Bankrate's 2009 Tax Guide
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Getting the most from itemized deductions

The IRS allows you to deduct the miles you drove your personal car to the soup kitchen where you volunteer each weekend. The standard mileage rate for travel done to help out a charitable organization is 14 cents per mile.

Are you a Boy Scout or Girl Scout leader? Then the cost of your uniform and its upkeep -- dry cleaning, tailoring, repair -- is deductible.

Letting the IRS share your losses

Most taxpayers think they can deduct casualty losses only if they are victims of a catastrophic natural disaster.

But you don't have to suffer through a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or earthquake to claim a casualty deduction. Losses from theft and vandalism are eligible losses, as are any damages from an automobile accident as long as it wasn't the result of driver negligence.

The IRS does limit, however, just how much of these losses you can use to reduce your taxable income. Any amount here must be reduced by $100, and then it must exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Myriad miscellaneous expenses

This is a fun category if you've got the patience -- and receipts -- to back up your spending. And you'll need the receipts because this category, like the medical one, is limited. The total of your miscellaneous deductions must be more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

If you looked for a new job this year, be sure to count your job-hunting expenses here. Just remember that your job search has to be in the same field in which you're already employed. Any subscriptions to work-related publications also can be taken here, as can fees you paid for membership in a professional organization, as long as you weren't reimbursed by your employer.

Do you have a hobby that nets you a bit of extra spending money throughout the year? Any costs you had toward that hobby can be totaled up as a miscellaneous expense. But you can't deduct more than you made on the hobby. (To collect a few more tax breaks, maybe you should consider turning your hobby into a business.)

Maybe your hobby is a bit more glitzy -- trips to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, N.J., for a little recreational gambling. If it wasn't a good year at the roulette wheel, the IRS lets you deduct your losses. These losses aren't limited by the 2-percent cap, but you can't deduct in losses more than you won.

And finally, if this whole deduction process just got too taxing for you and you paid an accountant to figure it out for you, here's a final itemizing gift from the IRS. Fees paid to professional tax preparers are deductible, too.


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