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 at www.TaxAct.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

January 1 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (New Year's Day) Details

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

January 15 — Individuals
Make a payment of your estimated tax for 2018 if you did not pay your income tax for the year through withholding (or did not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES Details

January 15 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in December 2018

January 15 — Farmers & fishermen
Pay your estimated tax for 2018 using Form 1040-ES Details

January 21 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) Details

January 31 — All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2018. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

January 31 — 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 2017 by January 31. Filing your return and paying any tax due by January 31 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by January 31, file and pay your tax by April 15.

January 31 — Payers 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.

January 31 — Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2018. 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 02-10 to file the return.

January 31 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2018. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2018 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.

January 31 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2018. 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.

January 31 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2018. If your undeposited tax is $500 or 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.

January 31 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2018 Details

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