What Airbnb’s Hotel Tax Means for Guests & Hosts

Here's what to expect, how to avoid problems and how to keep the tax man happy.

The summer travel season is nearly upon us and if you’re a fan of staying with Airbnb hosts instead of hotels, you probably already know some locations charge some or all of the same taxes that hotels charge.

If you don’t already know that, surprise! The number of locations charging taxes for that spare room or whole house is only growing. Beginning May 1, Texas will join 30 other states where taxes are charged at either the local or state level or a combination of both.

Clearly, there’s a financial benefit for the communities levying these taxes. The Dallas Morning News estimates Airbnb would’ve remitted an estimated $8 million in Texas state taxes in 2016. However, it’s not the states and cities that initiated the effort. For that, you can thank the hotel industry, which has been lobbying hard for the taxes.

Why?

“Airbnb has brought hotel pricing down in many places during holidays, conventions and other big events when room rates should be at their highest and the industry generates a significant portion of its profits,” Vijay Dandapani, chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, told The New York Times in a recent article.

While Airbnb has said on its website it is happy to collect its fair share of taxes, there’s clearly some negative feelings about how it’s all gone down.

“The hotel hypocrisy is almost unbelievable,” Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said in an email. “The hotel cartel wanted Airbnb to collect taxes and when we implemented a way to do so, they changed their position and lobbied cities to leave millions of dollars on the table.”

The continuing fight has led to a variety of tax schemes across states and municipalities, creating a confusing landscape for hosts and guests.

What It Means for Airbnb Hosts & Guests

For Hosts

If you’re considering becoming a host, be aware that the taxes present some confusion for some people renting out their spaces.

The reasons are numerous and varied. To start, no one really likes paying taxes. But additional layers of frustration can come with the Airbnb taxes. They can be levied and remitted in different ways depending on the tax laws in particular states or municipalities and Airbnb’s agreement with those entities. Then there are the host’s options of how to charge guests once taxes are implemented. Many hosts get confused when it comes to collecting the tax, where to note it on the listing and the bookkeeping process.

Jeff Cook, who owns several properties in Pennsylvania, said sales and use taxes were already in place when he started hosting with Airbnb several years ago. “The biggest issue here is that many people weren’t paying it simply because they didn’t think they had to,” he said. “I paid it from the get-go, because I wanted my business to be legitimate.”

But it wasn’t easy. Cook’s price for guests bakes in the 6% state and 3% local tax, so he doesn’t note it on his site and doesn’t have to worry about asking for local taxes when guests arrive. His revenue is submitted to Airbnb, but then it gets a little complicated.

Airbnb removes their 9% fee and sends him the remainder, he said. “And then I have to figure out what the tax amounts are independently. If something could be done better … perhaps if they distinguished between the tax and the regular revenue that would be helpful. The lump sum is sent to me, I figure out what the correct tax amounts are, and then I submit a return and payment to the appropriate authorities.”

Laura Jesse, a host in San Antonio, said she’s ambivalent about the tax that begins in Texas next week. “I live near projects that were funded in part with the [state’s occupancy] tax,” she said. “I get a fair amount of convention business as I live near downtown, etc.”

As for raising her rates to offset the taxes, Jesse said she has no plans to do so at this time.

Of course, taxes aren’t the only costs Airbnb hosts face. Check out a few others. But the spare money can still help you do things like pay off debt (you can see how your debt affects your credit with a credit report snapshot on Credit.com). It’s also good to keep in mind that many of the expenses involved with renting out your space are tax-deductible. See which ones you can write off here.

For Guests

Taxes mean your stays are probably costing more – anywhere from 3% to 15% depending on locale and host. On top of that, the process can become confusing depending on how the host applies those taxes to your bill.

Airbnb addresses how that can be done on its Airbnb Citizen site, but there are no clear-cut guidelines available, so many hosts are left scratching their heads and conferring with other hosts on how they alert guests and even charge them.

Airbnb offers guidance thusly:

“If you determine that you need to collect tax, you can usually either add it within a Special Offer or ask your guests to pay it in person. In each case, it’s important that guests are informed of the exact tax amount prior to booking. If you choose to collect tax outside of your listing’s rates, please note that it should be collected only upon arrival and that we are unable to assist with collection.”

So, if your host suddenly asks you to hand over a little cash to cover the taxes, it’s probably not a scam. As Airbnb explains on its site, “this needs to be clearly stated on the listing prior to booking.” So, if the host can’t show you where that’s stated, you should be wary.

Hopefully, however, most hosts will bake in the taxes like Cook does, and you will see only a price increase at your favorite Airbnb homes. (Travel often? These travel rewards credit cards could be right for you.)

“I think separating taxes as a line item [on guest bills] would help clarify the issue for people,” Cook said. “I’m a big supporter of Airbnb. I think they are an awesome company, and as they evolve and grow, distinguishing tax through line items would be beneficial to everyone.”

