Filing season starts with delays for some taxpayers, extended tax incentives for others

As February gets underway, the 2011 filing season is about to kick into high-gear. The IRS began processing 2010 returns from individuals in January but some taxpayers have to wait until mid-February to file their returns. Additionally, the traditional April 15 filing deadline is extended three more days in 2011, so taxpayers have some extra time to file. All these changes and more may make the start of the filing season challenging. Individuals who are informed about the changes can better navigate their return preparation.

Filing delays
In December 2010, Congress passed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act). The new law renewed many individual and business tax incentives that had expired after 2009 for 2010 (and sometimes for 2011 and beyond).

All of these late changes to the Tax Code required the IRS to quickly redesign its forms and reprogram its computer systems. The IRS began processing 2010 returns in January. However, some individuals must wait until February 14, 2011 to file their 2010 returns because of the late legislation. They are:

  • Taxpayers claiming itemized deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A: Itemized deductions include mortgage interest, charitable deductions, medical and dental expenses, as well as state and local taxes. In addition, itemized deductions include the state and local general sales tax deduction, which was extended by the 2010 Tax Relief Act.
  • Taxpayers claiming the higher education tuition deduction. This deduction for parents and students is claimed on Form 8917.
  • Taxpayers claiming the teacher’s classroom expense deduction. This deduction is claimed on Form 1040, Line 23 and Form 1040A, Line 16.

The delays affect individuals who file their 2010 Forms 1040 on paper or electronically. Individuals who electronically file their returns can get a head start because many major software providers will accept these impacted returns immediately. The software providers will hold on to the returns and then electronically submit them after the IRS systems open on February 14, 2011 for the delayed forms.

Some of the late changes to the Tax Code have not resulted in delays. For example, the 2010 Tax Relief Act provides for higher 2010 exemption amounts for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The IRS was able to reprogram its operating systems for this development without any delay for affected taxpayers. Other changes in the 2010 Tax Relief Act do not have any affect on 2010 returns. These include the extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit and creation of a two percent payroll tax cut for 2011. These changes have no effect on 2010 returns.

April 18
Because of a little-known holiday in the District of Columbia, taxpayers get extra days to file their 2010 returns in April. Friday, April 15, 2011, is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. By law, District of Columbia holidays impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do. Therefore, all taxpayers will have three extra days to file this year: 2010 individual returns are due April 18, 2011. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until October 17, 2011 to file their 2010 tax returns.

Form 1040
Form 1040 and its schedules (especially Schedule A for itemized deductions) for 2010 looks very similar to Form 1040 for 2009 but there are some changes. Among the changes are:

Standard deduction. The basic standard deduction amounts for 2010 are $5,700 for single individuals; $11,400 for married couples filing a joint return and surviving spouses; $8,400 for heads of household filers; and $5,700 for married taxpayers filing separate returns.

Taxes paid. Taxpayers can elect to deduct state and local sales taxes paid in 2010 in lieu of deducting state and local income taxes paid in 2010. To calculate their deduction, taxpayers can use either actual expenses or the IRS optional sales tax tables.

Adoption credit. Effective for 2010 (and 2011), the adoption credit is refundable. For 2010, the amount of the adoption credit (and maximum exclusion) is $13,170.

Roth IRAs and designated Roth accounts. For tax years beginning before January 1, 2010, an individual may not convert amounts in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA if his or her modified adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year of distribution exceeds $100,000 (or, if married, do not file jointly). The $100,000 limit and the requirement that a married distributee file a joint return do not apply to distributions made on or after January 1, 2010.

Under a default rule for 2010, half of the taxable amount that results from a rollover or conversion to a Roth IRA from another retirement plan is reported in 2011 and the other half is reported in 2012. An individual may elect to report the entire taxable amount in 2010. The same rule applies to a rollover after September 27, 2010 to a designated Roth account in the same plan. The election may not be revoked after the due date (including extensions) of the individual’s 2010 return.

Casualty losses. For 2010, each personal casualty or theft loss is limited to the excess of the loss over $100 (down from $500 for 2009). This is in addition to the 10 percent of AGI limit that generally applies to the net loss.

Health insurance. The health care reform law enacted in early 2010 provides that the value of any employer-provided health insurance coverage for an employee’s child is excluded from the employee’s income through the end of the tax year in which the child turns age 26. The tax benefit is effective March 30, 2010. Consequently, the exclusion applies to any coverage that is provided to an adult child from that date through the end of the tax year in which the child turns age 26.

Small employer health insurance credit. The health care reform law also created a new tax credit to help small employers provide health insurance to their employees. The credit reaches 35 percent (25 percent for tax-exempt employers) of qualified premium costs. The credit is subject to various limitations, including phase-out based on wages and number of full-time equivalent employees (Line 53).

Self-employed individuals. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 allows the deduction for income tax purposes for the cost of health insurance in calculating net earnings from self-employment for purposes of self-employment taxes. The provision only applies to the self-employed taxpayer’s first tax year beginning after December 31, 2009.

These are just some of the changes that may impact you. Please contact our office for more details.