Finally, I electronically filed my 2004 tax return today. For some factors out of my control, I had to request an automatic tax filing extension (and it is actually really easy), which gave me until August 15 to file my 2004 return. The tax preparation process was not difficult as I have complete information in my Microsoft Money file and offline models. By my estimate, I only took about 8 hours to input the data, review the calculation and do some fine-tuning. Not bad compared to the estimated 28.5 hours for an average return with equal complexity (my tax return includes 1040, Schedule A, B, C, D and SE).
I know tax is an unpopular topic for summer, but every year's tax filing is a learning experience for me, and for the spirit of disclosure, I'm willing to share some observation and explain some tricky part of my tax return. In fact, if you are new to PFBlog, click the links in the following description and you will enjoy a mini-exhibition of what happened to my financial life in 2004. (Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, I cannot share my complete tax return online.)
My Estimate of Tax Exposure is Pretty Accurate
For those who know my accounting system pretty well, I have a "Tax Liability - Incurred" account to track my tax exposure for a given tax year. (Another account of "Tax Liability - Floating" is used to track my tax exposure for the future with no specific tax year, like unrealized capital gains.) At the end of 2004, the balance in my "Tax Liability - Incurred" account is $818.40 (read: I owe the government that much). According to the tax return I just filed, after purposefully pre-paying $1,500 in April (for a 5% rebate from Citi Driver's Edge card), I am due for a refund of $721. By the math, my original estimate is only less than $40 off ($1,500 - $721 - $818). Isn't it very good accounting?
What's New This Year
My 2004 tax return is way more complex than the previous year and here is a list of new items I have to include in my tax profile:
- One More Dependent: Finally, I can put my son as my dependent. This adds to our exemptions, and give me some air cover on child tax credit and dependent care credit.
- Itemized Deduction: Year 2004 is also my first year of using itemized deduction. (If you recall, I bought my current house in August 2003, and the ensuing mortgage interest and property tax payment was not sufficient to make my itemized deduction higher than standard deduction would allow.) The $15,000-strong itemized deduction is certainly a blessing!
- State Sales Tax Deduction and The Kia: WIthin the $15,000 itemized deduction I listed in Schedule A, some $2,300 comes from the newly invented state sales tax deduction. In addition to the general deductions based on income level, I also claimed the deduction of the sales tax I paid for the Kia Optima last summer. (Isn't it good to get some tax relief from something I no longer possess?)
- Child/Dependent Care Expense Credit: Due to a partially successful year-end tax stunt, my claim of this credit is pretty complicated. In Form 2441, I have to explain the day care expenses I paid out of my pocket, then pro-rate it against the part I managed through the flexible spending account. The end result: A $412 credit. As expected, I was punished here for earning too much, a living example of why your true tax bracket is higher than you would expect from the tax tables. (Related PFBlog article: What's Your Marginal Tax Rate?)
- Business Income: My petty project of PFBlog earned me some free dinners through advertising income in 2004, and Uncle Sam wants to claim its part :-) For the first time, I have to include Schedule C, which is essentially an income statement exercise in Corporate Accounting 101. One observation: the profit margin at PFBlog is very high, since it does not make sense to pay myself and claim it as an expense (no ultimate impact to my tax). Maybe I should pay my son next year for being nice at home and allowing me to spend time on blogging :-)
- Self-Employment Tax: Not only does IRS want a cut of the advertising dollars at PFBlog, it also asks me to pay self-employment tax. Fortunately I had maxed out my social security tax from my daily job, so I only have to hand over a free lunch to IRS for the Medicare (as 2.9% of business income).
- Alternative Minimal Tax: For yet another year, I don't have to pay the infamous AMT. My total tax of $16,000+ is safely over the calculated alternative minimal tax of $13,400.
TaxAct is Good Enough for Me
2004 is the second year I use TaxAct to file my tax. I haven't used leading names like TurboTax or TaxCut, but TaxAct just served me well. It allows people like me, who has some intermediate knowledge of tax, play with the numbers, make sense of the calculation, and cruise among different forms and schedules with ease. The embedded J.K. Lasser tax literature is very handy and helpful, too. Plus, if you get it from the right channel, your federal tax filing is free!