Image: PeopleImages

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Stuck With a Huge Tax Bill? Here’s How to Deal

Here's what to do if you're facing down a big payment to Uncle Sam.

This year I owe quite a bit of money in taxes.

This amount (let’s call it “in the many thousands”) doesn’t come as a complete surprise since I made more cash last year than I did the year before, but still, it’s a large amount. As a freelancer I’ve learned to sock away 30% to 40% of each paycheck into a savings account set aside for taxes, so I’ll be OK to pay it. Other people might not be so lucky when Uncle Sam comes calling. A recent survey by the Federal Reserve found that 31% of people couldn’t even pay for a $400 emergency expense and 28% said they would need to borrow that money from friends or family

Luckily there are a few things you can do if you’re saddled with a tax bill you can’t pay.

1. Start at the Source

If you can’t pay your tax bill in full come April, fear not — you won’t be thrown in jail. (At least not yet!) The IRS offers a few ways to potentially alleviate the sticker shock. You could apply for an online payment agreement that allows you to pay your tax liability over time, or you could work with the IRS to settle for less than the full amount owed. That’s called an Offer in Compromise, and you can learn more about it — and if you qualify — here.

2. Ask to Have Your Penalties Reduced

Under certain circumstances — as in you or your spouse dealt with a serious illness last year or had an unusual tax event — the IRS has been known to work with taxpayers to waive certain penalties. Try writing a letter to explain the situation in detail, and be sure to specifically ask for an abatement. It’s worth a try.

3. Consider a Loan

If you’re in good financial standing otherwise, a personal loan through your bank with a decent interest rate could help you pay off a large tax bill right away. A better credit score will help secure a lower interest rate. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

4. Take out a HELOC 

A HELOC — or home equity line of credit — often offers interest rates that are lower than credit cards or potentially even personal loans, plus your interest could be tax deductible. The downside is that defaulting could mean losing your home — not something to take lightly. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before taking this course of action — learn more about it here.

5. Put It on Your Credit Card

While it should only come as a last resort, paying your bill on a credit card allows you to pay your debt on time (at least as far as the government is concerned), while giving you some time to pay it off in full on your credit card. If this is the way you’ll pay your taxes, it’s worth researching credit cards with 0% APR introductory offers that can allow you to take your time paying off the bill without paying interest. Keep in mind there will be an additional fee — which could be quite substantial, depending on how much you owe.

Whatever option you take, be sure to research all the options before jumping in to understand which one is best for your financial situation.

Image: jacoblund

The post Stuck With a Huge Tax Bill? Here’s How to Deal appeared first on Credit.com.

The Average Property Taxes in All 50 States & D.C.

A comparison of property taxes across all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Image: JamesBrey

 

The post The Average Property Taxes in All 50 States & D.C. appeared first on Credit.com.

What is a Required Minimum Distribution?

For workers or retirees who have not begun to withdraw funds from their retirement accounts by age 70½, the IRS requires that they start withdrawing funds. The RMD requirement applies to all tax advantaged retirement accounts, from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s to 403(b)s and SEP IRAs. The RMD does not apply to Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k)s.

Here’s a full list of retirement accounts subject to the RMD rule:

  • Traditional IRAs
  • SEP IRAs
  • SIMPLE IRAs
  • 401(k)s
  • 403(b)s
  • 457(b)s
  • profit-sharing plans
  • other defined contribution plans

How do I figure out how much to withdraw?

Just like filing your taxes, it falls on your shoulders to remember to take the RMD once you reach 70½. You can do the math yourself (we’ll explain below) to figure out what your required minimum distribution will be, or you can ask for help from a tax professional or financial adviser.

To calculate your RMD, you need to know exactly how much you’ve got saved up in each account as of Dec. 31 of the previous year. Next, use this table from the IRS to find your “distribution period” score, which is based on your life expectancy.

Most people can calculate their RMD by dividing their total retirement account balances by the distribution period that corresponds with their age.

Let’s say you turned 70½ in Dec. 2016 and had a balance of $1 million in your eligible retirement accounts on Dec. 31. You would then find the distribution period that corresponds to your age in Table III.

According to the table, your distribution period number is 27.4. When you divide $1 million by 27.4, you get an RMD of $36,496.35. That is the minimum withdrawal you must make from that account by April 1, 2017.

When do I have to start taking an RMD?

If you are already retired, you are required to take distributions by April 1 of the year after you turn 70½.

If you are still working at age 70½ and you carry a traditional 401(k) or 403(b) account with your employer, you do not have to take an RMD unless you own 5% or more of the company. However, if you are still working at age 70½ and you have individual retirement accounts outside of your employer retirement account, you will need to make an RMD from those IRAs.

You do not have to take your RMD as one lump-sum payment. The IRS will allow you to take out the funds in chunks throughout the year, which allows your money to keep growing tax free. As long as the total meets the RMD for the year, you’re in the clear.

