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More important changes for tax returns

Updated rebates and codes for 2008 filings

Posted: January 15, 2009 9:36 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Editor's note: Third of four parts on new tax laws. Taxpayers and tax preparers will find significant changes when they fill out 2008 tax returns. Some of the changes are outlined below. For other parts of the series, visit www.the-signal.com

Home-buyer credit
Those who bought a main home recently or are considering buying one may qualify for the first-time home-buyer credit. Normally, a taxpayer qualifies if she didn't own a main home during the prior three years. This unique credit of up to $7,500 works much like a 15-year interest-free loan. It is available for a limited time only -- on homes bought from April 9, 2008, to June 30, 2009. It can be claimed on new Form 5405 and is repaid each year as an additional tax. Income limits and other special rules apply. News Release 2008-106 has more details and answers to common questions.

Tax relief for disasters
Special tax relief related to severe storms, tornadoes or flooding, occurring after May 19, 2008, and before Aug. 1, 2008, is available to individuals in portions of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin that were affected by these disasters. Tax benefits include:
 
n Liberalized rules for certain personal casualty losses and charitable contributions.
n An additional exemption amount for persons who provided housing for someone displaced by these disasters.
n The option to use 2007 earned income to figure a 2008 earned income tax credit (EITC) and additional child tax credit.
n An increased charitable standard mileage rate for use of personal vehicle for volunteer work related to these disasters.
n Special rules for withdrawals and loans from IRAs and other qualified retirement plans.
Details on these and other relief provisions are in Publication 4492-B.

Contribution limits
This filing season, more people can make tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. The deduction is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $53,000 and $63,000, compared to $52,000 and $62,000 last year.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $85,000 to $105,000, up from $83,000 to $103,000 last year.

Where an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple's income is between $159,000 and $169,000, up from $156,000 and $166,000 in 2007.

The phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000 for a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a retirement plan at work.

The worksheet in the instructions for Form 1040 Line 32 or Form 1040A Line 17 can help a filer figure the IRA deduction.

For 2008, the elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans remains unchanged at $15,500. This limit rises to $16,500 in 2009. The catch-up contribution limit for those aged 50 to 70-½ remains at $5,000 in 2008 but rises to $5,500 in 2009.

The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers who contribute to a Roth IRA is $159,000 to $169,000 for joint filers and qualifying widows and widowers, compared to $156,000 to $166,000 in 2007. For singles and heads of household, the comparable phase-out range is $101,000 to $116,000, compared to $99,000 to $114,000 in 2007.

Standard Mileage Rates
The standard mileage rate for business use of a car, van, pick-up or panel truck is 50.5 cents per mile from Jan. 1, 2008, to June 30, 2008, up 2 cents from 2007. The rate is 58.5 cents for each mile driven during the rest of 2008.

From Jan. 1, 2008, to June 30, 2008, the standard mileage rate for the cost of operating a vehicle for medical reasons or as part of a deductible move is 19 cents per mile, down a penny from 2007. The rate is 27 cents from July 1 to Dec. 31.

The standard mileage rate for using a car to provide services to charitable organizations is set by law and remains at 14 cents a mile. As noted earlier, special rates apply to the Midwest disaster area.

(More information about these and other changes can be found on IRS.gov and in various IRS documents, including the Instructions for Form 1040.)

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