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The Seven Deadly Tax Sins: Commonly Missed Deductions

It's that time again, the April 15 tax deadline is looming large. If youre like most people, you havent gathered all of your tax records, let alone filled your return.

Before you dig in and get started, take this opportunity to first review a list of a few tax deductions to which you may be entitled if you itemize deductions but most people overlook. Many of these deductions are subject to various limitations, so consider getting professional help from your tax advisor and accountant to determine which deductions you qualify for and which items apply to your specific circumstances. Remember, there are hundreds of deductions throughout the tax laws; many of them can be quite obscure but also quite lucrative. Here are seven commonly missed deductions to keep top of mind:

  • Points on Refinancing: With interest rates so low in 2003, there was a great deal of refinancing activity. Any points you pay to refinance your home can be deducted ratably over the life of the new loan. Furthermore, all unamortized points on old refinancing are deducted in the year of the new refinancing.

  • Health Insurance Premiums: Any health insurance premiums you pay, including some long-term care premiums based on your age, are potentially deductible. Medical expenses have to reach 7.5% of your adjusted gross income before they give you any tax benefit. Self-employed people can deduct 100% of health insurance premiums paid for themselves, their spouses and their dependents.

  • Non-Cash Charitable Contributions: If you have used your charge card for contributions to charity, remember that the deduction is allowed in the year that you made the charge, not when you actually pay the bill. Also, you may write off certain out-of-pocket expenses related to charitable activities. Appraisal fees paid to value property donated to charities may be taken as a miscellaneous deduction subject to the 2% floor on miscellaneous deductions.

  • Higher-Education Expenses: If your adjusted gross income wasnt more than $65,000 ($130,000 for married, filing jointly) in 2003, you can get an above-the-line deduction for as much as $3,000 for any higher-education tuition and fee expense you paid. For 2004, the deduction can be as much as $4,000. For those at higher adjusted gross incomes limits ($80,000 single, $160,000 married filing jointly) the deduction is limited to $2,000 for 2004. This deduction must be coordinated with other education credits and savings vehicles.

  • Work-Related Expenses: You can write off many work-related and work-search expenses, such as education that maintains or improves your skills, certain business tools, dues to labor unions, cell phone depreciation, certain expenses to search for job in your present occupation, including employment agency fees, resum preparation, and travel expenses (local and out of town) and cleaning and laundry bills when on a business trip. Work-related expenses are subject to the 2% floor on miscellaneous deductions. Furthermore, if you buy a new SUV for business use that weighs more 6,000 pounds, and file Schedule C or other business tax return you may be allowed to write off the full amount (up to $102,000 in 2004) in one year as a business expense subject to limitations.

  • Clean-Fuel Deduction: If you are not in the market for a large SUV for business, you still can get a deduction for your personal car, another above-the-line deduction of up to $2,000 for 2003 ($1,500 for 2004) of the cost of buying a clean-fuel vehicle or a car that uses a significant source of energy other than gasoline. That includes hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid. You get the deduction in the year you start using the car, and you must be the original owner.

  • Investment and Tax Expenses: In addition to forgetting to deduct tax-preparation fees and the portion of your legal, accounting or financial planner fees that relate to tax planning, many people miss deducting investment expenses. Those include certain fees paid to your financial advisor and/or broker and certain IRA fees you may pay directly. It also may include mileage for meetings and long-distance phone calls to your advisor or broker. Dont forget to include deductions for the cost of your investment publications or subscriptions, safe deposit boxes used for investment-related documents, these deductions are subject to the 2% floor on miscellaneous deductions.

About The Author

Sandra N. Salter, Personal Finance Expert, is an American Express Financial Advisor and owner of American Express Financial Advisors Branch Office in Newark, NJ. She focuses on providing comprehensive financial planning services paying close attention to the long-term financial health of their clients, building customized financial plans that help clients achieve both short-term and long-term goals. The types of services she offers clients include: Income Tax Planning, Saving and Investing for Retirement, Working with Retirees, Financial Strategies for Small Business, Domestic Partner Planning, Risk Protection Planning, Estate Planning, Charitable Giving , Investment Strategies for Education , Asset Allocation and Comprehensive Financial Planning, among other areas. They can be reached at sandra.n.salter@aexp.com.

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