What happens if I don’t take my RMD?

If you don’t take your RMD during the year after you turn 70½, you’ll be slapped with a 50% excise tax on the amount that was not distributed when you file taxes.

For example, if your RMD was $10,000, but you only took out $5,000, you will be assessed the 50% tax on the $5,000 that you did not withdraw.

You can delay your first RMD. If you choose to do so, you’ll be required to take two in the next year, which will affect your gross income.

 

What if I don’t need to live off of the distribution?

You are required to take your RMD beginning at 70½ , but you that doesn’t mean you have to spend it.

“A lot of clients believe that they must take an RMD and spend it. In reality, all the IRS cares about is that you remove it from the account, declare it as income, and pay taxes on it,” says Riverside, Calif.- based financial planner Breanna Reish.

You are actually free to use the money however you’d like.

One way to meet your RMD requirement is by making a qualified charitable distribution paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity. The charitable distribution can satisfy all or part of the amount you are required to take from you IRA.

What if I have multiple retirement accounts?

If you have more than one retirement account, things can get a little more complicated. You still need to take an RMD, but you don’t have to take one out of each account. You’ll need to add up the amount you have in all of your qualifying retirement accounts, then use that figure to determine your RMD using Table III.

Again, it’s probably a good idea to seek advice from a tax or financial adviser professional who can help make the wisest decision for your finances.

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Friendly Reminder: A Tax Extension Doesn’t Give You More Time to Pay

Haven't filed your taxes yet? Good news: You can get a six-month extension to do them.

Haven’t filed your taxes yet? Good news: You can get a six-month extension to do them. Bad news: You still need to pay your taxes by April 18 (this year’s deadline), or you’ll owe interest and fees for making a late payment. You have to do your best to estimate what you owe and make or postmark the payment by April 18.

How to Get an Extension to File Your Taxes

You can request an extension from the Internal Revenue Service by either submitting an electronic payment of your estimated tax due, filing an electronic Form 4868 or filing a paper Form 4868. Each option automatically gives you a six-month extension for filing your tax return, meaning you have until Oct. 18 to send in your paperwork.

To make an electronic payment to the IRS, you can make an online direct payment from your bank account, use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (requires enrollment) or use a credit or debit card. Making an electronic payment means you do not have to file a Form 4868, as the payment triggers an automatic six-month extension. If you file a paper Form 4868, you should include your payment.

What to Do If You Owe But Don’t Have the Money

People often want an extension from the IRS because they don’t have enough money to pay their tax bill. But that’s not how it works.

If you don’t have the cash to pay your taxes, you can make a partial payment, though the unpaid balance will be subject to interest and a late-payment penalty (generally one-half of 1% of the unpaid tax each month the balance goes unpaid, up to 25%). You could also pay your taxes with a credit card, though there’s a processing fee to do so, plus the interest you’d owe your credit card company. You can learn more about paying your taxes with a credit card here. While the IRS offers installment plans, you must file your tax return to apply for one.

Not only can paying your taxes late get expensive due to interest and fees, it could potentially damage your credit: The IRS could place a lien against your property for unpaid tax debt, which will show up on your credit report as a derogatory item. That can drive up the costs of other things in your life, like loan rates and insurance premiums. (You can see what’s affecting your credit by getting a free credit report summary every 14 days on Credit.com.)

Whether you decide to get an extension or file your tax return under deadline pressure, do your best to not rush through your work, because mistakes can cost you, too. Check out this list of 50 things to know if you haven’t filed your taxes yet.

Image: Tempura 

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What to Do When You Owe Taxes to the IRS

Owing a debt you can’t pay is a situation nobody wants to find themselves in, and it can be especially stressful when that debt is owed to the IRS. Many people fear the IRS and not without reason.

The IRS has collection powers that many creditors don’t have, including garnishing wages, seizing bank accounts, and even putting liens on property. Yet many people occasionally face a situation where they have a tax debt they just can’t pay. There are many options for dealing with tax debt, but ignoring it and hoping it goes away is not one of them. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, check out these tips for facing tax debts.

Filing for a filing extension will not give you more time to pay back the debt

Some people mistakenly believe that if they extend their tax return, they’ll have additional time to pay the amount due with their return. But an extension is just an extension of time to file, not to pay. You are still obligated to calculate the amount you’ll owe and pay that by April 15, even if you’re not yet ready to file.

Pay as much of the debt as possible by the filing deadline

When you file an extension but don’t pay 90% of the tax you owe for that year, the IRS will charge a failure-to-pay penalty. The penalty is generally 0.5% per month on the balance of your unpaid balance, and it starts accruing the day after taxes are due. It can grow to as much as 25% of your unpaid taxes.

In addition, interest will accrue on any unpaid tax from the due date of the return until you pay your balance in full. The interest rate is determined quarterly and is the federal short-term rate plus 3%.

