Saturday, February 7

Car Loan Interest Tax Credit

Senate Approves Mikulski's Auto Amendment
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski’s (D-Md.) amendment to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to save American jobs and help American consumers by giving tax relief to new car buyers was approved by the Senate today.

“Today the Senate voted ‘yes’ to getting our economy rolling again,” Senator Mikulski said. “President Obama said the goal for the economic recovery program is to create jobs and save jobs. That’s exactly what my amendment does. It’s targeted at saving American jobs and helping families buy the cars they need to get to work and take their kids to school. Our economy is teetering, and Congress must take swift action to save jobs and lend a helping hand to struggling families. That’s what we did here today.”

Senator Mikulski’s amendment, the Auto Assistance Ownership Amendment, makes interest payments on car loans and state sales or excise car tax-deductible for new cars purchased between November 12, 2008 and December 31, 2009, which, in turn, will help more Americans afford cars during these tough economic times and spur investment in America’s ailing automobile industry. For more information about Senator Mikulski’s amendment, go to:

The American automobile industry is currently one of the biggest drivers of the U.S. economy. One out of every 10 jobs in America is auto-related. A collapse of a major U.S. automaker, such as GM, Ford or Chrysler, would further erode the American economy, given the huge network of suppliers, dealers, and other businesses and communities that would be affected. Already this year the U.S. auto industry has shed 110,000 jobs. In Maryland, approximately 500 jobs have been lost this year due to the closing of automobile dealerships.

Co-sponsors of the amendment include: Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R- TX.), Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senator Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

The next step in the legislative process for the Mikulski Amendment is Senate approval of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The bill then goes to conference, where differences in the House and Senate versions will be resolved before the legislation is sent to President Obama for his signature.

Senator Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery on the Senate floor, follow:

“Mr. President, our economy is in shambles. Our unemployment rate is at a 16-year high. More Americans are out of work today than at any other point in the last 25 years, and we lost more jobs in 2008 than in any year since 1945. People are losing their jobs, their life savings, and their homes.

“There is much work to do and no time to waste. We’ve already done a bailout. We’ve helped the sharks and we’ve helped the whales. Now it’s time to help the minnows.

“I have a proposal that will help. I am offering an amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Brownback, to save the American automobile industry, to help consumers to get our economy back on track, and to help state governments get more revenue. “It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it’s bipartisan. It’s also timely, targeted and temporary. And it saves jobs. Everyone wants to save auto manufacturers, but no matter how much government aid we give to the Big 3 auto makers, they can’t survive if consumers don’t start buying cars. That’s where my amendment helps. “I want to stimulate demand in the automobile industry so that people go to showrooms and buy cars. Why is this a good idea? If you buy a car, someone’s got to make them, someone’s got to sell them, someone has to service them and someone has to provide administrative services. So this amendment is good for the manufacturers, the dealers, the suppliers and the consumers. “My amendment is simple. If you buy a new passenger car, minivan, or light truck by December 31st of 2009, you will get a tax deduction for your sales or excise tax and the interest on your loan. A family would save about $1,500 on a $25,000 car, not counting the additional incentives from dealers.

“My amendment is not about bailouts. It’s about jobs, jobs, jobs. Six million jobs are at stake in the American car industry. One out of 10 jobs in America relates to the auto industry. Right now the facts are gloomy. If we lose the Big 3, then 3 million jobs are at risk. The only way to save the Big 3 is to get people into showrooms, but 1,000 dealerships could close this year. That’s 53,000 jobs that could be lost just at the dealerships. I believe we can help by getting the consumer into the showroom. They will know that the government is on their side and helping them with one of the biggest purchases they will make during this tough time.

“My amendment also helps state governments. States rely on tax revenue from new car sales. In my home state and many other states the sales tax is around 6 percent, so on a $25,000 car the state gets $1,500 in revenue. New car sales are down millions per year from their averages. This means states are losing billions when they already are struggling. My amendment will help because as people buy new cars states’ tax revenues will increase.

“This amendment is a big deal to families because a car is the second biggest purchase most families make. My amendment is targeted. Families with an income of more than $250,000 a year are ineligible. Cars costing more than $49,500 also are ineligible. This amendment also helps the environment because it gets more people into new cars and new cars are cleaner and more fuel efficient than old cars.

“There are 20,000 new car dealerships nationwide. They employ a million people. In my own home state, there are around 300 dealerships. Most people don’t realize that dealers employ an average of 53 people in sales, mechanics, and administrative positions. I visited car dealerships in Maryland and heard from these employees.

“I’ve talked to people like the mechanic who works for a Chevy dealer in Bethesda. He’s worked there for 23 years. He said to me, ‘Senator Barb, all my life I’ve loved to work on cars. I just love it. I love to fix them, I love to repair them. If they’re new, I want to make sure they’re fit for duty. I’ve earned a good living. I’ve been happy and I think I’ve helped make a lot of other people happy. But the only way I can stay happy is if I continue to work. I’ve got a mortgage. I’ve got two kids in college. Maybe they’re going to go into engineering, I don’t know, but if we don’t get more people into this dealership, my job could be gone.’

