How The American Recovery And Reinvesment Act Of 2009 Can Help You

Money Money

Last week President Obama signed into law the American Recovery And Reinvestment Bill, otherwise known as the 2009 Economic Stimulus. A big question in the minds of the average American is How can it help me?!?

Here are some ways the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 can help you:

  • Unemployment – In 2009 you will not have to pay pay taxes on the first $2400 in benefits you receive.
  • Social Security – Some social security recipients will receive a $250 refundable tax credit mailed to them within 120 days of the bill’s signing.
  • Pell Grant – The maximum benefit for Pell Grants will rise to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.
  • More Liberal 529 Plan – In 2009 and 2010 students can withdraw money or computers and related technology such as educational software or internet service for students living at home.
  • Transportation Accounts – Your employers are able to increase transportation spending accounts up to $230 a month.  This is money you can have set aside from your paycheck tax free. (Check with your employer to see if they participate and raised their limits.)
  • New Car Buyer Tax Deduction – In 2009 you, if you purchase a new car you can deduct the state, local, and excise taxes off of your federal return.
  • Higher Tax Credit For Education – A credit of up to $2500 of college tuition and related expenses in 2009 and 2010.  You need to spend at least $4000 in the year for the credit and 40% is refundable (which means you can qualify for 40% if you don’t have taxable income).
  • First Time Home Buyer Credit - A first-time home buyer credit of 10% of the purchase price of the home up to $8,000 for homes bought in 2009.
  • Health Insurance Help for Laid Off Workers – If you were laid off between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 the government will subsidize 65% of your COBRA premiums.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going to be expensive for the country but at least people get to see some of it.

What do you think?  Is it enough for the average person?

Source: NY Times

Creative Commons License photo credit: pfala

9 Year End Tax Savings Tips

It’s December and the year will be ending before you know it. Don’t fret, there’s still time to take advantage of some tax saving tips to make your tax burden next April a little less.

Here are 9 year end tax savings tips:

Max Your 401(k)

If you can afford to take the paycheck hit now you can up the percentage of your 401(k) contribution.  Your contributions are tax-free and will lower your taxable salary.

Open or Contribute to a Traditional IRA

For some a traditional IRA may be a better option than a Roth IRA.  With a traditional IRA you get to deduct your contributions from your taxable income.  Have have until April 15th to contribute.

Sell Losing Investments

The sold investment losses can be deducted to offset gains or to reduce your taxable income.  The limit is $3000 though.

Donate to Charity

Donations before Dec. 31st can be deducted on next year’s return.  You have to itemize your deductions to claim this.  Bonus benefit: You might be helping some people out!

Prepay Bills

If you prepay some bills such as mortgage payments or medical bills you can write them off on next year’s return.

Second Chance Economic Stimulus Payments

Some who didn’t qualify for economic stimulus checks earlier in the year may qualify this time due to a life change (marriage, birth, change of income…).

Job Search Expenses

If you searched for a new job (in the same industry you’re in now) you can deduct expenses you incurred such as resume preparation, career counseling, travel, and phone calls.

Tax Relief for Foreclosures

Normally if your home was foreclosed or the mortgage was reduced or restructured you would have to pay taxes on the amount reduced.  Recent legislation has made it so you may not have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount.

Use Up Flexible Spending Plans

You contribute to a flexible spending plan to save on taxes.  But if you don’t use up the contribution amount then you lose the ability to claim it back.  Make sure you claim the full amount before the deadline passes (check with your HR department to see when your company’s deadline to claim is).

Most people don’t like to pay taxes.  You still have some time to take advantage to lower your tax burden.

Bonus Tip (because I thought of it after I first published):

Max out a 529 plan for your kids. Many state plans offer tax advantages for contributing! (check the specific plan for details).

These tips are in part courtesy of our friends at Intuit and TurboTax who were kind enough to provide them.

Will The Economic Stimulus Payments Have To Be Paid Back

Will you have to pay the Economic Stimulus back?

Now that many have already received their economic stimulus payments, and have figured out what to do with it, I’m seeing a lot of questions asking “Will the stimulus payment need to be paid back?”

