History Says: Don't Panic Over Expiring Tax Breaks

BUFFALO, NY - "You're always trying to take advantage of tax benefits," said Michael F. Curatolo, a financial planner with the Georgetown Capitol Group in Williamsville.

However, as of midnight, some 55 temporary tax breaks will expire, after Congress went home for the year without taking action to renew them.

"For the average individual worker, whatever you see on TV or in the newspaper about expiring tax breaks, they really don't pertain to 99 percent of the population," Curatolo said.

It is a different story, though, for those who are affected.

If you are a teacher, for example, and you are familiar with IRS Form 1040, line 23 has been one of the more pleasurable lines to fill out.

That is where, for years, educators have been able to deduct up to $250 for qualified expenses, which they have paid out of pocket for their classrooms.

In 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, nearly four million teachers deducted $915 million.

Line 34 is familiar to those who could deduct college tuition and fees of up to $4,000...and more than two million taxpayers claimed this break in 2010, saving more than $4 billion,

Another deduction expiring at midnight is for mortgage insurance premiums. Roughly 4.2 million taxpayers claimed the tax break in 2010, deducting a total of $5.6 billion.

One you may never have heard of is the New Markets Tax Credits.

However, it is one Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY 26th) has fought to keep, claiming it has lead to $180 million dollars in development in the city of Buffalo alone.

"It has been used to undertake certain development projects in urban areas that might not otherwise be undertaken," Higgins told WGRZ-TV, adding his belief that if not for that credit, several development projects in the city might not have ever been undertaken.

Higgins cites Roswell Park's Clinical Sciences Center, the renovation of the Hotel Lafayette, and the Electric Tower as being among several projects that were largely brought about by that particular tax break.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of important things to remember.

First: because the tax breaks were in effect for 2013. Taxpayers wouldn't be hit until 2015, when they file tax returns for 2014.

And, second, Congress has a pattern of letting tax breaks lapse almost every year, ...and almost every year, it eventually renews them, retroactively, so taxpayers can claim them by the time they file their tax returns.

"Washington is constantly changing things and they're constantly extending things," Curatolo noted.

"That's not helpful to the economy because it creates uncertainty," said Higgins. You do tax credits to incentivize certain behavior...and they can work. But when you allow these tax credits to expire on an annualized or every two years, it defeats the purpose."

Higgins says Congress might better consider, when deciding to enact a tax credit or deduction, to enact it for a decade to avoid the year-to-year uncertainty.

For example, he recalled the remarks of an executive with General Electric who once said his company would not make a generational commitment to clean energy technology, on a two-year tax credit.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Terry Belke.

Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2


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