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IRS Tax: IRS Offers Tips to Reduce Big Refunds and Prevent Tax Bills

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The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers that it’s not too late to adjust

 

1040 - US Tax Return

1040 – US Tax Return (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

 

their 2012 tax withholding to avoid big tax refunds or tax bills when they file their tax return next year.

 

Taxpayers should act soon to adjust their tax withholding to bring the taxes they must pay closer to what they actually owe and put more money in their pocket right now.

 

Most people have taxes withheld from each paycheck or pay taxes on a quarterly basis through estimated tax payments. Each year millions of American workers have far more taxes withheld from their pay than is required. Many people anxiously wait for their tax refunds to make major purchases or pay their financial obligations. The IRS encourages taxpayers not to tie major financial decisions to the receipt of their tax refund – especially if they need their tax refund to arrive by a certain date.

 

Here is some information to help bring the taxes you pay during the year closer to what you will actually owe when you file your tax return.

 

Employees 

 

  • New Job. When you start a new job your employer will ask you to complete Form    W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer will use this form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your paychecks. Be sure to complete the Form W-4 accurately.
  • Life Event. You may want to change your Form W-4 when certain life events happen to you during the year. Examples of events in your life that can change the amount of taxes you owe include a change in your marital status, the birth of a child, getting or losing a job, and purchasing a home. Keep your Form W-4 up-to-date.

 

You typically can submit a new Form W–4 at anytime you wish to change the number of your withholding allowances. However, if your life event results in the need to decrease your withholding allowances or changes your marital status from married to single, you must give your employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days of that life event.

 

Self-Employed

 

  • Form 1040-ES. If you are self-employed and expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in taxes for the year, then you normally must make estimated tax payments to pay your income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes. You can use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to find out if you are required to pay estimated tax on a quarterly basis. Remember to make estimated payments to avoid owing taxes at tax time.

 

Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, has information for employees and self-employed individuals, and also explains the rules in more detail. The forms and publication are available at IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

 
Links:

 

  • Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate
  • Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals
  • Form W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments
  • Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax

 

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IRS Tax Tip: Ten Reasons Why You Should Become a Trained and Certified Tax Volunteer

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The Internal Revenue Service is seeking community volunteers to provide free tax help to qualified individuals during the tax filing season.

Managed by the IRS, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs are community based partnerships that provide free tax return preparation for low-to-moderate income taxpayers, seniors, people with disabilities and those with limited English skills. If you are looking for a way to help in your community, then consider becoming a tax volunteer. People helping people – it’s that simple.

Here are 10 things the IRS wants you to know about becoming a community volunteer for VITA or TCE.

1. No previous experience is required. Volunteers receive specialized training and – if tax preparation is not preferable – have the option of serving in a variety of other roles.

2. If you are fluent in a language other than English, you can help those who do not speak English understand their tax return.

3. IRS provides free tax law training and materials needed to prepare basic individual income tax returns.

4. Volunteers become familiar with deductions, allowable expenses and credits that benefit eligible taxpayers, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the Credit for the Elderly.

5. The hours are flexible. Volunteers generally serve an average of three to four hours per week from mid-January through the tax filing deadline, which is April 15, 2013.

6. Volunteer sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations.

7. Most VITA/TCE sites offer free electronic filing for both federal and state tax returns.

8. As a tax volunteer, veterans (and non-veterans alike) may choose to help military personnel and their families.

9. Volunteers will become part of an established program that has helped community members file tax returns at no charge for more than four decades.

10. You can make a difference as a tax volunteer.

Last year nearly 99,000 community volunteers answered the call and made a difference by preparing over 3.3 million tax returns for free at more than 13,000 locations nationwide. Anyone can volunteer for this exciting, educational and enjoyable experience. Sign up to become a tax volunteer and see what a difference learning about taxes and helping others makes in your life.

Additional information about becoming a VITA or TCE volunteer is available on IRS.gov by typing the key words “tax volunteer” in the search box. Those interested must submit Form 14310, VITA/TCE Volunteer Sign Up, by email through the IRS website.
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IRS Tax Tip: Five Important Tips on Gambling Income and Losses

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Slot machine.

