What's the big lesson we learned from Mitt Romney's release last week of his 2011 tax return?
That he's crazy for not taking all the charitable donation tax deductions for which he was eligible.
OK. Maybe that's a bit harsh. But really, opting to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars in taxes because you didn't claim all your charitable gifts? Some of us would consider that less than sane.
So maybe it's this lesson: Romney is a political opportunist for using his deductions to help ensure that the tax rate he paid was at least 13 percent. That's the rate he proclaimed that he had always paid in taxes when earlier this year questions were raised about how much, or rather how little, such a rich guy pays the Internal Revenue Service.
Still too harsh? I know, all politicians, especially those running for president of the United States, are opportunists.
Then how about this: The lesson is that you, like Romney, don't have to take all the tax breaks to which you're entitled.
That, of course, is a decision each taxpayer has to make after careful consideration of his or her individual tax and financial situation. I know many people have chosen not to claim tax breaks because they are just too complicated and time-consuming.
But before you make such a drastic decision, make sure you know the tax rules.
When it comes to charitable gifts, there are many ways to give and deduct those donations.
Mitt and Ann Romney gave in 2011 around $4 million, or 29 percent of their total $13.7 million income, to charity. That's about the same rate of giving the Romneys reported in 2010 and in the previous 20 tax years, according to a letter from their accountants that they also released last week in lieu of their actual older returns.
The Romneys decided, however, to claim only $2.25 million of their charitable gifts. If they'd claimed the full amount on their Schedule A, their effective tax rate would have been less than 10 percent.
That's not such an appealing number if you're looking to represent a country full of people whose average tax rate is around 20 percent.
I'm not sure 14.1 percent, which was Romney's eventual 2011 effective tax rate, is that politically propitious either, but at least it's a double digit.
Regardless of the final tax rate, the bottom line is that the Romneys made a choice. There's no law that says you have to take every tax break available.
One charitable tax deduction the Romneys did claim, however, helped them avoid capital gains tax on nearly $1 million worth of appreciated stock. By donating the shares instead of selling them, the Republican presidential candidate and his wife escaped having to pay any tax on that transaction. Plus, they got the full asset value as a tax deduction.
The stock donation is just one of many uncommon charitable tax deductions that can potentially help you, too, cut your tax bill.
Just like with the Romneys (and their accountants), it's up to you to know the laws and decide which ones are to your advantage to claim -- or not -- in any tax year.
And here's one other tax law I suspect Romney is fully aware of and will use if he doesn't win in November: an amended tax return.
Romney has until 2014 to file a Form 1040X and recoup the tax savings from the $1.75 million in charitable donations that he chose to ignore on his 2011 return.
Do you think Romney's tax deduction decision is too political to really do him any good with the voters? Would you ever give up a tax break for any reason?
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