Tuesday, February 18, 2014

10 Tax Write-Offs You Aren't Using To your Advantage

You already know that you’re legally obligated to pay your taxes, but that doesn’t mean you should pay more than you owe.
Each year, American taxpayers leave money on the table by missing some key deductions. Run through these commonly overlooked write-offs to see if there are any you should be taking. It might just mean more money in your pocket this year.

1. Education

When it comes to education, you may be able to deduct up to $4,000 for tuition-related expenses for you, your spouse or a dependent. You also may be able to deduct up to $2,500 in interest paid on a student loan in 2013.
In addition to these deductions (which lower your overall taxable income), there are also two relevant credits that could save you thousands: the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit. IRS Pub 970 covers all the details.

2. The Job Hunt

If you were looking for a job in 2013, you may be able to deduct your job-search expenses — and that’s true whether or not you actually found a new job. Expenses can include employment agency fees, costs for printing and mailing resumes, advertising, and travel expenses for interviews.
But the caveats include:
  • Your job search must be for a position in the same line of work
  • You can’t deduct expenses if it’s your first job
  • These expenses are part of your “miscellaneous deductions,” which need to exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income to qualify
Refer to IRS Pub 529 for more details on all of this.

3. Home Ownership

If you bought or owned a home in 2013, you’re probably already aware that you can include your mortgage interest in your itemized deductions. But there are other tax deductions related to home ownership that can add up as well.
You can deduct what you pay in property taxes, interest paid on a home equity loan, any points you paid when you bought your home, premiums paid for Private Mortgage Insurance, and potentially any home improvements made for medical care.

4. Health Costs

Did you have a lot of medical and dental expenses last year? If your medical expenses exceeded 10% of your adjusted gross income for 2013, you can claim a deduction with your itemized deductions. Potential deductible expenses include preventative care, surgeries, doctor’s visits, fertility treatments, psychologist and psychiatrist visits, prescription medication, glasses, contact lenses and even the cost of travel for medical care.
Generally speaking, you cannot deduct non-prescription drugs, your health club dues or anything that was reimbursed by insurance. You also cannot include your health insurance premiums (although self-employed people can deduct their health insurance costs separately). IRS Publication 502 gives the details on itemizing medical expenses.

5. Charitable Donations

If you’re itemizing your deductions on Schedule A, any charitable donations can help lower your tax bill. This includes any cash donations you made throughout 2013 — don’t forget any text message donations (note: Your cell phone bill is a sufficient record as long as it shows who you sent money to, when and for how much).
If you cleaned out your closet and donated items (clothes, furniture, etc.) to Goodwill or another charity, you can deduct the value of these items. Get a receipt in case you’re audited. In addition, if you volunteer for a qualified organization, you can’t deduct the value of your time, but you can deduct travel expenses for getting there (14 cents per mile). Refer to IRS Pub 526 for more details on what can and can’t be deducted.

6. Moving for Your Job

If you landed a new job and moved in 2013, congratulations — your moving expenses may be deductible. And the good news is that you can take this write-off even if you don’t itemize your deductions. Check out IRS Pub 521 to see if you qualify.
In general, your new job location must be at least 50 miles away from your home (or 50 miles farther from your old home than your previous job was from your old home).

7. Energy Efficiency Upgrades

If you made your home more energy efficient last year, you may qualify for a tax credit. For example, you may be able to claim a credit of 10% of the cost for qualified energy efficient insulation, windows, doors and roof for your home, as well as 30% of the cost for installing alternative energy equipment in your home (such as solar hot water heaters or wind turbines).
These credits are both claimed on IRS Form 5695. In addition, for 2013, the purchase of plug-in hybrid-electric and electric vehicles may qualify for a tax credit.

8. Self-Employment Expenses

If you’re self-employed (whether it’s your full-time job or a part-time gig), you’ve got a grab bag of deductions to pull from. You can deduct expenses from your home office (including pro-rated rent/mortgage, energy bill and insurance for that part of the house).
Don’t forget whichever conferences you attended in 2013, or the books, subscriptions, technology and office supplies you purchased to keep your business going. In addition, you can deduct your health insurance, as well as 50% of your self-employment tax. Visit the IRS’ self-employed tax center to learn more.

9. Children

If you welcomed a new baby in 2013, you are eligible for new tax deductions -– including another exemption (which represents a $3,900 deduction for 2013). Parents that meet certain income requirements can qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as the Child Tax Credit. You may also be able to claim the Child Care Tax Credit for qualified child care costs for any care provided so you could work or look for work.