Slot machine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Whether you roll the dice, bet on the ponies, play cards or enjoy slot machines, you should know that as a casual gambler, your gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported on your income tax return. You can also deduct your gambling losses…but only up to the extent of your winnings.

 

Here are five important tips about gambling and taxes:

 

1. Gambling income includes, but is not limited to, winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races, and casinos. It includes cash winnings and the fair market value of prizes such as cars and trips.

 

2. If you receive a certain amount of gambling winnings or if you have any winnings that are subject to federal tax withholding, the payer is required to issue you a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings. The payer must give you a W-2G if you receive:

 

  • $1,200 or more in gambling winnings from bingo or slot machines;
  • $1,500 or more in proceeds (the amount of winnings minus the amount of the wager) from keno;
  • More than $5,000 in winnings (reduced by the wager or buy-in) from a poker tournament;
  • $600 or more in gambling winnings (except winnings from bingo, keno, slot machines, and poker tournaments) and the payout is at least 300 times the amount of the wager; or
  • Any other gambling winnings subject to federal income tax withholding.

 

3. Generally, you report all gambling winnings on the “Other income” line of Form 1040, U.S. Federal Income Tax Return.

 

4. You can claim your gambling losses up to the amount of your winnings on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, under ‘Other Miscellaneous Deductions.’ You must report the full amount of your winnings as income and claim your allowable losses separately. You cannot reduce your gambling winnings by your gambling losses and report the difference. Your records should also show your winnings separately from your losses.

 

5. Keep accurate records. If you are going to deduct gambling losses, you must have receipts, tickets, statements and documentation such as a diary or similar record of your losses and winnings. Refer to IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, for more details about the type of information you should write in your diary and what kinds of proof you should retain in your records.

 

For more information on gambling income and losses, see IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, or Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, both available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
 

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IRS Tax Tip: Back-to-School Tips for Students and Parents Paying College Expenses

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Whether you’re a recent high school graduate going to college for the first time or a returning student, it will soon be time to head to campus, and payment deadlines for tuition and other fees are not far behind.

The IRS offers some tips about education tax benefits that can help offset some college costs for students and parents. Typically, these benefits apply to you, your spouse or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return.

  • American Opportunity Credit. This credit, originally created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is still available for 2012. The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student and is available for the first four years of post secondary education at an eligible institution. Forty percent of this credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you don’t owe any taxes. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit. In 2012, you may be able to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for a student enrolled in eligible educational institutions. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for an eligible student.

You can claim only one type of education credit per student in the same tax year. However, if you pay college expenses for more than one student in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. For example, you can claim the American Opportunity Credit for one student and the Lifetime Learning Credit for the other student.

  • Student loan interest deduction. Generally, personal interest you pay, other than certain mortgage interest, is not deductible. However, you may be able to deduct interest paid on a qualified student loan during the year. It can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $2,500, even if you don’t itemize deductions.

These education benefits are subject to income limitations, and may be reduced or eliminated depending on your income. For more information, visit the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center at IRS.gov or check out Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, which can be downloaded at IRS.gov or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
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  • Education Tax Credits and Deductions – English

IRS Tax Tip: IRS Can Help When Starting a Small Business

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If you are opening a new business this summer, the IRS has some basic federal tax information to help you get started.

Here are some things to consider when starting a business:

  • Type of Business One of the first decisions you need to make is what type of business you are going to establish. The most common types of businesses are sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, S corporation, and Limited Liability Company. The type of business you establish determines which tax forms you will need to file.
  • Types of Taxes The type of business you operate also determines what types of taxes you will pay and how you will pay them. The four general types of business taxes are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax.
  • Employer Identification Number A business typically needs to get an Employer Identification Number to use as an identifier for tax purposes. Check IRS.gov to find out whether you will need this number, and, if so, you can apply for an EIN online.
  • Recordkeeping Good records will help you keep track of deductible expenses, prepare your tax returns and support items that you report on your tax returns. Good records will also help you monitor the progress of your business and prepare your financial statements. You may choose any recordkeeping system that clearly shows your income and expenses.
  • Tax Year  Every business taxpayer must figure taxable income on an annual basis called a tax year. Your tax year can be either a calendar year or a fiscal year.
  • Accounting Method  Each taxpayer must also use a consistent accounting method, which is a set of rules for determining when to report income and expenses. The most commonly used accounting methods are the cash method and accrual method. Under the cash method, you generally report income in the tax year you receive it and deduct expenses in the tax year you pay them. Under an accrual method, you generally report income in the tax year you earn it and deduct expenses in the tax year you incur them.

