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Tax season approaches
with new tax laws

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Thousands of taxpayers may have to file later than others this tax season. Certain taxpayers will be affected by the late enactment of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) in "patch" legislation.

The Internal Revenue Service expects to be able to begin processing returns for most taxpayers on Jan. 14, when it begins accepting tax returns. But according to IRS spokesman Mark Green, as many as 13.5 million taxpayers using five forms related to the AMT will have to wait until Feb. 11 to file electronic and paper tax returns.

The delay is due to the reprogramming of IRS systems software to coincide with the new AMT law.

"The February date allows the IRS enough time to update and test its systems to accommodate the changes without major disruptions to other operations related to the tax season," Green said.

Other operations, he said, would include the 12 forms originally connected to AMT.

The five forms affected by the new legislation include: Form 8863 for education credits; Form 5695 for residential energy credits; Schedule 2 Form 1040A for child and dependent care expenses for Form 1040A filers; Form 8396 for mortgage interest credit; and Form 8859 for District of Columbia first-time homebuyer credit.

The IRS anticipates about four million Georgians will file taxes in the coming weeks. For some, Green said, receiving their W2 has seemed to be an automatic green light for them to rush out and file their taxes.

He warns, however, that taxpayers should make sure their tax preparers are knowledgeable about the updated tax laws for 2008, even though this year's tax returns will be filed using 2007 forms.

The foreknowledge, he said, could be advantageous to taxpayers when new tax laws go into effect next year.

"Make sure [the tax preparer] is an individual who does know about tax law, because whatever goes on [the] ... return, the tax payer is responsible for it," Green said.

The IRS web site includes information about what tax laws have, and will be, changed in coming days. One such law that will affect taxpayers is the free online filing limit.

In 2007, the free online filing limit included those with incomes under $52,000. With factors like inflation, that limit will increase this year to $54,000, Green said.

One new law states that charitable contributions can be tax deductible only with proper records that support the deductions.

Those contributions must be made no later than Dec. 31, in order to be deducted for 2007. Exceptions are donations charged on credit cards by Dec. 31. And there must be a bank record, or written communication from the charity showing its name, the date, and the amount of the contribution.

Under the new law, donations of used items not in good condition are not deductible.

Within the next few weeks, the IRS will mail 16.5 million 1040 tax packages to taxpayers who have previously filed paper tax returns, about 34 million packages fewer than four years ago.

The drop marks a trend in a growing number of taxpayers who file electronically, as opposed to using the paper filing method, each year.

There were roughly 80 million (57 percent) of 138 million filers nationwide who, along with 2.5 million of 3.8 million Georgians, took advantage of e-filing in 2007.

At local post offices, the trend is evident. In years past, taxpayers would be able to visit the post office and find tax return forms in the lobby. But that is no longer the case, according to McDonough Post Office retail specialist, Rhonda Harrison.

The post office has not displayed forms in about the last two years, Harrison says. But there are still a few who enter the post office expecting to see the forms.

"They're reverting to the electronic way of filing taxes," Harrison said. "They're getting acclimated to the new electronic transfer."

Libraries still offer the service, displaying free tax forms in their lobbies. Each library branch in Henry County, for instance, will have forms available throughout the tax season.

"We've already had people calling," said Kaye West, McDonough Library branch manager.

In 2007, 29 percent of Georgia filers did not request the Telephone Excise Tax Refund. But they still may be eligible for the refund by filing an amended tax return (Form 1040X, completing line 15) for 2006.

Those filers can request a standard refund that ranges from $30-60, or file for the amount they paid in long-distance excise tax between Feb. 28, 2003, and Aug. 1, 2006.

It is not too late, Green said, for taxpayers to file the amended return this tax season as they file their 2007 taxes.

"I would caution taxpayers to do it separately, though," he said. "File 2007 now, and then file the [2006 amended] paper return later."

He said that taxpayers should also be mindful of good financial practices, particularly when it comes to filing their income taxes.

"The first thing they want to do is organize their records," Green said. "Pull together all of your tax documents, particularly receipts, mortgage statements ... and especially the ad valorem tax receipt."

Those who choose a preparer should research and make sure the individual is credible, knowledgeable, and accountable, he said.

The due date this year is Tuesday, April 15.

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On the net:

Internal Revenue Service: www.irs.gov