Changes impacting your taxes and this year's refund from Uncle Sam

Woman handing out money

(ARA) — In the way of tax legislation, 2011 was a relatively quiet year. However, that doesn't mean there aren't tax law changes that will affect this year's tax returns.

"The changes enacted at the end of 2010 will still impact this year's and next year's federal tax returns," says TaxACT spokesperson, Jessi Dolmage. "With the debate over the federal budget and taxes unlikely to end any time soon, who knows if the soon-to-be expired tax breaks will be extended. So, take advantage of all your benefits while you still can."

Three out of four taxpayers receive a federal refund, and last year's average refund totaled $2,805. To help you maximize your refund, here are some tax law changes you should know about before filing this year's return.

  • Your federal return must be filed by Tuesday, April 17, 2012. April 15 is a Sunday and Washington, D.C., is recognizing Emancipation Day April 16. Don't use the extended deadline as an excuse to procrastinate, though. When you rush, you're more likely to make mistakes that could cost you money and time. Furthermore, filing, paying or providing information late will result in IRS penalties that have increased this year.
  • Amounts for standard mileage, standard deductions, personal exemptions and the Alternative Minimum Tax have increased. Note there are different standard mileage rates for miles driven before July 1 and after June 30. Details about all increases are in IRS Publication 17 at www.irs.gov.
  • Among the tax breaks available last year but expired for this year are the Making Work Pay Credit and Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit (unless it was a new fuel cell vehicle). The Making Work Pay Credit was essentially replaced by the payroll tax holiday for 2011. Employees and self-employed already received the tax benefit in 2011 paychecks through a reduction in the FICA-OASDI Social Security taxes. Unlike the Making Work Pay Credit, employees who benefited from the payroll tax holiday don't need to claim it on this year's tax return.
  • Unless lawmakers extend them, this will be the last year to claim the following breaks: Tuition and Fees Deduction, Nonbusiness Energy Credit, the refundable Adoption Credit, Educator Expense Deduction, option for those with itemized deductions to deduct state and local sales taxes paid in lieu of state and local income taxes paid and mortgage insurance premiums deduction.
  • The amount of the Health Coverage Tax Credit decreased to 72.5 percent for qualified health insurance coverage received between March and December 2011.
  • If you converted a traditional IRA over to a designated Roth IRA in 2010, or rolled over a qualified retirement plan to a Roth IRA, but did not report the taxable amount on your 2010 tax return (due April 2011), you must report half of the amount on this year's return and the other half on your 2012 return. Details are available in IRS Publication 575.

With so much of your hard-earned money at stake and our complex tax law, it's no wonder a growing number of Americans use tax preparation solutions. "Trusted solutions like TaxACT navigate all the tax law changes for you to help maximize your refund, file a return that's 100 percent accurate and provide help when you need it," says Dolmage.

When choosing a tax preparation solution, especially free products, Dolmage warns you to carefully weigh your options. "TaxACT Free Federal Edition covers all 1040 returns, but other free programs are only for 1040EZ returns, sometimes referred to as 'simple returns'. The nearly nine out of 10 taxpayers who have more complex returns don't qualify for those."

For information about these and other tax law changes affecting this year's tax return, visit www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo. Learn more about TaxACT Free Federal Edition for both simple and complex returns at www.taxact.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

May 2 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. 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 May 10 to file the return.

May 2 — Federal unemployment tax.
Deposit the tax owed through March if more than $500.

May 2 — Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the first quarter of 2016.

May 2 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during March.

May 2 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in March.

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

May 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

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

May 13 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 15 days of April.

May 16 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

May 16 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

May 25 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 15 days of April.

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

May 31 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during April.

may 31 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in April.

View More Tax Dates