Visit the IRS.gov website and click on the ‘Businesses’ tab for more information and resources, including a special section on starting a business. Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records, can also help new business owners understand their federal tax responsibilities. The publication is also available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Links:

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  • Employer Identification Number – English

IRS Tax Tip: Eleven Tips for Taxpayers Who Owe Money to the IRS

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Most taxpayers get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service when they file their tax returns. For those who don’t get a refund, the IRS offers several options to pay their tax bill.

Here are eleven tips for taxpayers who owe money to the IRS.

1. Tax bill payments  If you get a bill from the IRS this summer that shows you owe late taxes, you are expected to promptly pay the tax owed including any penalties and interest. If you are unable to pay the amount due, it may be better for you to get a loan to pay the bill in full rather than to make installment payments to the IRS. That’s because the interest rate and penalties the IRS must charge by law are often higher than what lending institutions may be offering.

2. Electronic Funds Transfer  You can pay your tax bill by electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier’s check or cash. To pay using electronic funds transfer, use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System by either calling 800-555-4477 or using the online access at www.eftps.gov.

3. Credit card payments  You can pay your bill with a credit card. Again, the interest rate on a credit card may be lower than the combination of interest and penalties the IRS must charge. To pay by credit card contact one of the following processing companies:

– WorldPay US, Inc. at 888-9PAY-TAX (or www.payUSAtax.com),

– Official Payments Corporation at 888-UPAY-TAX (or www.officialpayments.com/fed), or

– Link2Gov Corporation at 888-PAY-1040 (or www.pay1040.com).

4. Additional time to pay  Based on your circumstances, you may be granted a short additional time to pay your tax in full. A brief additional amount of time to pay can be requested through the Online Payment Agreement application at IRS.gov or by calling 800-829-1040. There generally is no set up fee for a short-term agreement.

5. Installment Agreement  You may request an installment agreement if you cannot pay the total tax you owe in full. This is an agreement between you and the IRS to pay the amount due in monthly installment payments. You must first file all required returns and be current with estimated tax payments.

6. Apply Using Form 9465  You can complete and mail an IRS Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, along with your bill using the envelope you received from the IRS. The IRS will inform you (usually within 30 days) whether your request is approved, denied, or if additional information is needed.

7. Apply Using Online Payment Agreement  If you owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest, you can request an installment agreement using the Online Payment Agreement application at IRS.gov. You may still qualify for an installment agreement if you owe more than $50,000, but you are required to complete a Form 433F, Collection Information Statement, before the IRS will consider an installment agreement.

8. User fees  If an installment agreement is approved, a one-time user fee will be charged. The user fee for a new agreement is $105 or $52 for agreements where payments are deducted directly from your bank account. For eligible individuals with lower incomes, the fee can be reduced to $43.

9. Offer in Compromise  IRS is now offering more flexible terms with its Offer-in-Compromise (OIC) Program. An OIC is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax debt for less than the full amount owed. An OIC is generally accepted only if the IRS believes, after assessing the taxpayer’s financial situation, that the tax debt can’t be paid in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement.

10. Check withholding  Taxpayers who have a balance due may want to consider changing their Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with their employer.

11. Fresh Start  The IRS has a program to help struggling taxpayers get a fresh start. Through the Fresh Start program, individuals and small businesses may be able to pay the taxes they owe without facing additional or unnecessary burden.

For more information about payment options or IRS’s Fresh Start program, visit IRS.gov. IRS Publications 594, The IRS Collection Process, and 966, Electronic Choices to Pay All Your Federal Taxes, also provide additional information regarding your payment options. These publications and Forms 9465 and W-4 can be obtained from IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
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IRS Tax Tip: Moving This Summer? Here are 10 Helpful Tax Tips

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School’s out for the summer, and summer is a popular time for people to move – especially families with children.  If you are moving to start a new job or even the same job at a new job location, the IRS offers 10 tax tips on expenses you may be able to deduct on your tax return.

