For most taxpayers, there's more good news ahead. On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law -- an economic stimulus bill that gives tax breaks to a large portion of Americans of all ages and income levels, as well as to businesses. Many of those breaks continue into 2010. In late 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed a tax relief act that added additional breaks and extended them into 2011 and beyond.
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Many taxpayers will get more money in their pockets in 2010
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: According to White House estimates, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gives a direct tax break to 95 percent of workers and their families. It includes tax breaks that provide a financial boost to everyone from the unemployed, to families with children and children in college, to first-time homebuyers. Here are some of the benefits that continue into 2010:
Who benefits, and how
Making Work Pay Credit: Workers and the self-employed get another payroll tax credit for 2010 of up to $400 for single taxpayers, and up to $800 for couples filing jointly.
For single tax filers, the credit begins phasing out at an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $75,000. For married couples filing jointly, the phaseout zone starts at $150,000 of AGI. (Adjusted Gross Income is your total income from wages and other income minus certain adjustments, such as deductible IRA contributions and alimony paid.)
To learn more, read Making Work Pay Credit Increases Take Home Pay
Lowered cost for COBRA health insurance: Workers who were involuntarily terminated from their employment between September 1, 2008 and May 31, 2010, may be eligible for a 65-percent subsidy of their COBRA premiums for a period of up to 15 months. This is a valuable benefit for workers who lose their health insurance when they lose their jobs. This government subsidy should help more unemployed people afford to keep their health insurance.
To learn more, read Health Insurance Assistance for The Unemployed.
First-time Homebuyer's Credit: If you signed a contract to buy your first house before May 1, 2010, and closed on it before October 1, 2010, you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $8,000.
For more details, see How the First-Time Homebuyer Credit Works.
Expanded Hope Credit: The Hope Credit for college costs was increased to $2,500 for 2009 and 2010 and renamed the American Opportunity Credit. It covers 100 percent of the first $2,000 of tuition and related expenses per year and 25 percent of the next $2,000. In late 2010, Congress extended the credit through the end of 2012.
The credit is available for the first four years of college, up from only two years, and also covers the cost of books. It is 40 percent refundable, meaning the government could send you up to $1,000 even if you don’t owe that much in taxes. The credit begins to phase out at $80,000 of AGI for single filers and $160,000 of AGI for married couples.
The bill also allows tax-free distributions from Section 529 College Savings Plans to cover computer purchases.
To learn more, read Bigger, Better College Tax Credit.
Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): More couples who file jointly and have children will qualify for the Earned Income Credit.
The tax package starts the phaseout range at $21,420. In 2009, the credit was increased for families with three or more children to 45 percent of the first $12,570 of earned income, up from 40 percent.
To learn more, read A Stimulus Boost for Some Earned Income Tax Filers.
Enhanced Child Tax Credit: The Child Tax Credit will now cover more low-income earners: For 2010, the credit is refundable to the extent of 15 percent of an individual’s earned income in excess of $3,000.
Expanded Homebuyer's Credit: First time buyers who did not own a principal residence in the three years before the purchase are eligible for a credit of 10% of the home’s purchase price to a maximum of $8,000. If you owned your own home and lived in it for at least five of the last eight years you may qualify for a 10% credit of up to $6,500. To be eligible for the credit you must have signed the contract before May 1, 2010, and closed on the purchase before October 1, 2010.
To learn more, see Taking the 2009 First-Time Homebuyer's Credit.
For even more details, see How the First-Time Homebuyer Credit Works.
Extended energy-saving credits: The tax credit for energy-saving home improvements remains at 30 percent and was extended through the end of 2010. In late 2010, Congress extended the credit through the end of 2011. Improvements that qualify for the credit include energy-efficient insulation, windows and outer doors, along with energy-saving water heaters, central air conditioners and biomass stoves.
The bill also eliminates individual credit caps for the different types of property, and instead imposes a $1,500 cap on all qualifying property.
For more information, read Conserve Energy, Save Money with Larger Credits.
Two-year "patch" on the Alternative Minimum Tax: To keep millions of middle-income taxpayers from being forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), Congress in late 2010 passed a measure that increases the minimum tax exemptions to $72,450 for couples filing jointly and $47,750 for single filers in 2010 and $74,450 for couples filing jointly and $48,450 for single filers in 2011. Otherwise, the exemptions would have topped out at just $45,000 for couples and $33,750 for singles.
In late 2010 Congress increased the special 50 percent, first-year bonus depreciation to 100 percent for for assets bought and placed in service after September 8, 2010 through the end of 2011. The 50 percent bonus depreciation is available for property placed in service in 2012.