By Mary Schwager for GalTime.com
As you start to gather your documents and tally your receipts for your taxes, don't forget to write off your kids! There are many tax breaks you can claim with Uncle Sam if you have children and some you may not even know about.
For example, did you know that you can write off your child's summer day camp? Ann Marie Casinelli, senior manager at tax services company, ParenteBeard, says you can claim a credit for a percentage of your child care expenses that allow you to work. "Many people overlook the fact that summer day camp generally qualifies."
Get the math side of your brain thinking, Casinelli explains, "The credit can be up to $600 for one child or $1,200 for two or more children. People with higher incomes may not qualify for this credit. If you paid $3,000 for your son's day camp so he has somewhere to go while you're at work, you can receive a credit of $600 (3,000 x 20 percent). If your three children attend summer camp, and you spend $9,000 in camp expenses, the maximum credit you can receive is $1,200 ($6,000 x 20 percent). To qualify, children must be under 13 years of age. And, it's not just for daycare; it applies to any facility your son or daughter attends. This credit also relates to *any* after care expenses one would incur for their child so they are able to work."
What other ways can your kids help you get money back from the tax man? The IRS has these pointers:
• Dependents: In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent. This applies even if your child was born anytime in 2013. For more details, see Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.
• Child Tax Credit: You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your qualifying children under the age of 17 at the end of 2013. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. For more about both credits, see the instructions for Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, and Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.
• Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to claim this credit if you paid someone to care for one or more qualifying persons. Your dependent child or children under age 13 are among those who are qualified. You must have paid for care so you could work or look for work. For more, see Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
• Earned Income Tax Credit: If you worked but earned less than $51,567 last year, you may qualify for EITC. If you have three qualifying children, you may get up to $6,044 as EITC when you file and claim it on your tax return. Use the EITC Assistant tool at IRS.gov> to find out if you qualify or see Publication 596, Earned Income Tax Credit.
• Adoption Credit: You may be able to claim a tax credit for certain expenses you paid to adopt a child. For details, see the instructions for Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.
• Higher education credits: If you paid for higher education for yourself or an immediate family member, you may qualify for either of two education tax credits. Both the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the American Opportunity Credit is more than the tax you owe, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,000. See Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
• Student loan interest: You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan, even if you don't itemize deductions on your tax return. For more information, see Publication 970.
• Self-employed health insurance deduction: If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid to cover your child under the Affordable Care Act. It applies to children under age 27 at the end of the year, even if not your dependent. See Notice 2010-38 for information.
Brand new for this filing season: Legally married same-sex couples can file as a married couple and take the tax benefits together. How do you get most back as a family? Turbo Tax recommends:
• If you're legally married on Dec. 31, you're considered married for the full year and must file as either married filing jointly or married filing separately. Couples who are married and filing jointly may benefit from lower tax rates on their combined income. Using the married filing separately status may make you ineligible for valuable tax deductions and credits related to your kids. If you're married you have to file as married filing jointly in order to take advantage of these deductions and credits.
• One of these valuable tax credits is the Earned Income Tax Credit, worth up to $6,044 for 2013. Your income and number of qualifying children will determine the actual amount of your Earned Income Tax Credit. The maximum credit you can qualify for is $6,044 with three or more qualifying children, $5,372 with two qualifying children, $3,250 with one qualifying child and $487 with no qualifying children depending on your income. The credit is phased out the closer your income gets to the maximum income limits.
More from GalTime:
Restaurant.com sells $25 gift certificates for $10 or $50 gift certificates for $20. The site also has sales throughout the year, and I've snagged $25 gift certificates for $5. I keep a stack of these things in my wallet at all times. Most places have a minimum purchase requirement (from $35 and up) but you can generally use the gift certificates any time. But there are drawbacks: They're for dine-in only, they're nonrefundable, and they can only be redeemed once per month per restaurant. Still, the site has become so popular that you can double dip - buying Restaurant.com certificates through an airline's shopping portal in order to earn frequent flier miles, for instance.
If you're not already using Groupon and LivingSocial, start now. Both sites post daily deals that will give you 50 to 90 percent off at different restaurants. You'll have to act quickly, but you'll save a bunch. I just got a dozen cake pops (regularly $17) for $8 through Groupon. If you don't want to spend hours sifting through all the offers, Money Talks News deals diva Karla Bowsher has culled the very best on our deals page.
If you have a smartphone, some social networking apps will get you free stuff and discounts. Last weekend, I got free guacamole and a free flan for checking into the restaurant on Yelp. Here are a few apps that score you deals: Yelp Check-ins - After you check in, mention Yelp to your server to get the goods. Foursquare - Many places offer discounts and buy-one-get-one offers to people who check in. SCVNGR - Every time you check in, you accumulate points. You can redeem your points for a discount on your bill or a free item depending on the restaurant.
