The 115th Congress convenes for the first time in 2017
The 115th Congress convenes for the first time in 2017, when it's expected to consider major tax reform. Bloomberg News

Some tax deductions and credits may be traded for lower overall rates in the reform plans of the Trump administration and the Republic congressional leadership, so taxpayers may want to make the most of them now, recommends tax research and software provider Wolters Kluwer.

“With tax reform on the agenda for 2017, several tax deductions and credits might be sacrificed in order to lower tax rates, so make sure that you claim all of the tax breaks to which you are entitled before they disappear,” said Mark Luscombe, JD, LLM, CPA and principal federal tax analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. “Consulting a tax professional about potential deductions and credits that you may not be aware of is a good idea.”

With that in mind, the company assembled the following primer of “need-to-know” deductions and tax credits. (A listicle of this article is available at "Grab these tax breaks before they disappear.")


Home Office Deduction

A simplified safe-harbor method for this deduction was introduced in 2013 for those who are self-employed and work out of their homes. It is based on the size of home office and is designed to be a simple calculation.

Here’s how it works: Eligible taxpayers can deduct $5 for every square foot of workspace used – up to a maximum of 300 square feet. So, if the taxpayer uses a den or spare bedroom at home as their home office and it measures 18 X 15 feet for a total of 270 square feet – multiply that by $5 for a total home office tax deduction of $1,350.

The simplified safe-harbor option saves time compared to the standard home office tax deduction calculation of figuring related expenses and how they are apportioned over the course of the year to a home office. One taxpayer-friendly benefit is that one may choose which calculation, either the safe-method or the standard method, to use each year to provide the largest tax deduction.


Mortgage Interest Deduction

As a result of a recent court decision, the IRS has changed its position and now allows the mortgage interest deduction limits to be applied on a per-taxpayer rather than a per-residence basis.  This means that two unrelated owners of a home can now each claim a mortgage interest deduction related to up to $1 million in mortgage debt related to purchase, construction or improvement of the home and up to $100,000 for a line of credit secured by the home.


Mortgage Debt Exclusion

The PATH Act, enacted in December 2015, prevents forgiveness of mortgage debt from suddenly being counted as additional taxpayer income, since the mortgagor no longer is making payments on the forgiven portion, but not pocketing the savings in cash. Those who qualify may benefit on a principal residence of up to $2 million ($1 million for a married taxpayer filing a separate return) through 2016. The act also modifies the exclusion to apply to qualified principal residence indebtedness discharged in 2017 if the discharge is made under a binding written agreement in 2016.

In other words, taxpayers who enter into a foreclosure, short sale or home loan adjustment in writing before Dec. 31, 2016, but do not complete the transaction until after Jan. 1, 2017, may qualify for the exclusion. Because the forgiven portion is not considered added income, taxpayers will not vault into a higher tax bracket or be taxed on that amount within their current bracket.


Home Mortgage Insurance Premium Deduction

It’s one of the more popular deductions that was extended through 2016 with passage of the PATH Act — allowing most homeowners to write off their home mortgage insurance premium as interest paid on a mortgage. Taxpayers can deduct mortgage interest paid on their primary home and on a second or vacation home. In addition, mortgage interest on a line of credit or home equity loan, which is secured by the home, is also deductible.


Charitable Donations

Taxpayers who donate money or non-cash property to qualified charities may be entitled to a tax deduction. While charitable gifts via a check may be easiest to track, a receipt or official acknowledgement of the donation from the charitable organization is a mandatory requirement for tax reporting. 

Additional documentation is required to establish the fair market value of non-cash items. Also:

  • Travel expenses associated with charitable volunteer activities may also be tax deductible.
  • Charitable donations may be limited based on a percentage of adjusted gross income depending on the type of organization and property donated.


Medical, Dental Expense Deductions

Expenses related to diagnoses and treatment of medical and dental conditions may also be deducted from your income taxes, depending on how much you paid out of pocket compared to how much you earned.

The general rule is that qualified medical and dental costs that exceed 10 percent of a taxpayer’s AGI may be deducted (7.5 percent for people age 65 or over before January 1, 2017). Typical expenses may include unreimbursed medical and dental bills, and the unreimbursed costs of equipment, supplies and devices prescribed by a physician or dentist for use in treating a condition.


Medicare Premium Deductions, Self-Employed

Business owners and self-employed taxpayers may deduct health insurance premiums. Those who are old enough to qualify for Medicare and are also business owners or self-employed may deduct premiums paid for Medicare Part B, Part D and supplemental Medicare policies to guard against health care coverage gaps. However, the deduction is not available for anyone who is already covered under their or their spouse’s employer’s health plan.


Business Expense Tax Deductions

For sole proprietors, self-employed workers, contractors and others incurring qualified business expenses related to their occupation, income tax deductions are available. In most cases, eligible business expenses must both be ordinary, something common and acceptable in that particular business, as well as necessary, something appropriate and helpful to the business or trade.

The IRS requires that business expenses should be separated from other expenses used to figure the cost of goods sold, capital expenses and personal expenses. Furthermore, business expense deductions can only be taken once, either on an individual’s income tax return or a separate business tax return – but not on both.


Child Tax Credit

The maximum child tax credit of $1,000 per child age 17 or younger is now permanent. For taxpayers with nominal tax liability, a portion of the child tax credit may be refundable. However, the amount of the credit may be less, depending on income level.


Child and Dependent Care Credit

This credit may be claimed by eligible taxpayers who paid work-related expenses for the care of a qualifying individual in order for an eligible taxpayer to be able to work or look for employment. It is a percentage of the amount paid to a care provider and depends on a taxpayer’s AGI. A dependent child must be under 13-years-old when care was provided to qualify.


Adoption Credit

Newly adoptive parents are eligible to claim up to $13,460 per child for 2016 taxes ($13,570 for 2017). However, the credit decreases for those with a modified adjusted gross income of more than $201,920 ($203,540 in 2017). Plus, taxpayers with a MAGI of more than $241,920 ($243,540 in 2017) cannot claim the credit.

The adoption credit was also made permanent in 2013 and it’s the largest nonrefundable tax credit available to individuals. Those claiming the credit on their income taxes must file Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses. Documentation of qualified adoption expenses, including any adoption decree or court order, should be retained with copies of the tax return.


Earned Income Tax Credit

The PATH Act made permanent the EITC increase ($5,000) in phase-out amounts for joint tax return filers. The act also made permanent the increased credit of 45 percent for taxpayers with three or more qualifying children. Without the changes, both enhancements were set to expire in 2017.  

The EITC is a refundable federal tax credit aimed at helping low- and moderate-income workers keep more of their paychecks. It was enacted in 1975 to offset Social Security taxes for those who qualify and as an incentive for more people to join the workforce. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes to be paid, it can then generate a tax refund for eligible taxpayers who claim the credit.