Maximize your tax refund

According to the Internal Revenue Service, more than 101 million income tax refunds were issued in 2013, averaging $2,651 each. The average was a couple hundred dollars more for taxpayers who elected to have their refund directly deposited into a bank account.

Averages in 2014 will likely be similar because of tax legislation passed in the first couple days of 2013, according to TaxACT spokesperson Jessi Dolmage.

“The now-permanent and extended tax breaks will benefit taxpayers of all situations, including families, college students and homeowners,” said Dolmage.

The credits and deductions available on federal returns due April 15, 2014 include:

  • Child and Dependent Care Credit - The maximum amount of child and dependent care expenses eligible for the credit is now $3,000 if you have one child or $6,000 if you have two or more children. These increased amounts are permanent.
  • Child Tax Credit - The credit has been made permanent at $1,000 per child under the age of 17 at the end of 2013. This credit may be claimed in addition to the Child and Dependent Care Credit.
  • Tuition and fees deduction - If you, your spouse or your dependent are enrolled in a postsecondary institution, you may be able to deduct tuition expenses as an adjustment to income, even if you don't itemize deductions. You generally take this deduction if you don't qualify for an education credit or other tax break for the same expenses.
  • American Opportunity Credit - The maximum amount of this credit for the first four years of post-secondary education costs in a degree or certificate program is $2,500 per student. Costs may include tuition, fees and course materials (books). If you don't owe any tax, you may also be eligible to receive up to 40 percent of the credit ($1,000) as a refund.
  • Educator expenses deduction - Elementary and secondary educators can deduct up to $250 in related job expenses as an adjustment to income, even if not itemizing deductions. Unlike most employee expenses, educator expenses are not reduced by 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums - If you pay mortgage insurance premiums, also known as private mortgage insurance (PMI), you may be able to deduct premiums as mortgage interest.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax - The AMT 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.
  • Adoption credit - 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.
  • State and local sales tax deduction - 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.

As with most tax benefits, you must meet certain criteria in order to claim them on your tax return, and even if you are eligible, you may not qualify for the entire amount.

Online and mobile consumer tax preparation programs make it easy to do your own taxes and confidently claim all your deductions and credits. As you answer simple questions, the program completes your tax forms and checks for errors and potential opportunities. One of the top solutions, TaxACT, even helps you plan for next year with guidance for the implications of the Affordable Care Act on your taxes.

Learn more about these deductions and credits at www.irs.gov, and file your federal taxes free at 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