Baltimoresun.com's tax-advice column features three experts from the Hunt Valley accounting firm SC&H Group answering questions about preparing your return every Monday until April 17. To be included in the following weeks, please use the form at the right side of this page to submit your questions.

Scott, Glen Arm: We bought a Volkswagen Jetta diesel in July of 2005. The car averages 50 miles per gallon on the highway. Does this purchase qualify for a tax credit/deduction per last year's federal energy act?

  • Related
  • Jim Wilhelm


    Jim Wilhelm, a partner with SC&H Group, leads the income tax department, providing tax compliance and consulting services to private and public companies throughout the region.
  • Stuart Rudo


    Stuart Rudo is a tax partner with SC&H Group, focusing his practice on individual and corporate tax services and cost segregation studies.
  • Greg Horning


    Greg Horning is a founding partner of SC&H Group. He provides comprehensive tax, investment advisory and financial planning services to high net-worth individuals.
SC&H Group: Sorry, but your Jetta is not one of the four types of automobiles that qualify for the alternative motor vehicle credit. Those are: qualified fuel-cell motor vehicles; advanced lean-burn-technology motor vehicles; qualified hybrid motor vehicles; and qualified alternative-fuel motor vehicles. In short, a qualified automobile must operate solely or partially on a non-petroleum energy source -- electricity or converted chemical energy -- to qualify for the energy policy of 2005 tax credit.

In addition, the act's benefits are for expenditures made beginning in 2006. For tax years prior to 2006, certain clean-fuel vehicles and electric vehicles created tax benefits for their owners. However, diesel cars were not among them.

Tish Gregson, Laurel: Can I have a 401(k) and contribute to an IRA (tax deductible)?

SC&H Group: Yes, it is possible for people who actively participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan to make payments to an IRA. However, there are restrictions governing the deductibility of these contributions, based on filing status and income.

If you are a single filer, you may make a tax-deductible contribution of up to $4,000 if your annual adjusted gross income (AGI) does not exceed $50,000. However, if your AGI does exceed $50,000, the deductible contribution amount decreases. If your AGI is greater than $60,000, the $4,000 contribution can still be made, but there is no deduction allowed.

If you are a married individual filer, you may make a tax-deductible contribution of up to $4,000, as long as you and your spouse's combined AGI does not exceed $70,000. However, if your combined AGI does exceed $70,000, the deductible contribution amount decreases. If your combined AGI is greater than $80,000, the $4,000 contribution can still be made, but there is no deduction allowed.

If you are married and filing jointly, you may make a tax-deductible contribution of up to $4,000, as long as you and your spouse's combined AGI does not exceed $80,000. If your combined AGI does exceed $80,000, the deductible contribution amount decreases. If your AGI is greater than $80,000, the $4,000 contribution can still be made, but there is no deduction allowed.

And if all that isn't confusing enough, if you have an employer-sponsored plan but your spouse does not, he may be able to make a deductible IRA contribution, depending on your joint AGI. Also, we recommend you discuss the benefits of the new Roth IRA with your financial adviser.

Dimitri Kastor, Baltimore: How is it possible that you pay taxes directly out of your check for an entire year, yet, you still end up owing the government (mainly, the state) at the end of that year?

SC&H Group: While we feel your pain, often, the withholding on your salary income is not sufficient to cover the tax liability you face each year. There are many reasons why this could be happening to you, but here are the most common:

  • You have investment income or other types of income that create additional tax liability that is not reflected in your withholding amount.

  • Your spouse works and your combined income places you in a higher tax bracket than you are individually (the "marriage penalty").

  • For Maryland, certain types of income are taxable, while not taxable on your federal return, or you have deductions on your federal return that are not allowable for state purposes. In addition, certain tax credits -- such as the child tax credit, foreign tax credit and education tax credits -- will reduce your federal tax but have no impact on your state return.

    Delores Gregory, Baltimore: In 2002 when I retired, part of my deferred compensation was in stock, which was put in my name, and I paid taxes on it. Last year, I sold the stock at a profit. What portion of the money do I report and what portion is taxable, and how do I report it? I received a [Form] 1099-B for the full value.

