Your federal tax deduction for state sales and use taxes could be larger than your income tax deduction depending upon your circumstances
On December 18, President Obama signed a massive federal spending bill into law. Among other things, the law reinstates a federal income tax deduction for state sales and use taxes paid by individuals. This deduction officially expired at the start of 2015, but the new spending bill retroactively abolished the expiration date, thereby making the deduction “permanent” according to its legislative supporters.
What is the sales tax deduction?
Taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal income tax return (Form 1040, Schedule A) are no doubt aware they can claim any state and local income taxes paid as a deduction. But a taxpayer may elect to deduct state and local sales taxes paid. This is in lieu of the income tax deduction. In other words, you may deduct either your state income tax paid or state sales tax paid, but not both. This election only applies for the current tax year, however, so if you take the income tax deduction on your 2015 return, you could still take the sales tax deduction on your 2016 return.
Why is there a deduction for sales and use tax?
Although most states assess some form of personal income tax, seven states do not, while two others only assess dividend and interest income but not wages or salary. This creates a disparity with respect to the federal income tax, as residents of states with no income tax, like Florida, are at a disadvantage compared to residents of states like California that charge a high income tax. The sales tax deduction is designed to remedy this imbalance.
Keep in mind, you can elect to take the sales tax deduction regardless of the state you reside in. While it is generally a good idea to take the income tax deduction in a state that has one, there may be situations where the sales tax deduction would be more favorable to you in a particular tax year.
How do I calculate my sales tax deduction?
As a basic rule, an individual can deduct the actual sales taxes he or she paid in a given tax year. This means you must actually keep the receipts of your purchases showing the sales tax paid. Alternatively, the IRS publishes tables of predetermined deduction amounts based on your state and locality. The IRS also provides an online calculator to help determine your deduction under this alternate method. You are free to choose either method.
What sales taxes cannot be deducted?
You may not deduct any business expenses on Schedule A, which includes sales tax paid on items used for your trade or business. There may also be limits on how much sales tax you can deduct on an individual purchase. For example, if you pay more than the “general sales tax” rate for a motor vehicle, you may only deduct the amount equal to the general sales tax. Additionally, if you receive any refund for sales tax paid in a given tax year, you must reduce your deduction by an equal amount.
S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog PrivyCouncil.info