If you can’t pay the amount you owe, filing your return without making a payment won’t avoid penalties and interest, but it’s important to know that filing an extension won’t help you avoid them either. Just file on time and pay as much as you can to reduce penalty and interest charges.

Now that you’ve filed your return and know how much tax you owe, it’s time to consider your options for paying the balance due.

How to pay your tax debt

By credit card

If you don’t have the money to pay the amount due immediately, the IRS does accept credit cards, but be wary of paying your tax debt with plastic. Although the IRS doesn’t charge a fee to pay by credit card, the company that processes your payment will charge a fee ranging from 1.87% to 2.00% of the payment amount. Plus, you’ll need to consider the interest your credit card company will charge until you pay off the balance.

The IRS will charge a far lower interest rate than your credit card, which means you can pay off the debt much quicker.

Enroll in an IRS repayment plan

Paying a tax debt via credit card may not be an option if the amount due exceeds your credit limit, or it may not be the best choice if your credit card has a high interest rate. In that case, you may be able to work out a payment arrangement with the IRS. Just be aware that your account will continue to accrue penalties and interest until the balance is paid in full.

Here are three types of IRS repayment plans:

Short-term extension to pay

If the amount you owe is relatively small and you believe you can pay it off within 120 days, call the IRS and ask for a short-term extension of time to pay. This is not a formal payment plan. The IRS will just make a note on your account that you’ve been granted additional time to pay the full amount. During this period, they will not take any collection action against you.

Installment agreement

If you aren’t able to pay your debt in full within 120 days, Scott Taylor, a CPA with Piercy Bowler Taylor & Kern in Las Vegas, Nev., recommends that you contact the IRS to arrange an installment agreement. An installment agreement is basically a monthly payment plan. You can apply online for an installment agreement if you owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties, and interest. For balances over that amount, you will need to complete Form 9465 and Form 433-F and send them in by mail.

With an installment agreement, you decide how much money you will pay each month and on what date you’ll make the payment. As long as your debt will be paid off within three years and you owe less than $10,000, the IRS has to accept your payment plan.

Fees

Keep in mind that the IRS also charges user fees for installment agreements. “Unfortunately for taxpayers, the fees have gone up as of January 2017,” Taylor says. The cost to set up an installment agreement is $225. If you apply online and choose to have the monthly payments directly debited from a bank account, the fee drops to $31.

If your ability to pay the agreed upon amount changes later on, you’ll need to call the IRS immediately. When you miss a payment, your agreement goes into default and the IRS can start taking collection action. For example, if your agreement calls for a $300 payment and you lose your job and aren’t able to make the payment, call the IRS before you miss a payment. They may be able to reduce your monthly payment amount to reflect your current financial situation.

Partial payment installment agreement

What if you owe so much that you can’t pay it off in a reasonable period of time? In that case, you may be eligible for a partial payment installment agreement. Like a regular installment agreement, you will make regular, agreed upon payments for a set period of time. However, the payments will not pay off the entire debt. After the agreement period ends, the remaining debt will be forgiven.

As you can imagine, the IRS doesn’t take debt forgiveness lightly, so applying for a partial payment installment agreement is more complicated than applying for a regular installment agreement. Instead of letting you decide how much you can afford to pay each month, the IRS will calculate your monthly payment by taking into account your outstanding balance, the remaining statute of limitations for collecting the debt, and the reasonable potential of collection.

To request a partial payment installment agreement, it’s best to consult a tax professional with experience handling tax debts. Before the IRS approves a partial payment installment agreement, you will need to have filed all of your tax returns and be current on your income tax withholding or estimated payments.

How to settle your tax debt (offer in compromise)

You’ve probably heard the television commercials promising to help you “settle your tax debt for pennies on the dollar.” These ads refer to an offer in compromise (OIC), and they’re not as easy to get as those ads would have you believe.

With an OIC, you agree to a lump-sum or short-term payment plan to pay off a portion of your debt in exchange for the IRS forgiving the remainder of the debt.

To qualify, you must prove that you are unable to pay off the entire debt through an installment agreement or other means. It can be difficult to meet the income and asset guidelines to qualify for an OIC, so it’s best suited for taxpayers with low income and very few assets.

You can check to see if you are eligible for an OIC by using the IRS’s pre-qualifier tool. To apply, you’ll need to complete Form 656 and Form 433-A and submit them along with an application fee of $186. You’ll also be asked to provide documentation to support the financial information provided in the forms.

Again, it’s a good idea to get help from a tax professional with experience working with OICs to help you complete the forms and walk you through the complex process. Be wary of tax resolution firms making promises that sound too good to be true. Check with the Better Business Bureau and the state attorney general’s office for complaints before you pay a retainer.

Tax debt discharge

There is a 10-year statute of limitations on tax debt collection, so if you are having serious financial issues and can’t pay at all, letting that statute run out may be an option. To do this, you’ll need to get your tax debt in currently-not-collectible (CNC) status by demonstrating that you cannot pay both reasonable living expenses and your tax debt.