10. Parents as Dependents

Most people know to claim children as dependents, but fewer are aware that if they cared for an elderly parent, that parent may qualify as a dependent. The same applies to other relatives such as uncles, aunts, grandparents, nieces, nephews, etc. (note that certain relatives do not have to live with you to be considered a dependent).
To claim a dependent on your tax return, you have to meet certain criteria, including that the dependent’s income can’t exceed $3,900 for 2013 and you need to have provided at least half the support for that person. Check out IRS Pub 501 for more details.
Keep in mind that this is all general information to put these valuable deductions on your radar. You’ll still need to research the relevant IRS documents or check with your tax advisor to make sure you qualify for a particular credit or deduction.
Nellie Akalp is the CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service

Monday, February 10, 2014

Door Colors Gone Wild

Raucous Orange, Quixotic Plum, and Relic Bronze are some of the bold colors that color-trend forecaster Kate Smith predicts will be most popular on residential door exteriors in 2014.
Smith, president of Sensational Color, sees two trends influencing these colors. “People [are] painting their doors with exuberant hues as a way of telling the world they’re tired of spinning their wheels in place,” she says. “These people are ready to move forward, embrace challenges and show their energy through vibrant colors like Capri blue and Dynamo raspberry.”
Second, some people are looking for colors that are vibrant yet at the same time connect them to a sense of community and culture. “These simpler colors, like Classic French Grey and Polished Mahogany, give us comfort, warmth and reliability.”
Among the top 10 door colors Smith has identified for 2014, the top five that match up with the “exuberant homeowner” trend include:
·      Capri, a tropical blue that wakes up natural woods and neutral surroundings.
·      Raucous Orange, which demands attention with its energetic orange tone and makes the perfect punctuation point for the front of the home with a modern look.
·      Dynamo, a flirty violet hue that instantly updates a traditional color scheme.
·      Relic Bronze, a deep, almost brown mustard color that reflects a home’s aged beauty.
·      Quixotic Plum, a sophisticated deep purple that is both timeless and trendy.
The remaining five door colors follow the “community and culture” trend:
·      Georgian Bay, a step-above reserved blue that’s brighter and more moving than dark navy.
·      Show Stopper, a slight spin on traditional red that adds a touch of mystery.
·      Polished Mahogany, a deep, rich shade of brown with a staying power that traverses trends and captures a solid feeling.
·      Classic French Grey, a cool, neutral gray that Smith says will continue to rule the palette in 2014. 
·      Gulfstream, a bright, modern blue with an of-the-moment appeal that at the same time feels rooted in something familiar and nostalgic.
Click here to download a free copy of Smith’s e-book offering color guidance for Ranch, Colonial, Bungalow, Victorian, Spanish Mission, European and New American-style homes. 

Susan Bady -Senior Contributing Editor.  Professional Builder

Monday, February 3, 2014

Design Bloggers Predict What Trends Will Be Hot in 2014

Design Bloggers Predict What Trends Will Be Hot in 2014

Top design bloggers share their picks for the New Year.

By Sarah Bray

Interchangeable Accents
"I think we'll see a trend towards chameleon decor. Instead of settling on one fixed look, people will opt for a versatile neutral base and use big-impact accents to easily change their decor." — Arianna Vargas, ariannabelle.com
Ushering in Glamour
"Move over white walls, in 2014 we'll be seeing rooms with a lot more drama and glamour. Dark, moody walls in black will be the perfect backdrop to the metallic accessories that we're all loving right now." — Jeanine Hays, aphrochic.com
Vintage Wonders
"Thanks to social media, the lifespan of a trend has been cut in half. We're all a little overexposed. I think vintage and one-of-a-kind pieces will be highly sought after. It's the curiosities that make a house a home and keep your guests asking: "Where did you get that?" — Lindsay Souza, thepursuitofstyle.com

Say Bye to Beige

"Of course I hopefully predict that color will be the trend story every year in hopes of banishing the boring beige box, but this year it really could happen!" — Christian May, maison21.com
Blossoming Prints
"Florals and Chintz: These tried-and-true fabrics are popping up everywhere in fashion and decor. Mix them with other graphic patterns for a modern look." — Stacey Bewkes, quintessenceblog.com
Metal Mash-Up
"Mixing and matching metallics, such as silver and gold." — Devon Dyer, devonrachel.com
A Need for Navy
"Navy blue will be a big trend for 2014. I'm seeing a lot of the shade on the runways, on the streets, in editorials, in chic interiors... I actually think everyone will get it in 2014." — Mark D. Sikes, markdsikes.com

Timeless Design

"A return to tradition. After the long-standing trend of modern and eclectic decor, more people will want to feel comfortable and at ease by returning to traditional styles." — Erin Gates, elementsofstyleblog.com

Innovative Combinations

"Lots and lots of layering: both materials and textures. We love the look of mixing different metals, woods, and fabrics!" — Jennifer Beek and Georgie Hambright, jandgdesign.com
A Bevy of Blues
"From rich, saturated colors like navy and indigo to bright, vibrant shades like peacock blue and cobalt, blue will continue to reign supreme in the coming year." — Paloma Contreras, ladolcevitablog.com

A Softer Black and White

"Black and white is a classic home decor palette, but for 2014 I see it softening and feeling more cozy. In the cooler months think Scandinavian chic, while in the summer months think French striped shirts." — Joanna Hawley, jojotastic.com