    SC&H Group: By receiving ownership of the stock when you retired, you should have been treated as having received ordinary income ("deferred compensation"), which was reported on your W-2 and on your 2002 tax return (Line 7 on Form 1040). In addition, any amounts paid by you to acquire the stock are included in the total cost to acquire the stock. These events establish the cost basis for your stock.

    The amount you received in 2005 is your gross proceeds. The excess of the gross proceeds over the cost basis, when you sold the stock, is your capital gain. Since your capital gain was for stock held for more than one year, the sale qualifies for long-term capital gains tax rates.

    Tom, Accident: My wife's W-2 shows an amount for [Internal Revenue Code] 125. I understand this is a health care spending account. My question is, how is it shown on federal and state returns?

    SC&H Group: Cafeteria Plans established under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 125 can be used to transfer many forms of benefits to employees. The type of plan and the type of reimbursements dictate whether the benefit is included or excluded from federal and state taxable income. Some states require you include certain IRC 125 benefits into state taxable income. New York City, for example, requires some forms of deferred compensation paid through an IRC 125 plan to be currently included in city taxable income.

    In your case, distributions from a health savings account (HSA) used exclusively to pay for qualified medical expenses of the account beneficiary, his or her spouse, or dependents are excludable from federal and Maryland taxable income. If you deferred income related to day care expenses, you should utilize that data when preparing Form 2441.

    Valarie Tisdale, Baltimore: My husband and I own a home. The property is financed in both names. His credit cards are delinquent. Can a lien be placed on our home?

    SC&H Group: The question you are asking is of a legal nature and therefore we are not qualified to respond. You should discuss this issue with an attorney familiar with such matters.

    Gail Gallon, Forest Hill: I am using TurboTax. My husband is on active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard. Is his income from Maryland or not?

    SC&H Group: Your husband's income from the Coast Guard must be reported on your Maryland income tax return provided he maintains a legal domicile in Maryland. State residents are required to report all income on their return regardless of where the income was earned. He may, however, be entitled to exclude up to $15,000 of military pay if it was earned outside of U.S. boundaries or possessions. See the Military Overseas Income Worksheet and Instruction No. 29 included with the Maryland 2005 forms instructions.

    Bettye Campbell, Parkville: My son is a full-time college student. Last summer, he was in a federal summer internship program. He received a stipend of just under $6,000 for the 12 weeks. He was not asked to fill out a W-4, [and] no taxes or [Federal Insurance Contributions Act] contributions were withheld. He received a [Form] 1099 with the amount listed as "taxable grants." This was the only income he had in 2005. Does he owe taxes? Does he even have to file a return? Thank you.

    SC&H Group: The minimum federal and Maryland filing requirement for a single taxpayer (not claimed as a dependent) is $8,200. The minimum filing requirement for a dependent taxpayer for a federal return is $5,000 of earned income or $800 of unearned income. Assuming that you claim your son as a dependent since he is a full-time student, your son would be required to file a federal return for 2005 since his earned income exceeds the $5,000 filing requirement.

    He will have a small federal tax liability for 2005. He will not, however, have to file a Maryland return since his income is below the $8,200 filing requirement. This income should be reported on Line 7 of Form 1040.

    Teresa, Lothian: My husband and I are recently separated and we will be filing separately. I was told by H&R Block that I could not submit all of my day care expenses (camp, after care, day care). Is this true? It did not seem right.

    SC&H Group: If you file married filing separately, you cannot take the credit for dependent care expenses. But if you are considered unmarried at the end of 2005, you may be able to file as head of household and claim the credit.

    In order to be considered unmarried at the end of the tax year, you and your spouse must have lived apart for the last six months of the tax year, you must have provided over half the cost of keeping up your home and your child must have lived in your home for more than half of the year. If you meet all of the requirements listed above, you will need to submit Form 2441 along with your Form 1040 in order to take the credit for dependent care expenses.