To request CNC status, the IRS will ask you to provide financial information on Form 433-A or Form 433-F and provide documentation to support amounts listed on the statement. If you have any assets that the IRS believes could be sold to pay your debt, they may not grant CNC status.

While your account is in CNC status, the IRS will not pursue collection, but if you are owed any tax refunds on returns filed while your account is in CNC status, the IRS may keep your refunds and apply them to your debt. They may also file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien, which can affect your credit score and your ability to sell your property.

The IRS will review your income annually to see if your situation has improved. If you maintain CNC status until the 10-year statute of limitations runs out, you may no longer be required to make payments, regardless of whether your financial situation improves later on.

What if you don’t agree with the amount due?

If you owe a lot more than you expected, take a moment to review your completed return carefully to look for errors. Make sure you didn’t accidentally enter the same income twice or forget an important deduction, and make sure you answered all of the questions correctly. One missed question or checkbox can cause you to miss out on valuable tax benefits. Also, compare this year’s return to last year. If your tax bill went up drastically even though your situation hasn’t really changed, find out why.

Occasionally, taxpayers receive notices from the IRS indicating an amount due that they don’t agree with. Don’t feel like you have to pay an amount you don’t believe you owe just because it comes on IRS letterhead. Taylor says each notice will include a section detailing how to respond.

“The IRS may have made an error in matching up 1099s or W-2s, and the amount owed needs to be adjusted,” he says, and he recommends that you send a letter via certified mail in response, with a full explanation. “A CPA can help you with this letter, but if you follow the guidelines provided by the IRS, you should be able to respond appropriately and have the fees resolved or adjusted.”

IRS collection enforcement

If your taxes are not paid on time and you do not communicate with the IRS, they can issue a Notice of Levy. An IRS levy permits the legal seizure of your property. They may garnish your wages or seize your bank account, vehicles, real estate, or other personal property to satisfy the debt.

Taylor says IRS notices will only come via U.S. mail, so be sure you check your mail and read all IRS notices. “It seems like a simple thing,” Taylor says, “but with many financial and personal transactions occurring online, many people ignore their mailbox for long periods of time.”

Whatever your situation, Taylor says it’s important to remain in contact with the IRS to show your intent is to pay your debt. “Don’t ever ignore IRS notices,” Taylor says. “The IRS is willing to coordinate payment plans, and the consequences of ignoring them are always difficult to adjust.”

The post What to Do When You Owe Taxes to the IRS appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

11 Ways to Reduce Next Year’s Tax Bill

These are the things you can start doing right away to reduce your tax bill next year.

If you claimed the right number of dependents and standard deductions on your 2016 federal income tax return and you still ended up owing the IRS, you’re probably looking to avoid a repeat performance next year. Luckily, there are several ways to increase your chance for a refund (or at least reduce the amount you’ll owe) and you don’t have to be a tax whiz or accountant to take advantage.

Here are 11 ways you can pay less in federal taxes for your income return next year.

1. Contribute to a 401K or IRA

Contributing to a retirement fund is an important way to ensure financial independence in your golden years, but it can also convey short-term tax benefits. In most cases, the contributions you make to your 401K and IRA plans are tax-deductible and are not included in your taxable income at the end of the year. (Note: If you didn’t contribute to an IRA in 2016, you still have time. You have until April 18 to contribute up to the maximum amount and shave off a good chunk of your tax bill. Filed your taxes already? That’s OK. You can file an amended return to reflect the contribution.)

2. Buy a Home

There’s a distinct tax benefit to home ownership. The interest you pay on your mortgage is tax-deductible, and the interest is front-loaded. For the first several years, most of your mortgage payment goes toward interest, which will drastically reduce your adjusted gross income at tax time. Want an extra boost for your taxes next year? Consider paying January 2018’s mortgage payment in December to get a tax benefit before the end of the year.

3. Donate to Charity or Volunteer

You probably know charitable donations can be itemized and deducted from your income, so you’ll want to save receipts anytime you donate cash or items to charity. You can even deduct miles you travel for volunteering or other charity work.

“Miles you travel on behalf of a charity are deductible at 14 cents per mile for 2017,” said Gail Rosen, CPA.

4. Start a Home Business

Starting a home business can provide you with a new source of income and allow you to take deductions off any income the business generates.

These deductions include business costs you incur throughout the year, a portion of your mortgage and utilities if you use a home office and the cost of goods needed to keep your business running. You can even deduct startup costs.

“Any expenses that are incurred before the first sale are ‘start-up costs,’” Rosen said. “These costs cannot be deducted until the first sale. Then they are deducted over 15 years and you can deduct the first $5,000 in the first year.”

5. Search for a New Job

If you hunt for a new job in your field this year, you can write off some qualifying expenses as you search. There are exceptions, but potential write-offs include things like clothes or travel.

