Key tax law changes

The majority of this year's key tax law changes were the result of two acts - the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare, and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

The easiest way to navigate all the tax law changes and determine if you qualify for hundreds of tax benefits, is to use an online or mobile tax preparation solution. The programs ask easy questions, covering all available credits and deductions to help minimize your tax liability and maximize your refund. Leading solutions such as TaxACT also provide guidance for the implications of the Affordable Care Act on your taxes and health insurance situation.

If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly), you may benefit from several tax breaks that have been extended or made permanent.

  • The standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly is now permanently increased and expands the 15 percent tax bracket.
  • The child tax credit is $1,000 for each child under age 17 on Dec. 31. The amount decreases at higher income levels. A portion of the credit also remains refundable through 2017. In addition, the maximum amount of expenses for the Child and Dependent Care Credit has been made permanent at $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.
  • The American Opportunity Credit, tuition deduction, student loan interest deduction, and $2,000 annual contribution limit to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are still available for 2013.
  • Elementary and secondary educators can again deduct up to $250 in related job expenses, even if you don't itemize deductions. Unlike most employee expenses, educator expenses are not reduced by 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • If you pay mortgage insurance premiums, also known as private mortgage insurance (PMI), you may be able to deduct premiums as mortgage interest.
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax was created to ensure wealthy taxpayers receiving large tax benefits pay some tax. It will now be adjusted for inflation each year so fewer taxpayers are subject to the tax. The exemption amount rises in 2013 to $51,900 ($80,800 for married couples filing jointly). For married individuals filing separately, the exemption is $40,400.
  • You may qualify for a credit equal to up to $12,970 of your adoption expenses including fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expense and other expenses directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an eligible child. If your employer provides adoption benefits, you may also be able to exclude up to the same amount from your income. Both a credit and exclusion may be claimed for the same adoption, but not for the same expense.
  • For 2013, you can still deduct state and local sales taxes. You can take this deduction or a deduction for state income tax but not both.
  • Qualified dividends will be taxed at preferential capital gains rates rather than those used for ordinary income.
  • If your MAGI is more than $200,000 ($250,000 if filing jointly), you may pay an additional Medicare surtax on earned income, as well as higher taxes on net investment income, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. The amount of your personal exemptions and itemized deductions is also less starting this year. The marginal income tax rate for incomes above $400,000 ($450,000 if filing jointly) also increases from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for 2013.
  • One change affecting taxpayers of all income levels is the increased floor for deducting medical expenses. Taxpayers under the age of 65 can now only deduct unreimbursed medical and dental expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). The floor remains at 7.5 percent if you're 65 or older.

Learn more about these tax law changes in Publication 17 at www.irs.gov or visit www.taxact.com/taxinfo. To file your simple or complicated federal taxes free with TaxACT Free Edition, go to www.taxact.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

February 2 Individuals who must make estimated tax payments
If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2014 by February 2. Filing your return and paying any tax due by February 2 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by February 2, file and pay your tax by April 15.

February 2 All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2014. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

February 2Payers of gambling winnings
If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W2G.

February 2 Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules.

February 2 Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2014 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2 Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2014. If your undeposited tax is $500 r less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 2All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014 - Details

February 2Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the fourth quarter of 2014.

February 2 Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during December 2014.

February 2Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in December 2014.

February 10Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2014 on all nonpayroll items. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2014. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer - Details

February 11Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of January.

February 13Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of January.

February 17Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) - Details

February 17Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-4 by this date to continue your exemption for another year - Details

February 17All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014 - Details

February 17Publication 509 (2015)
All payments reported on Form 1099S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Substitute payments reported in box 8 or gross proceeds paid to an attorney reported in box 14 of Form 1099MISC.

February 17Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 17Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 18All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2014, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 25Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of January.

February 27Regular method taxes.
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of February.

View More Tax Dates