Through deductions, American wage earners have the chance to pocket more income rather than hand over their hard-earned cash to the government.
For those who keep good records, deductions can mean more money — and less for the IRS.
You probably know the most common deductions, such as deductions for property taxes and charitable donations, but there are many deductions you might be overlooking.
One caveat first: some of the deductions listed here fall under the label of miscellaneous deductions, and they are below the line — that is, you take the deductions after you've calculated your adjusted gross income (Click here for a definition). To cash in, you must itemize deductions on Schedule A of your federal return rather than take the standard deduction. The sum of all of your miscellaneous deductions must be more than 2 percent of your AGI; therefore, if your AGI is $50,000, all of your miscellaneous deductions must top $1,000. The kicker, of course, is that you can deduct only the amount that exceeds 2 percent (that is, the amount above and beyond $1,000).
Read on for some of the common fees and expenses you can deduct to reduce your tax bill.
Selling your home, sweet home
Owning a home can give you hefty tax write-offs each year, from deductions on points paid when you bought the home to deductions on mortgage interest and property taxes while you lived in it.
When you sell your home, though, you also get some tax benefits: you can deduct the fees you incur to unload your home. You can still deduct a portion of the property taxes you paid while you lived in the home, the commission you paid to your real estate agent lowers the sales price to reduce your capital gains tax, and any fees you paid at closing.
Driving home a tax break
You pay a sales tax on your car when you buy it and then some states continue to tax you each year for, as the state of Kentucky puts it, "the privilege of using a motor vehicle upon the public highways." If your state calculates a percentage of the vehicle tax based on the value of your car, then you can deduct that percentage as part of your personal property taxes. Only a few states, such as Nevada, calculate their registration fees in this way.
Most states send out a notice to demand their tax payment to register your car each year. After you slap your new decal on your car, file away the receipt and add that payment to your deductions for personal property taxes in April.
Fees for a worthy cause
You donated your skinny jeans and your wagon-wheel coffee table to Goodwill and reduced your taxes by increasing your miscellaneous deductions, but you can fatten the sum of your miscellaneous deductions when you remember to include associated fees, such as appraisal fees, for the big-ticket items you donate.
The IRS requires that you provide "a qualified appraisal of the item with the return" when you donate an item worth more than $500. For items like electronics, appliances and furniture, you need to pay a professional to assess the value of your donation; that fee for service is deductible.
Free rides for charity
If you're the type of person who likes to donate your free time to volunteer in your community and you dip into your own wallet to get to your favorite charity, you can add those expenses to your miscellaneous deductions.
Whether you ride the bus or drive your own car, keep good records of your charitable activities and keep receipts for public transportation or mileage logs for your car (for which you can charge the standard mileage rate for charitable organizations), as well as receipts for parking and tolls.
Washing away tax liability
It's easy to remember to deduct the cost of plane tickets and hotels when you travel for business, but you've got to look snappy when you're networking out of town, and that often means sending suits to the cleaner. Hang on to laundering receipts and you can clean up when the total pushes you over the 2 percent limit for miscellaneous deductions.
Shipping out savings
The IRS understands that you can't lug all your work with you when you travel. Sometimes you have to ship documents, displays, or even baggage ahead of time.
You are allowed a write-off for shipping and baggage costs as part of your miscellaneous deductions, and because some airlines up the ante of travel by charging you to check your bags, this tax write-off eases the burden of getting your stuff from Point A to Point B. Don't shove that baggage receipt in a coat pocket and forget about it - keep it with your business documents and file it away for April.
Networking for cash
The business of doing business as you travel means calls to connect with contacts, faxes to confirm orders and internet access to research information. When you pay a surcharge to stay connected, such as for hotel phone calls or coffee shop internet access, count that fee toward your miscellaneous deductions.
Make sure to get itemized bills from your hotel and receipts of your networking transactions so you have solid records. And no, you can't charge for the vanilla latte that kept you awake through your boss's lengthy e-mails.