    Louis, Joppa: In 2005, I cashed out $25,000 in a self-directed IRA in M&T Bank and immediately put [the] full amount in [an] Allianz plan, but because the proper paperwork was not submitted, they sent me back the amount in a check made out to me. I immediately put the full amount in another self-directed IRA through Smith Barney. I never touched or spent any part of the money. But in January 2006, I received from Allianz a [Form] 1099 for the full amount of the $25,000. My question is, do I have to pay taxes on this money?

    SC&H Group: It sounds like you did a qualifying rollover, so that amount should not be taxed to you. As long as you contribute the funds to another IRA within 60 days (or recontribute to the same IRA within that time frame), the distribution is not taxable to you. You report the distribution on your tax return, but it is not subject to income tax.

    Ed Garvey, Crofton: I purchased replacement windows in 2005. Does this qualify for the energy tax credit? How do I claim it?

    SC&H Group: The credit for qualified energy efficiency improvements is effective for property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2005, so these windows would not qualify. If they were placed in service in 2006, you would need to first establish that they meet criteria set forth by the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code. The manufacturer of the windows should be able to tell you whether or not they meet these standards.

    Once you confirm that the windows qualify, you can take a credit for 10 percent of the amount paid or incurred for the windows during the tax year, up to $200. The credit is also subject to other limitations if you have taken a similar credit in prior years.

    Harriet Cooper, Mount Washington: I am in the process of doing my 2005 tax return, and I have a question about an energy rebate on certain purchases for the home. I did hear of something about this a few months ago. In 2005, I purchased a new heat pump and furnace, replaced all of my windows with new, energy efficient windows, purchased a new Energy Star dishwasher, a new stove and [a] microwave. Is there some kind of rebate/deduction on income tax returns for this? I thought I read something that President Bush was presenting.

    SC&H Group: The credits for qualified energy efficiency improvements and residential energy property expenditures are effective for property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2005, so your improvements would not qualify. Starting Jan. 1, 2006, certain improvements and expenditures can qualify for these credits if they are installed in the taxpayer's principal residence.

    Qualified energy efficiency improvements include certain insulation materials and systems, exterior windows and doors, and certain metal roofing. All of these improvements must meet standards set forth in the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code. The improvements must also be originally placed in service by the taxpayer and reasonably expected to be in service for at least five years.

    Residential energy property expenditures include certain heat pumps, water heaters, central air conditioners, furnaces, hot-water boilers and advanced main air-circulating fans that meet certain standards set forth by the Department of Energy. These expenditures must also be originally placed in service by the taxpayer.

    The credits for qualified energy efficiency improvements and residential energy property expenditures are both subject to certain limitations. You should consult your tax adviser for assistance in calculating them.

    Louis Mason, Baltimore: I own a home with an assessed value of $370,000 in Baltimore City. My current taxes are based on a phase-in of $173,000. My parents live with me in this home. My question is, if I declare part of the home as a rental to my parents and collect rent from them, will my city taxes still be based on my current phase-in, or are city taxes different for a rental property? For example, by charging them rent, will my taxes rise to the $370,000 assessment value of the property?

    SC&H Group: We would need more information to directly answer your question. However, you should consider the purchase date, purchase price and qualifying factors for the Homestead Credit. The Homestead Credit was established to help homeowners deal with large assessment increases and requires jurisdictions to limit taxable assessment increases to 10 percent or less each year. The state of Maryland limits the increase of taxable assessments to 10 percent each year, while Baltimore City limits the increase to 4 percent each year. The qualifying factors for the Homestead Credit are:

  • The property was not transferred to new ownership.

  • There was no change in the zoning classification requested by the homeowner resulting in an increase value of the property.

  • A substantial change did not occur in the use of the property.

  • The previous assessment was not clearly erroneous.

    A further condition is that the dwelling must be the owner's principal residence and the owner must have lived in it for at least six months of the year, including July 1 of the year for which the credit is applicable. The Homestead Credit is granted by the treasurer's office when calculating the property tax due.

    We suggest you seek professional advice.