Taxes: The Game's the Same--but Some of the Rules Have Changed : Personal finances: Refinanced your mortgage in '94? Contributed to a charity? Moved? Here are some guidelines to weigh before you file that return.

From Reuters

Clear that dining room table. It's tax season, and the sooner you start, the sooner you can get it over with.

Squeeze every last penny out of 1994 by not forgetting an angle. Here are some new ones to consider:

* You may have a point, or two.

If you're among the many homeowners who refinanced last year, you may have a deduction coming to you for the points you paid to secure the mortgage you just replaced.

It's likely those points were originally deductible over the life of the mortgage, so when you refinanced you effectively ended that mortgage's life. So deduct whatever portion of those points you haven't already written off.

* You may have a credit.

In 1994, the earned income tax credit for low-income workers expanded and is available for the first time ever to some low earners without any dependent children in the house. If you are younger than 65, are not claimed by anyone else as a dependent and made less than $9,000 last year, you may be eligible for up to $306. If you have children, the amounts get higher. Low-income taxpayers with one child may be eligible for a maximum credit of $2,038; two or more qualifying children may net you a credit as high as $2,527.

* You may get indexed. Tax brackets, exemptions and deductions slid up with prices this year.

Here are new levels: personal exemptions increase $100 to $2,450 each; the standard deduction increases to $3,800 from $3,700 for singles and to $6,350 from $6,200 for married couples; the 15% tax bracket covers income up to $22,750 for singles, $38,000 for married individuals filing jointly, $19,000 for married individuals filing separately, and $30,500 for heads of household.

The 28% tax bracket covers income up to $55,100 for single individuals, $91,850 for married individuals filing jointly, $45,925 for married individuals filing separately and $78,700 for heads of households.

* You may have to lay a paper trail.

Charitable contributions made in 1994 were the first to be subject to tougher rules.

If you made any so-called "quid pro quo" contributions greater than $75, where you got dinner, tickets, tote bag, or any other items or services in return, the charity is supposed to give you a statement explaining exactly how much of your donation is deductible and how much paid for the goodies.

If you gave away more than $250 in a single payment to a charity last year, you need to have an acknowledgment from your charity in writing by the time you file your return.

* You may make--or lose--on your last move.

In 1994, the rules about moving expenses changed. The best change for taxpayers is this: You can now deduct moving expenses even if you don't itemize. The bad news is you can no longer deduct so-called indirect moving expenses, such as house-hunting trips, temporary quarters and selling costs.

* You may find a use for that computer yet.

If you've had enough of the CD-ROM game-playing encyclopedia you got for Christmas, put that machine to work. TaxCut, Turbo Tax and MacInTax are three excellent programs that will enable you to prepare perfect returns in a hurry.

Any one of the three will remind you of deductions you might have forgotten, transfer information from one form to another, allow you to play "what if" so you know how to run your financial life this year and, if you stick with them, prevent you from ever having to type in your Social Security number again.

These programs really shine the second year you use them because they'll take information off the previous year's form and carry it forward automatically.

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