Overlooked taxes, money-saving tips

STAYING AHEAD

April 05, 1992|By JANE BRYANT QUINN | JANE BRYANT QUINN,Washington Post Writers Group

New York -- Coming down to the wire on income tax day, here are some taxes -- and some money savers -- often overlooked:

* Did you look for a job this year? If you itemize deductions on your tax return, rather than take the standard deduction, you may be able to write off job-hunting expenses. Deductible items include phone calls, travel, employment agency fees and the cost of preparing a resume.

These expenses fall into the general category of "miscellaneous deductions." Such deductions can be written off to the extent that, as a group, they exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

But you have to be seeking a new job in your present line of work. The IRS doesn't subsidize changes in career. What's a "change of career" for a middle manager pounding the streets? "There's no clear line," says IRS spokesman Henry Holmes. If you take the deduction, he advises that you be ready to show how the characteristics of your new job resemble

your old one.

* Is some of your income from Treasury securities? That's always exempt from state and local taxes. More than two-thirds of the states also exempt dividends from mutual funds that invest in Treasuries.

* Do you own shares in a mutual fund that invests in foreign securities? The year-end statement will show any foreign taxes withheld on your interest and dividends. That entitles you to take either the foreign-tax credit or an itemized deduction on your U.S. return. The tax credit is worth more, but trying to figure it is an exercise in anguish. Consider the deduction instead.

* Did you refinance your mortgage and pay points up front? You cannot deduct them all at once. On refinancings, points are deductible over the life of the loan. For example, if you took a 15-year mortgage, one-fifteenth of the points can be written off each year.

* Are you self-employed with no pension savings? You can start an Individual Retirement Account as late as April 15 and still contribute, and deduct, up to $2,000 on your 1991 tax return. If you have spare money, an even better deal is a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP). Here, you can contribute -- and deduct -- up to $30,000 or up to 13.04 percent of your self-employment earnings, whichever is less.

The contribution reduces your 1991 taxes, as long as you make it by the due date of your tax return (as late as Aug. 15 if you file for an extension). Any bank or mutual fund has the papers you need to start an instant SEP.

The self-employed also may contribute to a Keogh plan, but only if it was established before Dec. 31. SEPs are easier to administer than Keoghs, however. They also make sense as retirement plans for small businesses.

* Do you have a tax refund coming? Wait for it rather than taking the "instant refund" offered by some tax preparers and banks. The instant refund is actually a loan. To get it, you have to file your tax return electronically and then take a loan that equals the refund. The whole thing might cost anywhere from $40 to $100. By contrast, if you file by mail and wait a few weeks, the price of your refund will be a 29-cent stamp.

* Are you short of money to pay your taxes? File a tax return anyway and pay what you can. Enclose an explanation saying why you're broke. When the IRS starts the collection process, you may be able to work out installment payments. If that fails, however, the IRS could garnishee your wages and seize your assets.

Meanwhile penalties are building up. Starting April 1, interest on the unpaid tax will be charged at the annual rate of 8 percent, compounded daily. On top of that, you owe an extra one-half of 1 percent of the missing tax each month, up to a maximum of 25 percent. This penalty can double to 1 percent monthly if you ignore the IRS' efforts to collect.

Worst of all is not to file a tax return at all. Then the dollar amount of your penalty rises to a huge 5 percent a month, up to 25 percent of the taxes owed. Better to file and try to negotiate installment payments.

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