“If you looked for a new job in 2017, you should be aware of the income tax deduction that may be available with respect to job-search costs,” Rosen said. “Qualifying expenses are deductible even if they do not result in a new job being offered or accepted.”

6. Open a Flexible Spending Plan

Many employers offer flexible spending plans that let you contribute toward yearly medical expenses pre-tax. These contributions typically don’t count toward your taxable income.

7. Deduct Medical or Dental Expenses

Many medical and dental expenses are tax-deductible. According to Rosen, the cost of getting to and from medical treatment is deductible at 17 cents per mile, plus the cost of tolls and parking, and dependent expenses are also deductible.

“If you cover the medical cost of dependents, these can be deducted. Additionally, if you are covering the costs of an individual who would qualify as your dependent except that they have too much gross income — for example, an elderly parent — you may be able to deduct these costs as well,” said Rosen.

8. Education-Related Expenses

Current and former students have many eligible deductions and credits related to their education expenses. Paid student loan interest and tuition and fees can be claimed as deductions. Eligible current students can also access the American Opportunity Credit, which can cover up to $2,500 annually for four years, and the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can cover up to $2,000 per tax return.

9. Install Solar Energy

Homeowners who install solar energy systems in their home can get back tax credits at up to 30% of the cost of installation. This credit will begin to decrease after 2019 so you may want to act soon if you’re planning on installing solar panels.

As an added bonus, solar energy can significantly reduce your energy bills.

10. Hunt Down Every Available Tax Credit

We’ve named several tax credits above, but there are more, including credits for adopting children, the cost of child care and low-income households. Tax credits are more valuable than deductions, as they reduce your taxable income on a dollar-for-dollar basis, so make sure you’re taking advantage of every option.

11. Get a Pro to Do Your Taxes

No matter how much research you do, a professional may be able to identify tax deductions and credits that hadn’t occurred to you. Paying a reputable professional you trust can help you stay organized and minimize your tax liability. Here’s a handy guide to finding the right tax professional for your needs.

Image: courtneyk 

The post 11 Ways to Reduce Next Year’s Tax Bill appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Tax Mistakes Procrastinators Make & How to Avoid Them

Don't let your last-minute tax stress lead to these avoidable mistakes.

We get it. Doing your taxes is no fun, especially if you know you’re going to owe money. But as with any project on which you procrastinate, leaving everything to the last minute can lead to errors, both large and small, and some of those errors could cost you serious money.

If you’ve gone and done it, though, and are still looking at that pile of tax forms over there in the corner, we’ve compiled a list of six quick-and-dirty tips that could keep you from making some obvious, and not-so-obvious, mistakes when you finally sit down and tackle the task. They could also help you maximize your tax refund.

1. You Forgot to Sign It

You might wonder how anyone could forget to sign their tax form, but this simple process is one of the most common tax mistakes, according to the IRS. Just like forgetting to sign a check or a contract, it means your return isn’t valid. Usually, there isn’t a penalty or interest associated with this error (since you’ve already included a check or electronic payment if you owed), so the IRS will just send a notice asking for a valid signature, but it will delay the processing of your return. If you’re getting a refund, that too will be delayed.

So check, double-check — heck, triple-check — that you signed or completed the e-signature process before filing your return. Also, check out these last-minute filing tips from the IRS.

2. You Miscarried the 9

Math errors are also a very common mistake made by folks in a hurry. Fortunately for most people, the IRS corrects any miscalculations, so there’s no need for filing an amended return. But these mistakes can mean the difference between you thinking you’re getting a refund and the reality that you actually owe taxes, so be sure to check your calculations carefully.

One way to help you avoid math errors is to file electronically so the calculations are done for you. Bye-bye, No. 2 pencil! So long, calculator!

3. You Didn’t Account for All Your Income

Did you have a side hustle early last year? A freelance design gig for a friend’s business? If so, you’re going to need to account for it, regardless of whether you received a W-2 or 1099 from whomever paid you. That’s because, while there’s an IRS threshold for filing these documents by employers, there’s no similar threshold for claiming the income. Income is income is income. If you made money and don’t report it — and the IRS catches it — it’s going to cost you penalties and interest at best, and open you to a possible audit at worst.

4. You Forgot Deductions or Tax Credit

It’s easy to forget these things when you’re in a hurry, but they can end up saving you some serious money and are well worth the extra time to figure out if you qualify. So if you’re just claiming the standard deductions because you’re under the gun, you might want to take a deep breath and check out TurboTax’s list of 10 commonly overlooked tax deductions that can keep you from overpaying the tax man.

5. You Filed for an Extension but Didn’t Understand the Rules

Filing for an extension is a great idea if you’re down to the wire and don’t really understand your tax situation. But remember that an extension gives you an extra six months to file your paperwork, but not an extra six months to pay any taxes due. So, if you’re confused, tax pros recommend doing a quick calculation of your taxes, filing for your extension and making any required payment of taxes you think you owe. This will help you avoid penalties and interest once you get your final calculations together.

