Queer your taxes

Posted on 19 Feb 2016 at 7:00am

Tax season brings new guide, few changes for LGBT people

Jon Chester & Megan Maury

Megan Maury, left, Jon Chester

 

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JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

It’s tax season. Do you know where your receipts and pay stubs and 1099s are?

Do you even know what you can and cannot deduct?

Well good news: The National LGBTQ Task Force has launched a handy new income tax preparation guide for the LGBT community. Despite all the help you may receive from a trusted advisor or handy program like Turbo Tax, it wouldn’t hurt to take advantage of this free guide.

The new publication is part of their “Queer Our Taxes” effort, a public education and advocacy campaign focused on securing economic justice for LGBT people.

“LGBTQ people are disproportionally more likely to live at or below the poverty line — they are also often the most in need of income tax information and least able to access it. The straight forward information in this guide will empower LGBTQ people to get credits and deductions that lift millions of people out of poverty,” said Meghan Maury, criminal and economic justice director at the Task Force in a statement.

“Most LGBTQ people don’t know that you can deduct out-of-pocket costs for transition-related care including surgery,” she added. “Many of us also don’t know that you may be able to claim a large credit for adoption related expenses.”

Even as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision on marriage equality streamlined the process for joint filings, adoption forms and other barriers to access — and tax deductions — Maury said the guide should benefit all members of the LGBT community.

Jon Chester, who owns Sterling’s Bookkeeping and Tax Service, a full-service bookkeeping firm in Dallas and Hurst, said marriage equality ushered in a lot of excitement.

Newly married couples have access to more tax deductions and credits than before. But some couples still don’t know the challenges facing them.

“Couples want to file separately, but they forget it’s a community property state,” Chester said. Community property states like

Texas require both people in a couple have a claim to one-half of the property acquired or owned.

First-time couples may also encounter either a hitch or a gift while filing: According to the Tax Policy Center, a couple may receive a marriage penalty  if they pay more income tax filing jointly as a couple than they would if they had remained single and filed as individuals. Conversely, a marriage bonus occurs if a couple pays less tax filing jointly than they would if they were not married and filed individually.

According to a checklist compiled by TurboTax, married couples may be able to take advantage of the marriage bonus since tax rates are typically lower for couples who are “married, filing jointly.”

Despite how it may seem, not a whole lot has changed since the Obergefell decision.

There may be no change in the law, but the Internal Revenue Service is looking to clarify the stipulations concerning charitable gift giving.

“Charitable contributions over $250 now require a letter from a charity acknowledging the gift,” Chester said.

The clarification was requested after numerous instances of taxpayers abusing the charitable gift donation system, mainly by claiming deductions without proof.

The last day to file taxes is April 18.

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Audits: Keeping tax breaks without sacrificing peace of mind

Skip Stark  |  H&R Block

Last year, the IRS audited more than 1.3 million taxpayers and assessed $33 billion in taxes. Taxpayers who fear an IRS audit may hesitate to claim all the tax breaks to which they are entitled, choosing to “play it safe, which can mean leaving their money on the table.

In the face of these IRS audits, how can taxpayers keep their tax breaks without sacrificing their peace of mind?

• First, report all your income. The IRS can easily check income reported on tax returns against what employers, banks, brokers and more report.

• Second, carefully document your expenses and eligibility for any tax credits or deductions you take. The IRS compares deductions taken by taxpayers in the same income bracket to find inconsistencies including mileage and charitable donations. Taxpayers who made large donations, particularly non-cash donations, may have additional record-keeping requirements to substantiate those deductions.

• Third, know when and where to get help when you need it. Some taxpayers may need help understanding whether they are eligible for a certain tax benefit, while others will need help knowing which documents and receipts they need to back up their tax return. Others might feel like they can prepare and file their taxes on their own, but may want help when it comes to navigating an IRS audit.

Skip Stark is a senior tax advisor 5 and ACA specialist for H&R Block, the world’s largest tax services provider. He has been providing expert tax advice and preparation support for taxpayers at 5610 Lemmon Ave. in Dallas since 1994.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.

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