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Color of Money

Brush Up on Your Tax Facts to Save More Next Year

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page E03

Have you recovered from filing your 2004 tax return? If so, get busy preparing for next year.

And no, I'm not kidding.

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Transcript: Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary was online to talk about last-minute tax filing tips, getting your finances organized and any other personal finance topic on your mind.
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_____Column Archive_____
Managing Retirement, Automatically (The Washington Post, Apr 17, 2005)
Ways to Make Sure You Can Pay for the Golden Years (The Washington Post, Apr 14, 2005)
Read Michelle's Past Columns
_____  Tax Center _____
Memorable Changes
Many of this year's changes involve minor adjustments. But for taxpayers affected, they can be well worth knowing about.

Numbers Crunch
It's clear that taxpayers who don't use professionals to prepare their returns need to have up-to-date guides and/or software.

_____  Featured Columnists _____
A Big Refund Isn't Great
Michelle Singletary writes that come tax time, it's better not to receive a refund.
_____  Live Discussion _____
Transcript: Michelle Singletary and Jim Dupree of the IRS
Special Report:
Our coverage includes quick links to advice, federal and state tax forms, a guide to tax law changes that could affect your return this year, and information on getting help.

"Everybody worries about filing their taxes at the end of the year, but in reality they need to be working on their 2005 tax return now to do what they can to minimize their taxes for the year," said David Bergstein, a CPA and business development manager for CCH Tax and Accounting, a provider of tax and accounting software and services.

I agree with Bergstein because, goodness knows, we need that long to figure out what to do and how to do it correctly.

In fact, if there were an exam on basic tax issues, from selling a home to investing and saving for retirement or a college education, most taxpayers would fail, according to a survey commissioned by CCH CompleteTax, an online arm of CCH Tax and Accounting.

What didn't people know? Here's what:

• How many years must you live in your home in order to qualify for the capital gains exclusion on its sale?

Only 16 percent of those surveyed picked the correct answer, that you must have lived in your home two of the past five years in order to qualify for the capital gains exclusion of $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing jointly) when you sell your property. Taxpayers 55 and older were more likely than those under 55 to answer correctly. Only 24 percent in the older age group identified the correct answer, compared with 12 percent of those under 55.

• Can you correctly identify education savings programs with tax benefits?

The vast majority of taxpayers with children ages 13 to 17 (77 percent) couldn't. By the way, the programs include the Hope Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, for people who have higher education expenses. There is also the Coverdell Education Savings Account and state-sponsored 529 plans, in which earnings grow tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax-free if used for approved education expenses. For more information, get IRS Publication 970, "Tax Benefits for Education."

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