The IRS recently made available draft copies of some of the new forms proposed for individual 1987 tax returns -- and they're not very different from last year's forms. There are significant changes, of course, but the new forms were intentionally kept as similar as possible to the old ones to keep the panic level low.
To accommodate the changes mandated by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the IRS has added a line or so here, eliminated a line or so there -- resulting in different line numbers than in the past. So the advice I include in the next annual Tax Guide in the Washington Business section will be particularly important for this year's taxes: Read the forms and don't attempt simply to copy even repetitive information from a previous return.
Here is a sampling of the changes on the basic Form 1040: Under "exemptions" there are no boxes provided for "age 65" or "blind," since these extra exemptions have been eliminated. And a column has been added to show the Social Security number for each dependent age 5 or over. The "adjustments to income" for moving expenses and employe travel expenses have been taken off the 1040 and moved to Schedule A, since such expenses may now be claimed only as itemized deductions.
Congress has thrown out the term "zero bracket amount" and gone back to the old "standard deduction." As a result, a new section has been added on page 2 to allow for the standard deduction; to accommodate the extra $600 standard deduction for those age 65 and over or blind, a table will be included in the instruction book from which those who qualify can obtain their total standard deduction.
On Schedule A, there is a reminder that general sales taxes are no longer deductible. Another note refers you to the appropriate section of the instructions if you have more than two homes or if your home mortgage was incurred after Aug. 16, 1986.
A calculation is added to handle the 65 percent limitation on the deduction for personal interest expense. The medical expense exclusion goes from 5 percent of adjusted gross income to 7.5 percent; and a similar exclusion is required for those miscellaneous deductions subject to the floor of 2 percent of adjusted gross income. And lines are added to Schedule A for moving expenses and employe business expenses, no longer claimed as exclusion.
If your blood pressure jumps 40 points just thinking about your tax return, these comments may not be very reassuring. But the IRS has taken pains to keep the anticipated trauma within reasonable limits by resisting the temptation to throw everything out and start over. If you've been handling your own tax returns in the past, there's no reason why you can't continue to do so. The forms I have seen are necessarily modified from those of previous years, but are not any more difficult to follow. Relax -- and don't hit the panic button. I recently bought a conversion van, and was told by my dealer as well as by the IRS that this van qualifies as a "second home" and that I can deduct all of my interest expense each year on my tax return. The IRS sent me a publication on deductions, but I found nothing specifically covering conversion vans. Will you please give me some insight on this? It will be years before the IRS can come up with formal guidance on all the details of the 1986 Tax Reform Act. It seems clear at this point that a boat, motor home or trailer will qualify as a second home (and thus provide full deductibility of interest) if it is used as such at least 15 days a year and provides basic living accommodations such as sleeping space and toilet and cooking facilities.
The quality of these amenities has not been addressed, and probably would be considered by the IRS on a case-by-case basis. I suspect that a van with a convertible couch, a two-burner range with pots and dishes and a portable toilet would qualify if you actually use the van for trips for at least the required 15 days. My feeling is that the size and luxury of the "home" is not as critical as whether it is in fact used as a second or vacation home. Abramson is a family financial counselor and tax adviser. Questions of general interest on tax matters, insurance, investments, estate planning and other aspects of family finances will be answered in this column. Advice cannot be given on an individual basis. Address all questions to E.M. Abramson, The Washington Post, Business News, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.