6. You Didn’t Bother to Request an Extension

You gave up. You shoved, slammed and jammed your return through and now it’s full of mistakes that are going to cost you money by way of penalties or because you’ve left money on the table. It’s a much better idea to file the extension, then get the help you need from a tax professional to ensure you’re not overpaying your taxes.

Whatever you do, make sure you file your taxes. Unpaid taxes can have serious consequences on your personal finances, including your credit scores if they go unpaid long enough. You can see how any outstanding taxes you might have are affecting your credit by getting your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, here at Credit.com.

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Can I Pay My Taxes With a Credit Card?

Tax season is upon us, and many people are discovering they owe money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (Still haven’t filed? You may want to read these 50 things to know if you haven’t done your taxes yet.)

This year, you have until April 18 to figure out how to pay taxes — April 15 falls on a Saturday, so taxes aren’t officially due until the following Tuesday. While there really isn’t a way to lower your tax bill at this point, although proper planning could lower it for next year, you may be wondering if you charge the bill to your credit card.

The short answer is yes, you can pay your taxes with a credit card. In fact, doing so may actually benefit you, if you’re using a rewards card. But there’s a lot to consider before doing you go this route.

Should You Use a Credit Card to Pay Your Taxes?

The answer here is maybe. If you have the means to pay your taxes in cash but are looking to earn some rewards, then a big tax bill is certainly a good opportunity to do that (assuming you pay the card off in full and don’t lose rewards to interest fees — more on that in a bit). But if you’re considering using your credit card to pay your taxes simply because you can’t afford them right now, the more prudent financial decision is very likely to talk to the IRS about a payment plan. Whatever you do, don’t avoid paying your taxes. It can have lasting ramifications for your finances, including your credit. You can see how your financial choices are affecting your credit by taking a look at your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Remember: There Are Fees

The IRS is contracted with three different companies to collect payments. These companies impose convenience fees that range from 1.87% to 2%. (You can read more about how to pay your taxes with a credit card here.) In order to profit by paying your taxes with a credit card, you have to earn more than the fees they are charging you.

There are a lot of rewards cards out there that offer 1.5% to 2% cash back on purchases.  But if you’re paying 1.87% and earning 2% you aren’t profiting much (on a $5,000 tax bill, you earn $6.50).

Paying With an Existing Card

If you don’t want a new card, or think you won’t qualify for a rewards card, it can still be advantageous to use your existing card can have advantages over paying your taxes through your bank account, even if it doesn’t have cash back. Credit cards give you a grace period from when you charge, to when you have to pay. Let’s suppose your card cycles on the eleventh of the month, so you pay your taxes on April 12. The next cycle ends on May 11 and your payment is due on June 11. That’s two extra months to hang onto your money and not incur any interest.

Considering a New Card Instead?

There are a lot of options out there, so you’ll want to think about which one would be most financially beneficial. Here’s an example: The Chase Sapphire Preferred card (read our review here) offers a 50,000 point signup bonus if you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

So, let’s suppose you have a $5,000 tax bill. After factoring in the fee, you spent $5,093.50, and you have 55,093 points available. If you cash out your points, you earn $550.93, a profit of $457.43. Not bad for a bill you were required to pay anyway. (It’s worth noting that this particular card does have a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the first year.)

If you plan to travel, then your rewards could be redeemed for a bit more. When you use your Chase rewards points to book airfare, hotels, car rentals or a handful of other travel expenses, you get a 25% bonus. So that $550.93 actually turns into $688.66 toward travel expenses booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. In other words, you’ve just paid for a plane ticket to just about anywhere in the U.S. (Have a Chase rewards card? Check out these three hacks for using the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.)

Can’t Pay the Card Off Right Away?

Now, if you can’t afford to pay off the balance of your tax bill right away, the above is moot. Here’s why: There’s no introductory 0% APR on balance transfers or new purchases with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, or many cards like it, so unless you can pay it off right away, you’re going to incur interest on that balance. This particular Chase card comes with a variable APR of 16.49% to 23.49% based on your creditworthiness, which would quickly offset any rewards you may earn.

If you can’t afford to pay your taxes right away, but you’re set on using your tax bill to net some nice rewards, there are some cards that offer a 0% APR on new purchases that can also give you some nice rewards, like the Discover it card.

The Discover it card (read our review here) comes with an introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months. After the introductory period is over the APR will change to a variable 11.49% to 23.49%. When you use the Discover it card to pay your taxes, you will receive 1% cash back. Additionally, Discover will match all cash back earned for the first 12 months. That means, sticking with the $5,000 tax bill, the overall cost would be $5,093.50. Including the cash back match, you would earn $100 in cash back, making your overall profit $6.50. While this isn’t a lot of money, you were also given up to 14 months to pay off your bill without accruing interest, which may be an even bigger reward for some people.

