That was the subject line from a reader's e-mail the other day.
She was at wit's end trying to find and decipher information on potential tax breaks.
As truly empathetic as I am to her plight, I must admit that her e-mail not only jumped out at me from all the other missives crowding my e-mail box, it also cracked me up!
Most of us curse. Many of us curse way too much. And few of us need to chew on that bar of soap my mother always threatened.
But the reality of life in the 21st century is that questionable language is here to stay.
An Amazon search of the word “cursing” resulted in 19 books on the subject. "Profanity" netted 18. “Swearing” turned up 55, although some were volumes on swearing someone into an office (which itself might prompt cursing; more on this later.)
Google needed only 0.21 seconds to present me with "about 10,100,000" results for cursing.
Cable television has revised the seven dirty words (be advised: the seven and other explicit ones are in this link) of a generation ago to five or fewer, depending on whether you subscribe to basic or premium channels. Expletively creative writers have even come up with new TV-acceptable terminology; every sci-fi nut clearly knows what frack and frell mean. Heck, non-sci-fi freaks do, too, for that matter.
Parental warnings let you know when you’ll hear offensive language on CDs. Or you can listen to them in full on satellite radio, where you'll also find Howard Stern and his ilk shouting anything they want to the universe.
Even our national leaders sometimes feel cursing is a useful legislative tool. Will we ever let VP Dick Cheney forget his Senate floor outburst? Nah.
Often it's attributable, though
no more excusable, to age, from youngsters wanting to shock authority
figures to seniors who feel they've been around long enough to do what
they damn (or worse) well please.
Expletives are so much a part of our lives that, according to this ABC 20/20 report, as a society we have become desensitized. Ergo, my chuckle at the frustrated reader's self-censored but clearly recognizable epithet.
My reaction also can probably be explained by the context of the implied words. The 20/20 piece notes that the setting in which foul language is used is a major determinant in whether, or how much so, a person finds particular words offensive.
It's no big surprise then, that tax season seems to ramp up the profanity barometer.
So, in an attempt to ensure that my e-mailing reader and the rest of you blog visitors don't have to resort to further bleeping language as you search for tax breaks, Today's Tax Tip looks at some !!%$#@! itemized deduction options.
Schedule A breaks: When most of us hear the word deduction, we think of itemized expenses detailed on Schedule A. This 29-line form does indeed offer many opportunities to whittle down taxable income.
But in some cases, you must meet specific requirements before you get the benefit of the deduction.
This is the case with the first section of Schedule A, medical and dental expenses. Your total costs in this area must come to more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
So if you make $50,000 you have to have medical deductions of more than $3,750 to get any tax use from them. Note the phrase "more than." You can only deduct the amount that's in excess of the percentage threshold, so if you make $50K and have $4,000 in expenses, your allowable deduction amount is only $250 here.
There are some items you can use to reach and surpass the threshold: insurance co-pays, treatments not covered by insurance, some long-term care policy premiums, mileage and some other travel expenses for treatments. Even some home improvements might count here. You can find details in this story.
The next section is for nonfederal taxes you've paid. If you live in a state with an income tax, and most people do, you can count those payments here. For 2005 returns, you also have the option of using sales taxes instead. Don't forget to deduct real estate and personal property taxes, and even foreign taxes you might have paid.
Every homeowner knows about the mortgage interest section of Schedule A. You also might be able to deduct points you paid to get a better loan rate, as well as home equity loan interest. The lesser-used deduction for investment interest also might help some filers. Details on that option can be found here.
Giving to your favorite charity can pay off at tax time if you itemize. There are the usual monetary gifts, as well as clothing and household goods you no longer need; even your old car could be a useful deduction, although the rules on auto donations were tightened this year.
But other ways you help nonprofits could help you, too: gifts of appreciated stock, the miles you put on your own car delivering items to the homebound, even the uniform you wear as a hospital volunteer might add to your tax savings. Find out more in this story.
Damages you suffered in a natural disaster are deductible (to a point). But you don't have to live through a hurricane to claim a loss. The IRS says any loss of or damage to property from a sudden, unforeseen event counts. Find out more here.
Then there are miscellaneous deductions. The first segment of such write-offs on Schedule A is another limited one; you must have expenses that total more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
But there are
lots of things you might be able to count, such as unreimbursed
employee expenses, investment related costs (the fee for the safe
deposit box where you keep your stock certificates), even what you paid
to an accountant or for computer software to do your taxes.
Finally, "other miscellaneous deductions" is where you can write off, sans a percentage threshold, several relatively arcane expenses. One common one, though, that's allowable here is gambling losses.
Just remember: You can only expense your poker, racetrack and lottery losses to the extent that you won money. If you didn't hit any jackpots, all your money that stayed in Vegas with everything else won't do you any deduction good.
Once you tally up all your Schedule A amounts, if they come to more than your standard deduction (on 2005 returns that's $5,000 for singles, $10,000 for married couples filing jointly and $7,300 for heads of households), then claim your itemized deduction amount on your 1040.
And if you don't have enough to itemize, don't despair. In my next blog entry I'll look at some deductions you might be able to take without ever having to look at a Schedule A.