Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Educational Credits and Deductions

If you are a taxpayer with higher education costs, you should be aware of the many tax benefits that are available to you. Generally, educational assistance such as scholarship, fellowship, or employer-provided educational benefits are excludable from income. For education costs not covered by educational assistance, tax benefits include the Hope scholarship credit (also known as the American Opportunity credit for 2009 and 2010) and the lifetime learning credit. Alternatively, you may have the option of deducting qualified tuition and fees expenses "above the line." These credits and deductions are coordinated with the exclusion for distributions from education savings plans, such as, Coverdell Savings Accounts and qualified tuition programs. For taxpayers who take out a loan to pay for their education, a deduction is available for the student loan interest.

The amount of the American Opportunity tax credit is computed as 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses plus 25 percent of the next $2,000 of such expenses, for a total maximum credit of $2,500. The lifetime learning credit is generally available for 20 percent of education expenses up to $10,000. For taxpayers who do not itemize, an above-the-line higher education tuition deduction can be claimed in 2009 for up to $4,000.

Each education credit and the deduction have adjusted-gross-income phase out limitations. In addition the education credits are coordinated with the deduction and Coverdell Savings Accounts and qualified tuition programs so that taxpayers cannot realize duplicate tax benefits for the same dollars of education costs. Because of the variety of tax benefits and the variations as to eligibility and the definition of qualifying education expense, some or all of the benefits may apply to you. Every taxpayer should review their tax plan in order to take maximum advantage of the tax savings for education.

Determining the best alternative for you and your dependents requires an analysis of your expected costs, resources, and income. We can advise you on the best course of action. Please contact our office at your earliest convenience to discuss your situation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Do I ... Convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA?

People are buzzing about Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Unlike traditional IRAs, "qualified" distributions from a Roth IRA are tax-free, provided they are held for five years and are made after age 59 1/2, death or disability. You can establish a Roth IRA just as you would a traditional IRA. You can also convert assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

Before 2010, only taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less were eligible to convert their traditional IRA (provided they were not married taxpayers filing separate returns). Beginning in 2010, anyone can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, regardless of income level or filing status.

Comment: While you can only contribute a maximum of $5,000 to a Roth IRA for 2010 (plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you are over age 50), you can convert an unlimited amount from a traditional IRA.

Conversion is treated as a taxable distribution of assets from the traditional IRA to the IRA holder, although it is not subject to the 10 percent tax on early distributions. While paying taxes on conversion is undesirable, the advantages of holding assets in a Roth IRA usually outweigh this disadvantage, especially if you will not be retiring soon. Furthermore, if you convert assets in 2010, you have the option of including them in income in 2011 and 2012 (50 percent each year) instead of 2010.

For more details, including four ways to convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, please visit the newsletter section of our website at