At publishing time, the Discover it card is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

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These Are the Areas Where It Costs the Most to Retire

How much will you need to retire? $500,000? $1 million? $2 million? There’s no easy answer. Some people won’t be able to enjoy their dream retirement without millions of dollars in the bank. Others will try to get by with $100,000. It depends on your lifestyle.

It also depends on where you live, according to data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute. Many retirement-savings recommendations are based on national benchmarks, noted the authors of the report on geographic variations in spending in older households. But because there can be huge differences in how much people in different parts of the country have to pay for housing, health care and other necessities, it’s probably more useful for those who are planning for retirement to consider how much people in their region spend.

Nationwide, the average household with people between the ages of 65 and 74 spent $45,633 per year, including nearly $21,000 on housing costs, $4,300 annually on health care and $4,700 on food. (Data on spending came from the University of Michigan’s long-running Health and Retirement Study.) As people age, overall expenses decline and a greater share of the typical household’s budget goes to housing and health care, while spending on travel and entertainment falls. (The survey didn’t include people who were living in nursing homes or other care facilities.)

But when the Employee Benefits Research Institute’s authors broke down the data by Census division, they found big differences, with retirees in the most expensive regions spending $15,000 per year or more than those in cheaper states.

Where is it cheapest to retire? Let’s take a quick look to find out how much the average retiree spends in your part of the country.

Average spending is for households with residents ages 65 to 74, unless otherwise noted.

9. West South Central

Average spending: $28,540

Younger retirees in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana spent less than retirees in any other part of the U.S. At $11,742 per year on average, their housing costs are lower than anywhere else in the country. (Go here to see how much house you can afford.) They also spent less on health care. But unlike most regions of the country, where retiree spending falls over time, people in the West South Central region spend more as they get older. By the time people are between the ages of 75 and 84, they’re spending $33,257 per year, in part because of a jump in health care spending to $2,600 per year.

8. East South Central

Average spending: $29,140

Retirees in the East South Central region (which includes Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) have the second-lowest spending in the country. They also have the biggest difference in spending between pre-retirees (those ages 50 to 64) and people ages 64 to 74, with annual expenditures falling from $42,261 annually to a little less than $30,000. Downsizing might be the main reason. The older survey respondents spent nearly $7,400 less per year on housing than those in the 50-to-64 age group.

A low cost of living is another reason this region is also home to four of the 10 best cities for people who hope to retire early.

7. East North Central

Average spending: $35,201

People in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio had the lowest average spending outside of the South. That’s good news for people retiring in that region, but it comes with a caveat. Average spending in this region didn’t decrease as dramatically with age as it did in some parts of the country. By the time people reached age 85, they were still spending $31,059 per year on average, more than any other region except New England.

6. Middle Atlantic

Average spending: $38,125

Retirees in the mid-Atlantic states of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey spend an average of $38,125 every year, only slightly less than those in the 50-to-64 age group. Their average expenses included $13,440 on housing and $1,940 on health care. (You can determine your housing budget here.)

5. Pacific

Average spending: $38,464

Retirees in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii and Alaska spent about $38,000 per year on average, including $2,360 on health care and $18,300 on housing. Their housing costs were the second-highest in the country after New England, which may not be surprising considering this region is home to eight of the 10 least affordable cities in the United States.

4. Mountain

Average spending: $39,411

Living isn’t cheap for retirees in the vast Mountain region, which includes Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. But things get better as you age. People in these states spend about $10,000 less per year between ages 75 and 84 than they do in the first decade of retirement.

If you end up retiring in the Mountain region, you’ll have lots of company. States such as Arizona, with its sunny skies and relatively low taxes, are perennially popular with retirees.

3. West North Central

Average spending: $42,240

Stereotypically frugal Midwesterners actually had the third-highest spending in the U.S. People in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri spent more than $42,000 per year on average from ages 65 to 74. About $20,000 went to housing and health care, with $22,000 left over for expenses, including food, transportation, travel, entertainment and dining out.

One reason retirees in this region can spend big? Some are quite wealthy. Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa are all in the top 25 states in the number of millionaires per capita, according to a study by Phoenix Marketing International.

2. South Atlantic

Average spending: $44,350

Retirees in the sprawling South Atlantic region, which stretches from Delaware to Florida, have some of the highest spending in the U.S. People living in Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida spend $44,350 per year, on average, including $16,980 on housing and $3,000 on health care.

1. New England

Average spending: $46,019

New England retirees are the biggest spenders in the U.S., with annual expenditures of a little more than $46,000 per year. People in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut have the highest housing costs in the country, at $19,507 annually — almost twice as much as those in the cheapest states — though costs fall significantly as people age. Health care spending among 65- to 74-year-olds is also higher than anywhere else, at nearly $6,000 per year, almost twice as much as what retirees in other parts of the country pay.

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

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