State Sales Taxes
Although all taxpayers have a shot at this write-off, it makes sense primarily for those who live in states that do not impose an income tax. You must choose between deducting state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes. For most citizens of income-tax states, the income tax is a bigger burden than the sales tax, so the income-tax deduction is a better deal.
The IRS has tables that show how much residents of various states can deduct, based on their income and state and local sales tax rates. But the tables aren’t the last word. If you purchased a vehicle, boat or airplane, you get to add the sales tax you paid to the amount shown in the IRS table for your state.
The same goes for any homebuilding materials you purchased. These add-on items are easy to overlook, but big-ticket items could make the sales-tax deduction a better deal even if you live in a state with an income tax. The IRS has a calculator on its Web site to help you figure the deduction.
This isn’t really a tax deduction, but it is an important subtraction that can save you a bundle. And this is the break former IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg told Kiplinger’s that a lot of taxpayers miss.
If, like most investors, you have mutual-fund dividends automatically invested in extra shares, remember that each reinvestment increases your “tax basis” in the fund. That, in turn, reduces the taxable capital gain(or increases the tax-saving loss) when you redeem shares.
Forgetting to include the reinvested dividends in your basis results in double taxation of the dividends — once when they are paid out and immediately reinvested in more shares and later when they’re included in the proceeds of the sale. Don’t make that costly mistake. If you’re not sure what your basis is, ask the fund for help.
Out-of-Pocket Charitable Deductions
It’s hard to overlook the big charitable gifts you made during the year, by check or payroll deduction (check your December pay stub).
But the little things add up, too, and you can write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity. For example, ingredients for casseroles you prepare for a nonprofit organization’s soup kitchen and stamps you buy for your school’s fundraising mailing count as a charitable contribution. Keep your receipts and if your contribution totals more than $250, you’ll need an acknowledgement from the charity documenting the services you provided.
If you drove your car for charity in 2011, remember to deduct 14 cents per mile plus parking and tolls paid in your philanthropic journeys.