Every restaurant in town knows when my birthday is. Last year, I got three half-price meals, six free desserts, two free entrees, and about a dozen free cocktails - and all I had to do was sign up for a birthday mailing list and turn a year older. Many restaurants have a birthday or anniversary club. Signing up is free and they'll send you a coupon around the date. Ask your server how to sign up - and even if they don't have a mailing list, he'll tell you what you can get for free or cheap on your special occasion. There's even a site devoted to listing restaurants where you can eat free on your birthday: eatfreeonyourbirthday.com
Social media-savvy restaurants post special deals on Twitter. Some even post code words. If you tell your server the code word, you'll get a discount or a freebie. Last month, I got a free dessert for saying "Free Sean Payton" to my server. (I live in New Orleans, and the code words referred to our NFL coach who has been suspended by the league.) To find a restaurant's Twitter info, visit its website and look for the "Follow Us" links. One should be for Twitter. Another should be for Facebook. Speaking of which...
Here at Money Talks News, we take surveys, hold contests, and give out freebies on our Facebook page as a way to keep in touch with you. Many restaurants do the same thing. By "liking" the restaurant page, you'll get access to special deals not mentioned anywhere else.
I've made it a habit to open a few apps before I walk into a restaurant. There are several free apps that post deals to local and chain restaurants. Most places will apply the discount to your bill if you show them the app - no need to print the coupon. Here are a few apps worth downloading: Dining Deals LocalEats The Valpak App
Many restaurants in my area extend their lunch hours until late afternoon. By eating dinner early, I get the lunch prices, which are often 25 to 50 percent cheaper than the dinner prices for the same entrees. Before you try somewhere new, visit the restaurant's website and see if they have a lunch or early bird special.
It's uncommon, but some restaurants let you bring your own beer or wine, which is usually cheaper than the cost of paying per glass. Before you go, call ahead and ask if the establishment is BYOB. If they're not, skip the cocktail and have one somewhere else. Some places will charge a "corkage fee" if you bring your own wine, but even at $10 per bottle, it's still often cheaper than buying the same bottle in the restaurant. Most restaurants in my area overcharge for alcohol. For example, my local bar charges $3 for a mixed drink, but the restaurant next door charges $6. I save 50 percent stopping by the bar for my after-dinner drink.
Restaurant meals are over-proportioned, so split your meal in two. You'll eat dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow for one price. It may seem like obvious advice, but it's harder in practice. If you're not careful, you'll end up eating everything on the plate. To beat the extra calories and save money, I divide my plate in half before I start eating. I only eat from my "now" half of the plate and ask for a to-go box for the rest.
Knowing the different steak cuts and how they're prepared will save you money. For example, my friend always goes for the filet mignon because it's well known and tender. It's also one of the most expensive cuts you can order. Meanwhile, I ask if the hanger or flank steak was marinated. If it was, I order that. It's the cheapest steak on the menu, but it's also flavorful and tender - if marinated. MSN says sirloin, flank, skirt, and hanger steaks are really underrated. Give them a chance.
If I've learned one thing being a local in a tourist town like New Orleans, it's this: Tourist traps are alive and well. Many of the famous restaurants tourists want to visit are overpriced and not the best dining experience. If you want an authentic experience and a better price, check out a review site like Yelp or Urban Spoon before you visit a vacation spot. Pick a few places the locals rated highly and check their websites for menu prices. You can save a ton by planning ahead and skipping the hot spots.
I'm fortunate to have very cheap friends. "I don't care where we go as long as it's cheap," is a common refrain on a Friday night. But I also have some less-than-frugal friends who visit from out of town. Since I know they'll want to try that expensive five-star restaurant they heard about on the Food Network, I jump the gun and suggest a similar but cheaper place. If you're dining out with a group, suggest reasonably priced places ahead of time. It will keep you from having to choose between a $25 salad or a $30 piece of chicken.
Around here they call it lagniappe - the little something extra you get for being a great customer. Like the free cup of gumbo I've gotten every time I visit a diner in my neighborhood. I get that little something extra because I'm a regular. Trying new places is great, but you can get a discount (or a lagniappe) by building a relationship with the servers or owners of local restaurants.
With iDine, you can earn 5 to 15 percent back any time you eat out. Just sign up on their website. Within 30 days of your meal, sign on and complete a quick survey. For every survey you take, you'll earn cash back. When you reach $20, iDine will mail you an American Express gift card. It takes some effort, but it's free money. See? Dining out doesn't have to mean going all in - or staying in.
Follow GalTime on Twitter: www.twitter.com/galtime