Any day now, you'll be receiving your 2011 W-2 and 1099s. So it's officially time to think about getting underway on your 1040 for last year. Before you start, be aware of some key changes from earlier years. Here is Part 1 of our two-part series on the most important new things to know when preparing your 2011 return.
April 17 is the 1040 Due Date
The April 15 filing deadline for Form 1040 falls on a Sunday this year, so the deadline would normally be extended to Monday, April 16 (the next business day). However, this year's deadline is Tuesday April 17 (The reason: Emancipation Day is a holiday in Washington, D.C., and it falls on April 16.) If your return won't be ready by then, you can extend the filing deadline all the way out to Oct. 15 by submitting an extension request to the Internal Revenue Service, using Form 4868, on or before April 17. Your request will be automatically approved.
New Procedure for Reporting Capital Gains and Losses
If you made taxable 2011 sales of stocks, mutual fund shares, other securities, or other capital assets (such as a vacation home or raw land investment), you must complete new Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets) in addition to filling out the familiar Schedule D (Capital Gains and Losses). The reason: under new rules that took effect last year, securities brokers must now report to sellers (like you) the basis of certain securities that were sold in taxable accounts. They also have to tell you if the resulting gains and losses were short-term or long-term.
On new Form 8949, you must segregate gains and losses from securities that are covered by the new broker reporting requirements from gains and losses that are not covered. The most notable types of covered securities are: (1) common stock that was acquired and sold in 2011 and (2) mutual fund shares that were acquired and sold in 2011 if all the shares were acquired in a single block.
If you made a 2011 sale of a covered security, the basis will be shown in Box 3 of the Form 1099-B (Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions) that you will receive from your broker by Feb. 15. In Box 8, the broker will tell you if the resulting gain or loss was short-term or long-term.
For the sale of a non-covered security, Box 6 of the 1099-B will be checked to indicate that the new broker reporting requirements don't apply. In such a case, Box 3 and Box 8 may be blank. Non-covered securities include all common stock and mutual fund shares acquired before 2011, common stock acquired in 2011 via a dividend reinvestment plan, and mutual fund shares acquired in 2011 if you acquired several blocks on different dates. (In 2012 and 2013, additional types of securities will be covered by the new broker reporting requirements, but that is an issue for another day.)
Warning: For sales of covered securities, there is no longer a virtually risk-free opportunity to fudge the tax results in your favor. Here's why. The IRS gets a copy of each 1099-B that is sent to you, and the new broker reporting requirements allow the IRS to determine the gain or loss from the sale of a covered security (because the 1099-B shows the sales proceeds and the basis) and whether the gain or loss is short-term or long-term (the 1099-B shows that too). Bottom line: take extra care when filling out Form 8949 for sales of covered securities.
Note: The new broker reporting requirements do not affect sales of securities held in an IRA or other tax-favored retirement accounts. Gains and losses from such sales have no immediate impact on your tax situation.
You Can Still Deduct Sales Taxes on Major Purchases (Like Vehicles and Boats)
The 2009 Stimulus Act created a temporary write-off for non-itemizers who paid state and local sales taxes on new vehicles purchased between Feb. 17, 2009, and 2/17/09 and Dec. 31, 2009. The write-off came in the form of an additional standard deduction allowance. Similarly, itemizers were allowed to claim an extra itemized deduction for new vehicle sales taxes. Both breaks expired at the end of 2009, and they were not reinstated for 2010 or 2011.
However the little-known truth is that itemizers who make the choice to deduct general state and local sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes can still deduct actual sale tax amounts on major 2011 purchases such as motor vehicles (including motorcycles, motor homes, and RVs), boats, aircraft, and certain home additions and renovations. The sales tax deduction option was scheduled to expire at the end of 2010, but the Bush Tax Cut extension legislation continued it through 2011.
Usually, the sales tax deduction option is only helpful for residents of states that have no personal income taxes and individuals who pay very low state and local income tax bills. However if you made one or more major purchases in 2011, the sales tax deduction option might be beneficial even if you don't fall into one of those categories. Remember: only itemizers can benefit from the sales tax deduction option. For more information, see the instructions to Schedule A (Itemized Deductions) at www.irs.gov.