No major tax legislation was enacted during 1985. Despite that, there are a number of changes to the rules -- some a lingering hangover from the new tax laws of the preceding four years, others slipped in quietly this year as minor and unheralded parts of other legislation.
Most of these changes are treated in greater detail in the text of the Tax Guide. Here for your review is a summary of the major changes that affect the individual taxpayer.
Indexing. This is the first year of "indexing" -- the modification of various numbers in the rules to compensate for the effect of inflation. The personal exemption, the exemption for dependents (and the "income" test for qualifying), the zero bracket amount and the upper and lower limits of the tax brackets themselves all are increased by 4.08 percent. (For you mathematicians, the precise value is 4.0766913 -- give or take one-hundred-millionth or so.)
Alimony. There is a new rule for distinguishing alimony from child support -- important because alimony is tax-deductible by the payer and taxable income to the receiver, while child support is neither deductible nor reportable. In a nutshell, if the dollar amount of payments resulting from a divorce or separation agreement is reduced upon a change in status of a minor child of the marriage, the amount of the deduction is child support rather than alimony.
Beginning in 1985, alimony received -- and reported as income -- may be considered earned income for the purpose of determining qualification for an IRA.
Dependent child. A child of a terminated marriage is considered the dependent of the custodial parent regardless of relative amounts of support provided, unless the custodial parent waives the right. But regardless of who has custody or claims the child as a dependent, either divorced parent (or both) may claim a Schedule A deduction for medical expenses paid for the child.
Disabled dependent. When making the "income" test to determine eligibility as a dependent, you may disregard "earnings" of a disabled person at a sheltered workshop when the main purpose of attendance is the availability of rehabilitative care.
Head of a household. A divorced parent may claim head-of-household status if he or she provided the principal home for a child for more than half the year (instead of the full year under the old rule). In addition, the child need not be a dependent, if that status is a result of a pre-1985 divorce settlement or is due to a waiver by the custodial parent.
Earned income credit. Both the rates of the credit and the earnings ceilings for eligibility have been increased.
Contributions. Non-itemizers may claim on their 1985 returns 50 percent of total charitable contributions, without a dollar ceiling but subject to the normal statutory limits on such contributions. Form 8283 must be used to document contributions of property when the total amount of such contributions exceeds $500. A taxpayer who uses his own car while donating services to a qualifying organization may claim an allowance of 12 cents a mile, up from 9 cents in 1984.
Business mileage. The mileage rate for business use of a car has been increased from 20.5 cents to 21 cents for the first 15,000 miles of such use in 1985. The rate remains 11 cents for miles in excess of 15,000.
Mortgage interest. A person who receives $600 or more in mortgage interest in 1985 must complete Form 1098, then send Copy A of the form to the IRS and deliver copy B to the payer of the interest.
Schedule D. This report of capital gains and losses has been expanded to include two new sections: (1) A reconciliation of your Schedule D information on the sale of securities with the data reported by your broker; and (2) A reconciliation of bartering income you reported with formal reports required of barter exchanges and others engaged in bartering transactions.
Rental property. For rental property placed in service from March 16, 1984, through May 8, 1985, the depreciation term to be used under the Accelerated Cost Recovery System is 18 years. The ACRS period goes up to 19 years for rental property first placed in service on and after May 9, 1985.