1. Expenses must be close to the time you start work  Generally, you can consider moving expenses that you incurred within one year of the date you first report to work at a new job location.

2. Distance Test  Your move meets the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your previous main job location was from your former home.  For example, if your old main job location was three miles from your former home, your new main job location must be at least 53 miles from that former home.

3. Time Test  Upon arriving in the general area of your new job location, you must work full time for at least 39 weeks during the first year at your new job location. Self-employed individuals must meet this test, and they must also work full time for a total of at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months upon arriving in the general area of their new job location. If your income tax return is due before you have satisfied this requirement, you can still deduct your allowable moving expenses if you expect to meet the time test. There are some special rules and exceptions to these general rules, so see Publication 521, Moving Expenses for more information.

4. Travel  You can deduct lodging expenses (but not meals) for yourself and household members while moving from your former home to your new home. You can also deduct transportation expenses, including airfare, vehicle mileage, parking fees and tolls you pay, but you can only deduct one trip per person.

5. Household goods  You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and transporting your household goods and personal property, including the cost of shipping household pets. You may be able to include the cost of storing and insuring these items while in transit.

6. Utilities  You can deduct the costs of connecting or disconnecting utilities.

7. Nondeductible expenses  You cannot deduct as moving expenses: any part of the purchase price of your new home, car tags, a drivers license renewal, costs of buying or selling a home, expenses of entering into or breaking a lease, or security deposits and storage charges, except those incurred in transit and for foreign moves.

8. Form  You can deduct only those expenses that are reasonable for the circumstances of your move. To figure the amount of your deduction for moving expenses, use Form 3903, Moving Expenses.

9. Reimbursed expenses  If your employer reimburses you for the costs of a move for which you took a deduction, the reimbursement may have to be included as income on your tax return.

10. Update your address  When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.

More details are available in IRS Publication 521 and Form 3903. IRS publications and forms are available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-829-3676.
Links:

  • Publication 521, Moving Expenses (PDF)
  • Form 3903, Moving Expenses (PDF)
  • Form 8822, Change of Address (PDF)
  • Tax Topic 455 – Moving Expenses

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IRS Tax Tip: Don’t Overlook the Benefits of Miscellaneous Deductions

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If you are able to itemize your deductions on your tax return instead of claiming the standard deduction, you may be able to claim certain miscellaneous deductions. A tax deduction reduces the amount of your taxable income and generally reduces the amount of taxes you may have to pay.

Here are some things you should know about miscellaneous tax deductions:

Deductions Subject to the 2 Percent Limit. You can deduct the amount of certain miscellaneous expenses that exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Deductions subject to the 2 percent limit include:

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses such as searching for a new job in the same profession, certain work clothes and uniforms, work tools, union dues, and work-related travel and transportation.
  • Tax preparation fees.
  • Other expenses that you pay to:

– Produce or collect taxable income,
– Manage, conserve, or maintain property held to produce taxable income, or
– Determine, contest, pay, or claim a refund of any tax.

Examples of other expenses include certain investment fees and expenses, some legal fees, hobby expenses that are not more than your hobby income and rental fees for a safe deposit box if it is not used to store jewelry and other personal effects.

Deductions Not Subject to the 2 Percent Limit.  The list of deductions not subject to the 2 percent limit of adjusted gross income includes:

  • Casualty and theft losses from income-producing property such as damage or theft of stocks, bonds, gold, silver, vacant lots, and works of art.
  • Gambling losses up to the amount of gambling winnings.
  • Impairment-related work expenses of persons with disabilities.
  • Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.

Qualified miscellaneous deductions are reported on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Keep records of your miscellaneous deductions to make it easier for you to prepare your tax return when the filing season arrives.

