Thursday, February 21, 2013

two certainties

First, let me say - giving up buying food at lunchtime is much harder than I anticipated. I've already messed up at least three times and it's only been a week! Big bummer. Like any good perfectionist, I was ready to give up and throw in towel for the rest of Lent, but I'm trying to trudge on.

Last night, The Hubs and I had our taxes done. Unfortunately, we have to hold off on filing (or rather, our accountant does, since she has the return) because we're claiming a residential energy credit.
I need to point out to all of you how imperative it is to have a great tax professional, especially if you have exemptions. Obviously, you want someone who knows all the laws, but you should also look for someone who understands your line of work and who can help you max out your benefits. Ours works with a lot of teachers in The Hubs' school district, which is how she came recommended to us, but she's also very knowledgeable about what I should be tracking as well. Even better, she has a great personality. Two years ago, we went to a guy that was very old school and we didn't feel like we were getting what we paid for. Now, I'm happy to hand over a check because I feel like she's working hard for us.
In any case, I'm happy we're getting a modest refund from the Feds (about the same as last year) as well as about $200 from the State. Last year, we owed NJ a few pennies (literally, it was only about $15), so I was super thorough this year about documenting any expenses to avoid that. Here are a few tips our accountant gave us that might help you as well!

Sidenote: Please remember I am *not* a tax professional and only dispensing some handy advice that has worked for our two-income, no-children household. Always, always, always checks with your own financial expert in regards to your taxes.

1. Track any job-related expenses, such as mileage and tolls, which were not reimbursed by your employer. Make sure you have documentation of such expenses (such as a spreadsheet, or even a notebook in your car), in case you're audited. This year, we were also able to include The Hubs' airfare & hotel expenses for the Cross Country trip to Disney, as well as little expenses like supplies for his classroom. I was able to deduct the fees to obtain my Notary Public license, as well as the money spent submitting applications through the Civil Service Commission.

2. Keep all your health care receipts. This includes co-pays, prescriptions, and glasses/eye exams. The Hubs and I are state employees, so our bi-weekly contributions to our health care plans are too small to write off on our taxes. But, we were able to combine all of our other health care expenses as a write off. This includes the miles we traveled to get to and from our doctor's offices! We forgot about this perk in 2012, so we had to give a rough estimate, but I'll be much better in 2013 about tracking our miles. You can get a print out of your yearly prescriptions at most pharmacies (as long as you consistently use the same place) which is so much easier than trying to keep a years worth of receipts. If I forgot to grab a receipt from the doctor's office, I just printed a copy of the check online or printed out a bank statement with the charge highlighted.
3. Donations are your friend. The key is to strike a balance between monetary donations and product donations. In 2011, we had all monetary donations, so our accountant told us we needed to start making trips to Goodwill (or any other like organization, Goodwill is just what we have around here). What you donate to Goodwill is considered a portion of your income.  In 2012, we were able to donate three separate times, which led to a deduction of $1,700! That's definitely not chump change. Unfortunately, our monetary donations took a hit - less than $150 - so that's something we need to increase this coming year. I enrolled in a "Charitable Contribution" payroll deduction through my job this year, which will (hopefully) help even us out.

4. Make sure you're maximizing your pre-tax retirement contributions. Obviously, the more you sock away pre-tax, the lower your taxes will be in the first place. In 2011, I had about $2,000 I was able to write off due to my Deferred Compensation plan. In 2012, though, I dropped my contributions by a lot, and I didn't have anything to write off this year. Boo.

So those are a few things that helped us maximize our refund this year. Are there are tips or tricks you've learned over the years?

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