2009 Year End Tax Tips

As we quickly approach the end of the year, you may want to consider the following information that could impact the amount of income tax you pay for the year 2009.

Home Energy Tax Credits

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) enacted earlier this year expanded to home energy tax credits which are the Non-Business Energy Property Credit and the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.

The Non-Business Energy Property Credit. The Non-Business Energy Property Credit equals 30% of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $1,500.00 for the combined 2009 and 2010 tax years. Certain high efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biofuel along with labor costs for installation of these items all qualify as energy saving improvements and qualify for the credit. In addition, the cost of energy efficient windows and skylights, energy efficient doors, qualifying insulation in certain roofs also qualify for the credit.

By spending as much as $5,000.00 before the end of the year on eligible energy saving improvements, a homeowner can save as much as $1,500.00 on his/her 2009 Federal Income Tax Return. Due to the limits placed on tax liability, other credits claimed by a particular taxpayer and other factors, actual tax savings may vary. These tax savings are on the top of any energy savings that may result.

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit. Homeowners who are interested in "going green" should also check out a second tax credit designed to spur investment in alternative energy equipment. The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit equals 30% of what a homeowner spends on qualifying property such as solar electric systems, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines and fuel cell property. In addition, all labor costs are generally included when calculating this credit. Finally, no cap exists on the amount of credit available except in the case of fuel cell property.

Eligible homeowners can claim both of these credits when they file their 2009 Federal Income Tax Return. Because these are credits, not deductions, they increase a taxpayer's refund or reduce the tax he or she owes. An eligible taxpayer can claim these credits regardless of whether he or she itemizes deductions on Schedule A. Use Form 5695, Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit to figure and claim these credits. A draft version is available now on irs.gov.

First Time Homebuyer Credit

If you are in the market for a new home, you may still be able to claim the First Time Homebuyer Credit. Congress recently passed the worker, home ownership and business assistance act of 2009 extending the First Time Homebuyer Credit and expanding who qualifies.

Here are the top ten things the IRS wants you to know about the expanded credit and the qualifications you must meet in order to qualify for it:

1. You must buy, or enter into a binding contract to buy a principal residence, on or before April 30, 2010.

2. If you enter into a binding contract by April 30, 2010 you must close on the home on or before June 30, 2010.

3. For qualifying purchases in 2010, you will have the option of claiming the credit on either your 2009 or 2010 return.

4. A long time resident of the same home can now qualify for a reduced credit. You can qualify for the credit if you lived in the same principal residence for any 5 consecutive year period during the 8 year period that ended on the date the new home is purchased and the settlement date is after November 6, 2009.

5. The maximum credit for a long time resident is $6,500.00. However, married individuals filing separately are limited to $3,250.00.

6. People with higher incomes can now qualify for the credit. The new law raises the income limits for homes purchased after November 6, 2009. The full credit is available for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes up to $125,000.00, or $225,000.00 for joint filers.

7. The IRS will issue a December, 2009 revision of Form 5405 to claim this credit. This December, 2009 form must be used for homes purchased after November 6, 2009, whether the credit is claimed for 2009 or 2010, and for all home purchases that are claimed on 2009 returns.

8. No credit is available if the purchase price of the home exceeds $800,000.00.

9. The purchaser must be at least 18 years old on the date of purchase. For a married couple, only one spouse must meet this age requirement.

10. A dependent is not eligible to claim the credit. For more information about the Expanded First Time Homebuyer Credit, visit irs.gov/recovery.

Estate Planning Review

Generally speaking, your estate plan should be reviewed at least every 2 years to determine whether it needs to be changed or updated.

Additionally, if any of the following events occur, you will probably need to update your estate plan (i.e., your Living Trust, Will, health care documents, powers of attorney, life insurance coverage and post mortem letters).

* Divorce
* Marriage or remarriage
* Birth/adoption of a child
* Death of a spouse or child
* Sale of residence or purchase of new residence
* Retirement
* Enactment of new tax laws*

*The current law regarding estate tax is due to expire at the end of December 31, 2010. There are several legislative actions being taken to address the estate tax law. Stay tuned for further updates.

Here are some of the steps you may need to take:

1. Change the Successor Trustee of your Living Trust or Personal Representative of your Will.

2. Revise your plan to account for an increase in assets.

3. Reassess your life insurance needs.

4. Add or change a power of attorney.

5. Change legal documents to comply with state laws if you move to a different state.

6. Change Trust and Will instruments to account for changes in beneficiaries.

Pre-Retirement Checklist

In the event that you are considering retirement in the near future, there are various matters that you should consider. Here are some of the items that you should be aware of:

1. Health Insurance. Will you continue to be covered by your health insurance after retirement? If not, you will need to replace that coverage.

If you'll be eligible for Medicare, you will want to start checking up on "Medigap" coverage. Before you retire, take care of any non-emergency medical, dental or optical needs if your employee plan coverage is broader then Medicare.

2. Other Insurance. Once you retire, you may need to replace employer provided life insurance by added life insurance. You should also consider purchasing long term health care insurance to cover the risk that you will need a lengthy nursing home stay in the future.

3. Social Security. Decide whether you want to take social security benefits if you are retiring before your full retirement age. You can get 80% of your benefits at age 62. For most people, taking social security benefits at their full retirement age makes the most financial sense. Be sure to discuss this with a financial adviser if you think you might need to take early benefits.

4. Company Plan Pay Out. It is important to plan well in advance how you will take the pay out from your pension plan or 401K plan. In most cases, it is advisable to transfer funds to an IRA in that you can transfer the funds "in kind" which maintains the character of the investments but yet allows you to name beneficiaries who could ultimately take advantage of the "stretch out rules" for income tax purposes. You should speak with your legal or financial adviser regarding these strategies.

5. Relocation. If you are planning on moving to another state, check out the various states to see what financial ramifications of living there will be. If you are relocating it may be a good idea to buy a new home before retirement.

Dan A. Penning