation. 

Check for Accuracy

Amid the frenzy of last-minute filing, it’s easy to make mistakes or overlook important details on your tax return. Once you have all the forms completed and ready to be submitted, you should check everything for accuracy. Double-check numerical entries, ensure that your personal information is accurate, and verify that you’ve claimed all applicable deductions and credits. Even a small error could result in delays in processing or trigger an IRS audit, so attention to detail is crucial. 

File Electronically and Opt for Direct Deposit

When time is of the essence, filing your taxes electronically is the fastest and most secure option. E-filing a complete and accurate return will also mean receiving your refund faster. E-filing eliminates the need for paper forms and postage, expediting the processing of your return and reducing the risk of errors. Additionally, opting for direct deposit for any tax refunds can further accelerate the receipt of your funds. Refunds issued via direct deposit are typically deposited into your bank account within a few weeks, whereas paper checks may take significantly longer to arrive by mail.

Seek Professional Assistance if Necessary 

If your tax situation is particularly complex or you’re unsure about certain aspects of your return, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance. Certified public accountants (CPAs) and tax preparers have the expertise and knowledge to navigate intricate tax scenarios and ensure compliance with ever-changing tax laws. While professional tax assistance may come with a fee, the peace of mind and potential savings from maximizing deductions or avoiding penalties can outweigh the cost. 

Tax Relief for Last-Minute Filers

Sometimes filing last minute is a necessity, but it is best to avoid this scenario whenever possible. Tax rules can change year to year so starting the filing process early is one of the few ways you can make the process run more smoothly. By following these tips and remaining organized, last-minute filers can successfully navigate the deadline rush and submit accurate tax returns. Remember to gather all necessary documents, consider filing for an extension if needed, utilize tax preparation software, maximize deductions and credits, review for accuracy, file electronically, and seek professional assistance if necessary. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can meet the tax deadline with confidence. 

If You Need Tax Help, Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation 

What If I Can’t Pay My Taxes?

What If I Can’t Pay My Taxes?

Every year, millions of individuals and businesses face the intimidating task of paying their taxes. However, there are instances where meeting this financial obligation becomes challenging or even impossible. There are times when you might’ve asked yourself, “What if I can’t pay my taxes?” Whether due to unexpected expenses, changes in income, or other unforeseen circumstances, finding yourself unable to pay your tax bill can be stressful. But fret not; there are steps you can take to address this situation and navigate through it effectively.  

Stay Calm and Assess Your Situation 

The first step is to stay calm and assess your financial situation realistically. Panicking or ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Take a deep breath and gather all relevant financial documents, including tax returns, income statements, and bills. Understanding the full scope of your financial position will help you devise a plan of action. 

Contact the IRS or Tax Authority 

It’s crucial to communicate with the IRS or your state’s tax authority as soon as you realize you cannot pay your tax bill. Ignoring the issue will only worsen it, potentially leading to penalties and interest charges. The IRS may be willing to work with you to find a solution. You can reach out to them by phone, mail, or even online through their official website. 

Consider Payment Options 

The IRS offers various payment options for taxpayers who cannot pay their tax bill in full. These options include installment agreements, where you can pay your tax debt overtime in monthly installments. Be sure to know your agreement terms and confirm you can adhere to them. Failing to make a payment will result in the IRS voiding the agreement and placing you in default. 

Explore Financial Hardship Options 

If you are experiencing significant financial hardship, you may qualify for special programs or relief options. The IRS offers programs such as Currently Not Collectible (CNC) status, which temporarily suspends collection activities due to financial hardship. To qualify for CNC status, you must demonstrate that paying your tax debt would cause significant economic hardship. Additionally, you may qualify for an Offer in Compromise, which allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount owed if you meet certain criteria. 

Prevent Future Tax Issues 

Once you’ve resolved your current tax dilemma, take steps to prevent similar problems in the future. This may include adjusting your tax withholding, setting aside money in a dedicated savings account for taxes, or working with a financial advisor to better manage your finances. 

Seek Professional Help 

If you’re unsure about how to proceed or need assistance negotiating with the IRS, consider seeking help from a qualified tax professional. Keep in mind that only certain tax professionals are qualified to work with the IRS on your behalf. Tax attorneys, enrolled agents, or certified public accountants (CPAs) can provide expert guidance tailored to your specific situation. They can help you explore all available options and represent you in dealings with the IRS. Also, having help throughout the year can potentially reduce the risk of new tax issues arising. Optima Tax Relief has a team of dedicated and experienced tax professionals with proven track records of success.    

If You Need Tax Help, Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation 

Ask Phil: Tips To Avoid Levies & Liens 

Today, Phil gives his top tips on how to avoid IRS levies and liens.  

Tip #1: Don’t Owe the IRS 

Avoiding owing the IRS begins with responsible financial management and proactive tax planning. First, maintain accurate records of all income and expenses throughout the year, ensuring you’re well-informed about your financial standing. Next, regularly review and adjust your tax withholding or estimated tax payments to align with your actual tax liability. Utilize tax-saving strategies such as contributing to retirement accounts or taking advantage of tax credits and deductions. Stay updated on tax law changes that may affect your situation. Consider consulting with a tax professional for personalized guidance.  

Tip #2: Open Your IRS Mail 

Opening IRS mail is crucial because it often contains important information regarding your tax obligations, potential refunds, or any issues that may require your attention. Ignoring IRS correspondence can lead to missed deadlines, penalties, or even legal consequences. By promptly opening and reviewing IRS mail, you can stay informed about any adjustments to your tax return, requests for additional information, or notifications about potential errors or discrepancies. Additionally, timely action can help you address any issues efficiently, potentially avoiding escalated problems or further complications.  

Tip #3: Pay Your Tax Balance ASAP 

Paying your tax balance as soon as possible is essential for several reasons. Timely payment helps you avoid accruing interest and penalties, which can significantly increase your overall tax liability. Paying your taxes on time demonstrates compliance with tax laws, which can help maintain your good standing with the IRS and potentially mitigate any future issues, like liens, levies, or audits.  

Join us next Friday as Phil will answer your questions about what to do if you can’t afford to do your taxes! 

If you need tax help, contact us today for a Free Consultation