“And I talked to the dealer. The dealer’s name is Sam. The first thing you note about him is that he wears the little rotary pin because he’s the guy that not only provides jobs in the community, he is also part of the Chamber of Commerce and part of the United Way.

“We are talking about people who are part of the fabric of our society. We are not talking about an abstraction and we’re not talking about a single zip code, like Wall Street. We are talking about the automobile industry, which is in every state and every community.

“Maybe you know somebody who works for a hedge fund. I don’t. But I do know the people who work for the automobile industry, like the receptionist who went to work at a dealership 43 years ago right out of high school. And she said, ‘Senator Barb, women couldn’t sell cars in those days, but I’ve been here in and out of this same dealership for 43 years. I’ve raised my kids and earned a good living doing the back office work and I want to keep on doing it. I’m not ready for Social Security and for God’s sake don’t put the money in Wall Street.’

“Well, I say let’s put money where it matters — where it creates jobs. That’s why we need this amendment — for creating jobs, for consumers, and for the auto industry that is such a driver of our country’s economy — so we can get America rolling again.”

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Monday, February 2

2008 Tax Law Changes Highlights

This information is from

Highlights of 2008 Tax Law Changes: Tax Breaks Renewed, Recovery Rebate Credit, Homeowner Relief

FS-2009-1, January 2009

AMT exemptions rise; several expiring deductions and credits get a new lease on life; a new standard property tax deduction and a special first-time homebuyer credit are available to some homeowners; and retirement savings incentives expand. These are among the changes taxpayers will find when they fill out their 2008 tax returns. More information about these and other changes, summarized below, can be found on and in various IRS documents, including the Instructions for Form 1040.

Economic Stimulus Payments Tax Free

Economic stimulus payments are not taxable, and they are not reported on 2008 tax returns. However, the stimulus payment does affect whether a taxpayer can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit and how much credit he or she can get. The credit is figured like last year's economic stimulus payment except that the amounts are based on tax year 2008 instead of 2007. A taxpayer may qualify for the Recovery Rebate Credit if, for example, she did not get an economic-stimulus payment or had a child in 2008. See Fact Sheet 2009-3 for details. In most cases, the IRS can figure the credit. The instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ have more information.

AMT Exemption Increased for One Year

For tax-year 2008, Congress raised the alternative minimum tax exemption to the following levels:

$69,950 for a married couple filing a joint return and qualifying widows and widowers, up from $66,250 in 2007
$34,975 for a married person filing separately, up from $33,125 and
$46,200 for singles and heads of household, up from $44,350

Under current law, these exemption amounts will drop to $45,000, $22,500 and $33,750, respectively, in 2009. Form 6251 and the AMT Calculator provide more information.

Expiring Tax Breaks Renewed

Several popular tax breaks that expired at the end of 2007 were renewed for tax-years 2008 and 2009. As a result, eligible taxpayers can claim:

The deduction for state and local sales taxes on Form 1040 Schedule A , Line 5
The educator expense deduction on Form 1040, Line 23 or Form 1040A, Line 16
The tuition and fees deduction on Form 8917 and
The District of Columbia first-time homebuyer credit on Form 8859

In addition, the residential energy-efficient property credit is extended through 2016. In general, solar electric, solar water heating and fuel cell property qualify for this credit. Starting in 2008, small wind energy and geothermal heat pump property also qualify. Use Form 5695 to claim the credit.

The non-business energy property credit for insulation, exterior windows, exterior doors, furnaces, water heaters and other energy-saving improvements to a main home is not available in 2008 but will return in 2009.

Standard Deduction Increased for Most Taxpayers

Nearly two out of three taxpayers choose to take the standard deduction rather than itemizing deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions. The basic standard deduction is:

$10,900 for married couples filing a joint return and qualifying widows and widowers, a $200 increase over 2007
$5,450 for singles and married individuals filing separate returns, up $100 and
$8,000 for heads of household, up $150

Higher amounts apply to blind people and senior citizens. The standard deduction is often reduced for a taxpayer who qualifies as someone else’s dependent.

New this year, taxpayers can claim an additional standard deduction, based on the state or local real-estate taxes paid in 2008. Taxes paid on foreign or business property do not count. The maximum deduction is $500, or $1,000 for joint filers.

Also new for 2008, a taxpayer can increase his standard deduction by the net disaster losses suffered from a federally declared disaster. A worksheet is available in the instructions for Forms 1040 and 1040A.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Those who bought a main home recently or are considering buying one may qualify for the first-time homebuyer credit. Normally, a taxpayer qualifies if she didn’t own a main home during the prior three years. This unique credit of up to $7,500 works much like a 15-year interest-free loan. It is available for a limited time only –– on homes bought from April 9, 2008, to June 30, 2009. It can be claimed on new Form 5405 and is repaid each year as an additional tax. Income limits and other special rules apply.

