It's good to be gay at tax time
Same-sex couples lack most of the advantages of married heterosexuals, but at tax time their single status can be a boon rather than a burden.
Filing individually often is easier, and produces a heftier return, than filing jointly. And with the annual slew of changes in the IRS tax codes, there are other ways for GLBT singles and couples to save as well, says Joyce Peacock, president of Peacock Financial Inc.
“The tax laws do not favor marriage right now, and there is a slight advantage to being two single people living together when it comes to taxes,” Peacock said. “One person can take the standard deduction, while the second person, if they can show that they pay the mortgage, or the bulk of it, can take that interest on their taxes. They’ll come out better than if they were married, because then they’d have to file together, or file ‘married, filing separately.’”
Couples who have children also can be a bit creative when it comes to deductions as well.
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“Two women may have a situation where one is the birth mother and the other has adopted the child,” Peacock said. “Those expenses can be deducted by the adopting parent. If both partners are the legal parents, then you have some discretion on who actually takes the deduction for the child, and for things like child care, so you have a little more creativity when you are partnered vs. married.
“And if one of the partners is unemployed,” she added, “or not working very much, the supporting partner can take them as a dependent, and that’s not something married people can do. It’s an interesting little tax deduction in some cases.”
New this year are deductions that can be taken even if the filer doesn’t itemize, including a sales-tax deduction for auto purchases after Feb. 7, 2009, as well as deductions for a portion of real-estate taxes.
“That’s good for people whose house is paid off, or whose mortgage interest isn’t enough to itemize,” Peacock said. “Those are in addition to the standard deductions.”
Tuition credits have been expanded and are much more generous now, with allowances for all four years of school rather than just the first two, and there also are credits available for additional courses that are not part of the undergraduate curriculum.
On the financial-planning side, the limitations for rolling a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA have been removed, so anyone at any income level now can complete that transaction without looking at penalties.
“You just have to pay the taxes on the traditional IRA, and they’re even allowing you to spread that out over several years,” Peacock said. “This is a real opportunity for someone who finds themselves out of a job and needing to do something with their IRA. We’re probably not going to see tax rates lower than they are now in our lifetime, so this is a very good time to do that.”
Low capital-gains rates and low tax levels in general are likely to start inching up in 2011, so Peacock added that now’s a good time to look at financial planning in general. But at the end of the day, every return is going to reflect the individual’s situation, and for that reason it’s good to cross every t and dot every I as well as look for any and all deductions.
“You really have to delve into each person’s situation to see what works best for them, and how they need to structure things,” Peacock said.