There are also many expenses that you cannot deduct such as personal living or family expenses. You can find more information and examples in IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, which is available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Links:

  • Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions (PDF)
  • Tax Topic 508 – Miscellaneous Expenses
  • Schedule A Itemized Deductions (PDF)
  • Instructions for Schedule A (PDF)

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IRS Tax Tip: Expanded Adoption Tax Credit Still Available for Extension Filers

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If you adopted a child last year and requested an extension of time to file your 2011 taxes, you may be able to claim the expanded adoption credit on your federal tax return. The Affordable Care Act temporarily increased the amount of the credit and made it refundable, which means it can increase the amount of your refund.

Here are eight things to know about this valuable tax credit:

1. The adoption credit for tax year 2011 can be as much as $13,360 for each effort to adopt an eligible child. You may qualify for the credit if you adopted or attempted to adopt a child in 2010 or 2011 and paid qualified expenses relating to the adoption.

2. You may be able to claim the credit even if the adoption does not become final. If you adopt a special needs child, you may qualify for the full amount of the adoption credit even if you paid few or no adoption-related expenses.

3. The credit for qualified adoption expenses is subject to income limitations, and may be reduced or eliminated depending on your income.

4. Qualified adoption expenses are reasonable and necessary expenses directly related to the legal adoption of the child who is under 18 years old, or physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself. These expenses may include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees and travel expenses.

5. To claim the credit, you must file a paper tax return and Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, and attach all supporting documents to your return. Documents may include a final adoption decree, placement agreement from an authorized agency, court documents and the state’s determination for special needs children. You can use IRS Free File to prepare your return, but it must be printed and mailed to the IRS. Failure to include required documents will delay your refund.

6. If you filed your tax returns for 2010 or 2011 and did not claim an allowable adoption credit, you can file an amended return to get a refund. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, along with Form 8839 and the required documents to claim the credit. You generally must file Form 1040X to claim a refund within three years from the date you filed your original return or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

7. The IRS is committed to processing adoption credit claims quickly, but must also safeguard against improper claims by ensuring the standards for receiving the credit are met. If your return is selected for review, please keep in mind that it is necessary for the IRS to verify that the legal criteria are met before the credit can be paid. If you are owed a refund beyond the adoption credit, you will still receive that part of your refund while the review is being conducted.

8. The expanded adoption credit provisions available in 2010 and 2011 do not apply in later years. In 2012 the maximum credit decreases to $12,650 per child and the credit is no longer refundable. A nonrefundable credit can reduce your tax, but any excess is not refunded to you.

For more information see the ‘Adoption Benefits FAQs’ page available at IRS.gov or the Form 8839 instructions. The forms and instructions can be downloaded from the website or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Links:

  • Adoption Benefits FAQs
  • Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses (PDF)
  • Instructions for Form 8839 (PDF)
  • Publication 4903, Affordable Care Act Expands Adoption Tax Credit Flyer (PDF)
  • Form 1040X, Amended Federal Income Tax Return (PDF)
  • Instructions for Form 1040X (PDF)

IRS Tax Tip: Renting Your Vacation Home

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Income that you receive for the rental of your vacation home must generally be reported on your federal income tax return.

 

However, if you rent the property for only a short time each year, you may not be required to report the rental income.

 

The IRS offers these tips on reporting rental income from a vacation home such as a house, apartment, condominium, mobile home or boat:

 

Rental Income and Expenses  Rental income, as well as certain rental expenses that can be deducted, are normally reported on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss.

 

Limitation on Vacation Home Rentals  When you use a vacation home as your residence and also rent it to others, you must divide the expenses between rental use and personal use, and you may not deduct the rental portion of the expenses in excess of the rental income.

You are considered to use the property as a residence if your personal use is more than 14 days, or more than 10% of the total days it is rented to others if that figure is greater. For example, if you live in your vacation home for 17 days and rent it 160 days during the year, the property is considered used as a residence and your deductible rental expenses would be limited to the amount of rental income.

 

Special Rule for Limited Rental Use  If you use a vacation home as a residence and rent it for fewer than 15 days per year, you do not have to report any of the rental income. Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, may be used to report regularly deductible personal expenses, such as qualified mortgage interest, property taxes, and casualty losses.

 

IRS Publication 527, Residential Rental Property (Including Rental of Vacation Homes), is available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). The booklet offers more information about rental property, including special rules about personal use and how to report rental income and expenses.