8 Tax Credits You Need to Know About

This is a guest post by Manny Davis of Back Taxes Help.

In 2009, many tax credits were augmented and created. Tax credits can help you lower your total tax bill and increase your chances for a tax refund. Below are some of this year’s most important tax credits. Some are new, some changed, and some became part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

For those of you who are unsure of the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction, a tax credit lowers your total tax bill directly, whereas a tax deduction lowers your taxable income (indirectly taxes dollar for dollar), sometimes placing you in a different income tax bracket.

Consumer Energy Tax Credit
This tax credit is a good one. If you have made repairs to your home (non-business) to improve energy efficiency you will be able to get up to 30% back from that investment but no more than $1,500. This would include better insulation through the installation of more efficient windows, doors, roofing and even the installation of water heaters, solar thermal technologies, natural and oil furnaces and so on. If you are unsure whether your recent energy efficiency investment qualifies, contact a CPA or the IRS directly.

American Opportunity Tax Credit
The old Hope Tax Credit was expanded for 2009 with the new American Opportunity Tax Credit. As a parent, for each student in college now, you can save up to $2,500 in taxes. There are income limitations with this credit though. Once you start to make over $80k as a single parent (or $160k for married couples), the credit begins to phase out. Realize though that you cannot claim the Hope Tax Credit and this credit in the same year for one student.

Home Buyer Tax Credit

This credit applies to new home buyers and even existing home buyers that meet certain guidelines. First time home buyers who purchased after January 1st, 2009 and before April 30th, 2010 can take up to $8,000 ($4,000 if married and filing separately) off of their tax bill. This tax credit is completely phased out once you make over $145k (individual) or $245k (for a married couple).

For existing home owners, who moved primary residences, the credit is $6,500 (individual) or $3,250 (if filing jointly) but you must have lived in the home for five consecutive years. Furthermore, it only applies for homes purchased after November 6th, 2009.

Making Work Pay Tax Credit
With this credit, you can claim up to 6.2% on earned income from wages but no more than $400 for individuals or $800 for married couples filing jointly. However, this really only applies to those that are self-employed as your employer should have reduced withholding for this during the year. Realize that does not apply to those receiving a pension, or unemployment.

Electric Motor Vehicle and Electric Plug-In Vehicle Tax Credits
These tax credits differ slightly in a few different ways if you went “green” in 2009.
* The Electric Motor Vehicle tax credit ranges from $2,500 to $15,000 depending on the capacity of the battery and how heavy the vehicle is.
* The Electric Plug-In Tax Credit is 10% of the vehicle cost capped out at $2,500. To take advantage of this your vehicle had to go into service after February 17th, 2009.

Adoption Tax Credit
This tax credit increased to $12,150 for 2009 but the tax credit is only applicable if the adoption expenses were paid this year (unless they are a special needs child).

Government Retiree Credit
This tax credit is $250 ($500 if filing jointly) for 2009 if you received a government pension payment or annuity in 2009. Realize though this credit becomes invalidated for you if you took an economic recovery payment.

Earned Income Tax Credit
This credit applies to low-wage earners and it had a few changes in 2009. One change is that the credit increased for individuals with 3 children or more and for married couples filing together. Also the income limit to qualify for this credit has increased as well.

For more details on any credit, visit IRS.gov.

Bonus: Use Your Tax Refund To Buy US Series I Savings Bonds
By utilizing some of these tax credits above you can increase your refund or your chances of getting a refund. Starting this year, the IRS is you purchase US Savings Bonds with your refund. Although these US bonds offer low rates of return during these economic times, they are great investments.

The IRS for this year’s filing will allow you to take up to $5,000 of your tax refund to buy U.S. Series I Savings Bonds in multiples of $50 by selecting this on Form 8888.

If you purchase more than $250, the denominations of the bonds should get larger. Anything over $5k or that be divided by a multiple of $50 will need to be deposited into a savings/checking account.

With the Federal government spending at all time highs, and with my belief that inflation is on the horizon, US savings bonds can be a very attractive hedge against inflation. Taxes on these bonds are due when redeemed but you will not be responsible for state or local taxes with these bonds. One drawback to these bonds is the fact that they cannot be redeemed until a year has passed from their issuance so be sure to check with your investment adviser.

Manny Davis is a partner and tax accountant at Back Taxes Help. He helps taxpayers with IRS and state back taxes and the problems that arise from having them. His firm especially focuses on major IRS problems including tax levies (IRS wage garnishment, bank account garnishment), tax liens, penalties, tax audits and more.