The quick answer is no. According to the IRS the economic stimulus payment is not taxable and will not reduce what you may be owed in a tax refund for 2008 (filed in 2009). In fact it’s possible that you get more back next year, if you didn’t already get the maximum, based on next year’s return. See the amount was based on your 2007 return so if you didn’t qualify for the full amount you may still qualify for the difference based on your 2008 return. Don’t worry if you received the full amount already. No matter what your 2008 return says you won’t have to pay anything back.

Now the the longer answer – You are going to have to pay back the economic stimulus payment! In some way, shape, or form we will pay that back. The money has to come from somewhere.

Let’s look at the ways in which the gov’t receives income:

  • Taxes (from income and corporate taxes).
  • Loans (in the forms of government backed securities such as bonds, bills, and notes).
  • Printing more money in the treasury.

Which do you think the money will come from? Printing money sounds like an easy way to find the dough but it’s not a policy the US uses due to the fact that more money creates inflation (Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon – thank you Milton Friedman). And who wants even higher prices?!? We can issue more loans. Did you know that in 2006 we paid $406 Billion in interest payments on loans made to cover the national debt? Where does that money come from? See above. So that leaves us with taxes.

Yes, I believe we will be paying back the economic stimulus payments in the form of taxes. It may not be as one lump sum like we received it but it will be paid out. It’s just lumped together with the rest of the national debt.

Could this be avoided? Maybe. But only if the national debt, which is over $9 Trillion, is reduced to zero in our lifetimes. This would mean that government would have to cut back it’s size and spending. Most likely many programs that help people would fall victim to the cuts. I’m not saying it’s impossible for this to happen, just improbable. I hope I’m wrong.

Of course another way to look at it is it won’t be us but our kid’s generation that will pay it back. I’m not too sure that’s a positive spin on it though.

So there you have it! Do we have to pay the economic stimulus payments back?

No, but yes.

What do you think?

Update: There has been a lot of confusion over paying the Economic Stimulus Payment back.  Please read Paying Back the Economic Stimulus – Lots of Tax Confusion for more information and clarification!

photo by Refracted Moments

We Went to Our Accountant to Get Our Taxes Done

This past Saturday we bundled everyone up and went off to our accountant to have our taxes done. (Yup, we brought the kids. They’re tax deductions after all).We go to a CPA that was recommended to us a few years back. He’s great to visit. He takes his time to go through our paperwork, asks us questions, and doesn’t rush to get us out of there. In fact we were there for about an hour.It ends up we’re getting back a decent-sized return this year. We have the little guy (our now one-year-old) as a deduction which also includes his daycare. On top of that it seems that when my wife went back to work her tax with-holding was changed. There was too much taxes being taken out of her paycheck. We’ve basically been giving the government a free loan!

One thing we need to do immediately is change the tax with-holding for both my wife and I. Getting back a tax refund is nice but it would suit us better to have the money in our pockets every paycheck rather than every April or so.

An interesting thing our accountant told us is he would like to see us contribute more to our 401(k) and 403(b) plans. I told him we were planning on putting money in our Roth IRA. He said it would be better to take advantage of the tax savings of the 401 and 403 plans. His rationale is that we are probably in our highest tax rate right now but when we retire we’d be in a lower tax rate. The 401 and 403 plans allow us to contribute $15,500 each in 2008 (not that we could afford to do that). One way to look at the tax break is $100 contributed to my 401(k) would only cost me $80 (assuming a 20% tax rate). For $80 I get $100 invested.

If you remember my Roth IRA goal for 2008, my wife and I were going to contribute $4000 each to our Roth IRA’s for ’08 ( a total of $8000). Well now I’m revising that goal. Since my 401(k) plan at work is pretty diverse I’m going to increase the percentage I contribute rather than put the money in my Roth IRA. Since my wife’s 403(b) isn’t as diverse (it’s something like either real stable or high-risk; about two choices) we’ll continue to invest her share in her Roth IRA. We’re also going to make sure both of our tax with-holdings are adjusted.

What are we doing with our tax return you’re asking? We’re getting some work done on our co-op so the refund will help replenish our savings. (We weren’t counting on our tax return for this expense so the return is a nice bonus). Also, if you’ve been reading Free From Broke you know that our garage was upset with us and jumped out and attacked our car recently. The return will help buffer those expenses too.

Are you getting a tax refund? What will you be doing with it?

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