Standard Deduction vs. Itemizing: Seven Facts to Help You Choose

Each year, millions of taxpayers choose whether to take the standard deduction or to itemize their deductions.

The following seven facts from the IRS can help you choose the method that gives you the lowest tax.

1. Qualifying expenses – Whether to itemize deductions on your tax return depends on how much you spent on certain expenses last year. If the total amount you spent on qualifying medical care, mortgage interest, taxes, charitable contributions, casualty losses and miscellaneous deductions is more than your standard deduction, you can usually benefit by itemizing.

2. Standard deduction amounts -Your standard deduction is based on your filing status and is subject to inflation adjustments each year. For 2011, the amounts are:

Single $5,800

Married Filing Jointly $11,600

Head of Household $8,500

Married Filing Separately $5,800

Qualifying Widow(er) $11,600

3. Some taxpayers have different standard deductions – The standard deduction amount depends on your filing status, whether you are 65 or older or blind and whether another taxpayer can claim an exemption for you. If any of these apply, use the Standard Deduction Worksheet on the back of Form 1040EZ, or in the 1040A or 1040 instructions.

4. Limited itemized deductions – Your itemized deductions are no longer limited because of your adjusted gross income.

5. Married filing separately – When a married couple files separate returns and one spouse itemizes deductions, the other spouse cannot claim the standard deduction and therefore must itemize to claim their allowable deductions.

6. Some taxpayers are not eligible for the standard deduction – They include nonresident aliens, dual-status aliens and individuals who file returns for periods of less than 12 months due to a change in accounting periods.

7. Forms to use – The standard deduction can be taken on Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ. To itemize your deductions, use Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, and Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

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Five Tips for Recently Married or Divorced Taxpayers with a Name Change

If you changed your name after a recent marriage or divorce, the IRS reminds you to take the necessary steps to ensure the name on your tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration.

A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.

Here are five tips from the IRS for recently married or divorced taxpayers who have a name change.

1. If you took your spouse’s last name — or if you hyphenated your last names, you may run into complications if you don’t notify the SSA. When newlyweds file a tax return using their new last names, IRS computers can’t match the new name with their Social Security number.

2. If you recently divorced and changed back to your previous last name, you’ll also need to notify the SSA of this name change.

3. Informing the SSA of a name change is easy. Simply file a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office or by mail and provide a recently issued document as proof of your legal name change.

4. Form SS-5 is available on SSA’s website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices. Your new card will have the same number as your previous card, but will show your new name.

5. If you adopted your spouse’s children after getting married and their names changed, you’ll need to update their names with SSA too. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number – or ATIN – by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions with the IRS. The ATIN is a temporary number used in place of an SSN on the tax return. Form W-7A is available on the IRS.gov website or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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IRS Launches New Online Search Tool

The IRS today launched a new online search tool to help users more easily find information about tax-exempt organizations.

Users can now go to one location on IRS.gov to search for:

  • Organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions (formerly listed in electronic Publication 78). Users may rely on this list in determining deductibility of contributions, just as they did with Pub. 78
  • Organizations whose federal tax exemption automatically revoked for not filing a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years (Auto-Revocation List)
  • Form 990-N (e-Postcard) filers and their submissions

EO Select Check offers improved search options. Users can now look for organizations eligible to receive deductible charitable organizations (Pub. 78 data) by Employer Identification Number (EIN), which wasn’t possible previously. And this data is now updated monthly instead of quarterly.

In addition, the Auto-Revocation List may now be searched by EIN, name, city, state, ZIP code, country, exemption type, and revocation posting date, rather than only by state.

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Eight Facts to Help Determine Your Correct Filing Status

Determining your filing status is one of the first steps to filing your federal income tax return.

There are five filing statuses: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household and Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. Your filing status is used to determine your filing requirements, standard deduction, eligibility for certain credits and deductions, and your correct tax.

Some people may qualify for more than one filing status. Here are eight facts about filing status that the IRS wants you to know so you can choose the best option for your situation.

1. Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year.

2. If more than one filing status applies to you, choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.

3. Single filing status generally applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to state law.

4. A married couple may file a joint return together. The couple’s filing status would be Married Filing Jointly.

5. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry during 2011, usually you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death.

6. A married couple may elect to file their returns separately. Each person’s filing status would generally be Married Filing Separately.

7. Head of Household generally applies to taxpayers who are unmarried. You must also have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person to qualify for this filing status.

8. You may be able to choose Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child as your filing status if your spouse died during 2009 or 2010, you have a dependent child, have not remarried and you meet certain other conditions.

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Tax Tips: Small Business Record Keeping

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David Letterman – Top Ten Tax Tips

Many 2012 Tax Benefits Increase Due to Inflation Adjustments

For tax year 2012, personal exemptions and standard deductions will rise and tax brackets will widen due to inflation, the Internal Revenue Service announced. Click here for the full story.