Monthly Newsletter for November 2014

by in Newsletter on Oct. 20, 2014

Back-to-School Reminder for Parents and Students: Check Out College Tax Credits for 2014 and Years Ahead

WASHINGTON ― With another school year now in full swing, the Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they will qualify for either of two college tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits when they file their 2014 federal income tax returns.

In general, the American opportunity tax credit and lifetime learning credit are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the taxpayer and his or her spouse and dependents. The American opportunity tax credit provides a credit for each eligible student, while the lifetime learning credit provides a maximum credit per tax return. Though a taxpayer often qualifies for both of these credits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. Claimed on Form 8863, these credits are available to all taxpayers — both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction.

For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will generally yield the greater tax savings. Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school.

Both credits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. Neither credit can be claimed by a nonresident alien, a married person filing a separate return or someone claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.

Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year (Jan. 31, 2015 for calendar year 2014). This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax credits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Form 8863 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Students can claim this credit for qualified educational expenses paid during the entire tax year for a certain number of years:

  • The credit is only available for 4 tax years per eligible student.
  • The credit is available only if the student has not completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education before 2014.

Here are some more key features of the credit:

  • Qualified education expenses are amounts paid for tuition, fees and other related expenses for an eligible student. Other expenses, such as room and board, are not qualified expenses.
  • The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
  • Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student.

The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Also, the lifetime learning credit does not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.

Though the half-time student requirement does not apply to the lifetime learning credit, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:

  • Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
  • The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
  • Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2014, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $54,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $108,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $128,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $64,000 or more.

You can use the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help determine if you are eligible for these benefits. The tool is available on Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these credits during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:

  • Scholarship and fellowship grants — generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
  • Savings bonds used to pay for college — though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.

Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.


Five Basic Tax Tips for New Businesses

If you start a business, one key to success is to know about your federal tax obligations. You may need to know not only about income taxes but also about payroll taxes. Here are five basic tax tips that can help get your business off to a good start.

1. Business Structure.  As you start out, you’ll need to choose the structure of your business. Some common types include sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. You may also choose to be an S corporation or Limited Liability Company. You’ll report your business activity using the IRS forms which are right for your business type.

2. Business Taxes.  There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. The type of taxes your business pays usually depends on which type of business you choose to set up. You may need to pay your taxes by making estimated tax payments.

3. Employer Identification Number.  You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Search “do you need an EIN” on to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, you can apply for it online.

4. Accounting Method.  An accounting method is a set of rules that determine when to report income and expenses. Your business must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash method and the accrual method. Under the cash method, you normally report income in the year that you receive it and deduct expenses in the year that you pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income in the year that you earn it and deduct expenses in the year that you inc ur them. This is true even if you receive the income or pay the expenses in a future year.

5. Employee Health Care.  The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. Beginning in 2014, the maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.