Tax Relief for Midwest Disaster Areas

Special tax relief related to severe storms, tornadoes or flooding, occurring after May 19, 2008, and before Aug. 1, 2008, is available to individuals in portions of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin that were affected by these disasters. Tax benefits include:

Liberalized rules for certain personal casualty losses and charitable contributions
An additional exemption amount for persons who provided housing for someone displaced by these disasters
The option to use 2007 earned income to figure a 2008 earned income tax credit (EITC) and additional child tax credit
An increased charitable standard mileage rate for use of personal vehicle for volunteer work related to these disasters
Special rules for withdrawals and loans from IRAs and other qualified retirement plans

Details on these and other relief provisions are in Publication 4492-B .

Contribution Limits Rise for IRAs and Other Retirement Plans

This filing season, more people can make tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. The deduction is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $53,000 and $63,000, compared to $52,000 and $62,000 last year.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $85,000 to $105,000, up from $83,000 to $103,000 last year.

Where an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $159,000 and $169,000, up from $156,000 and $166,000 in 2007.

The phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000 for a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a retirement plan at work.

The worksheet in the instructions for Form 1040 Line 32 or Form 1040A Line 17 can help a taxpayer figure the IRA deduction.

For 2008, the elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans remains unchanged at $15,500. This limit rises to $16,500 in 2009. The catch-up contribution limit for those aged 50 to 70-½ remains at $5,000 in 2008 but rises to $5,500 in 2009.

The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers who contribute to a Roth IRA is $159,000 to $169,000 for joint filers and qualifying widows and widowers, compared to $156,000 to $166,000 in 2007. For singles and heads of household, the comparable phase-out range is $101,000 to $116,000, compared to $99,000 to $114,000 in 2007.

Standard Mileage Rates Adjusted for 2008

The standard mileage rate for business use of a car, van, pick-up or panel truck is 50.5 cents per mile from Jan. 1, 2008, to June 30, 2008, up 2 cents from 2007. The rate is 58.5 cents for each mile driven during the rest of 2008.

From Jan. 1, 2008, to June 30, 2008, the standard mileage rate for the cost of operating a vehicle for medical reasons or as part of a deductible move is 19 cents per mile, down a penny from 2007. The rate is 27 cents from July 1 to Dec. 31.

The standard mileage rate for using a car to provide services to charitable organizations is set by law and remains at 14 cents a mile. As noted earlier, special rates apply to the Midwest disaster area.

Exemptions Rise

The value of each personal and dependency exemption is $3,500, up $100 from 2007. Most taxpayers can take personal exemptions for themselves and an additional exemption for each eligible dependent. An individual who qualifies as someone else’s dependent cannot claim a personal exemption, and though personal and dependency exemptions are phased out for higher-income taxpayers, the phase-out rate is slower than in past years.

This is one of more than three dozen individual and business tax provisions that are adjusted each year to keep pace with inflation. A complete rundown of these changes can be found in 2008 Inflation Adjustments Widen Tax Brackets, Change Tax Benefits.

Earned Income Tax Credit Rises

The maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) is:

$4,824 for people with two or more qualifying children, up from $4,716 in 2007
$2,917 for those with one child, up from $2,853 last year and
$438 for people with no children, up from $428 in 2007.

Available to low and moderate income workers and working families, the EITC helps taxpayers whose incomes are below certain income thresholds, which in 2008 rise to:

$41,646 for those with two or more children
$36,995 for people with one child and
$15,880 for those with no children

One in six taxpayers claim the EITC, which, unlike most tax breaks, is refundable, meaning that individuals can get it even if they owe no tax and even if no tax is withheld from their paychecks.

Taxes Lowered for Many Investors

The five-percent tax rate on qualified dividends and net capital gains is reduced to zero. In general, this reduction applies to investors whose taxable income is below:

$65,100, if married filing jointly or qualifying widow or widower
$32,550, if single or married filing separately or
$43,650, if head of household.

Note that taxable income is normally less than total income. The worksheet for Form 1040 Line 44, Form 1040A Line x or Schedule D and its instructions provide details.

Kiddie Tax Revised

The tax on a child's investment income applies if the child has investment income greater than $1,800 and is:

Under 18 old
18 years of age and had earned income that was equal to or less than half of his or her total support in 2008 or
Over 18 and under 24, a student and during 2008 had earned income that was equal to or less than half of his or her total support.

Previously, the tax only applied to children under age 18. Form 8615 is used to figure this tax.

Self-Employment Tax Changes

For those who receive Social Security Retirement or disability benefits, any Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments are now exempt from the 15.3-percent social security self-employment tax. Schedule SE and its instructions and Publication 225, Farmer’s Tax Guide, have the details.

More farmers and self-employed people this year can choose the optional methods for figuring and paying the self-employment tax. These optional methods allow those with net losses or small amounts of business income a way to obtain up to four credits of Social Security coverage. The income thresholds for both the farm optional method and the nonfarm optional method are increased for 2008 and indexed for inflation in future years. Choosing an optional method may increase a taxpayer’s self-employment tax but it may also qualify him for the earned income tax credit, additional child tax credit, child and dependent care credit or self-employed health insurance deduction. Schedule SE and its instructions have details.

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