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Posted: January 22, 2008

Family Caregivers May Qualify for Tax Breaks

By Jim Miller

For ConsumerAffairs.com

If you’re supporting an elderly parent, you may qualify for some tax relief if you pass Uncle Sam’s tax test. Here’s what you should know.

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If you’re supporting your elderly mother or father, to get a tax deduction, you’ll need to claim them as a dependent on your tax return. For the 2007 tax year, claiming an additional personal exemption would reduce your taxable income by $3,400. But to get this tax break, you’ll need to pass two tests:

Income test: To qualify as a dependent, your parent’s 2007 income must be less than $3,400. Their income from Social Security does not count towards that total (disability payments don’t count either). But if your parent receives more than $3,400 from other sources, such as pension benefits, interest and dividends from investments, or withdrawals from retirement savings plans, you can’t claim them as a dependent.

Support test: In addition to the income test, you must provide more than half of your parent’s costs for housing, food, medical care, transportation and other necessities. Even if all your mother's or dad's income is from Social Security, you can’t claim them as a dependent unless you pay more than half your parent's living expenses.

Keep in mind that your parent doesn’t have to live with you to qualify as a dependent, as long as they meet the income test and you provide more than half their financial support.

If a parent lives with you, you can include a percentage of your mortgage, utilities and other expenses in calculating how much you contribute to their support. IRS Publication 501 has a worksheet that can help you with this.

Shared support

If you share the financial responsibility for a parent with other siblings, you may be eligible for the IRS multiple-support declaration.

Here’s how it works. If one sibling is providing more than half the parent’s financial support, only that sibling can claim the parent.

But what if each sibling provides less than 50% support, but their combined assistance exceeds half the parent’s support? In that case, any sibling who provides more than 10% can claim the parent as a dependent. But only one sibling can claim the tax break in any given year. Siblings can rotate the tax break, with one claiming the parent one year and another the next. The sibling who claims the parent as a dependent will need to fill out IRS Form 2120 and file it with their tax return.

Medical deductions

If you can’t claim your parent as a dependent, you may still get a tax break for helping pay their medical costs. The IRS lets taxpayers deduct money spent on a parent’s health care and qualified long-term care services, even if the parent doesn’t qualify as a dependent.

To claim this deduction, you still must provide more than half your parent’s support, but your parent doesn’t have to meet the income test. And the deduction is limited to medical, dental and long-term care expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. You can include your own medical expenses in calculating the total. See the IRS publication 502 "Medical and Dental Expenses," for details.

Savvy Tips: You can access, download and print any of the IRS publications and forms mentioned in this article at www.irs.gov. Or call 800-829-3676 and they will mail them to you.

And for help preparing your taxes, don’t forget about AARP’s Tax-Aide program. A free tax preparation and counseling service available to all taxpayers, middle and low income, with special attention to those 60 years and older -- and you don’t have to be an AARP member to get help. To locate a Tax-Aide site near you, call 888-227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/taxaide.

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Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" books.

(Article courtesy of ConsumerAffairs.com)

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