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Tax Credits & Incentives - Federal

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Education Credits

American Opportunity Tax Credit:
The American Opportunity Tax Credit is a credit for expenses related to tuition paid for the first four years of higher education for an eligible student. The maximum annual credit is $2,500 per eligible student.

To be eligible for the AOTC, the student must:

  • Be pursuing a degree.
  • Be enrolled as at least a half time student for at least one academic period (semester, trimester, etc.) beginning in the tax year.
  • Not have finished the first four years before the beginning of the tax year.
  • Not already have claimed the AOTC for more than four tax years.
  • Not have a felony drug conviction before the end of the tax year.

Lifetime Learning Credit:
The Lifetime Learning Credit is for qualified expenses related to education for eligible students in undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree courses. There is no limit on the number of years the tax credit can be claimed, and up to $2,000 per year can be claimed.
To claim an LLC, taxpayers must:

  • Pay qualified education expenses for higher education.
  • Pay the education expenses for an eligible student.
  • Be paying for either yourself, your spouse, or a dependent who is listed on your tax return.

Child and Dependent Care Credit:

The Child and Dependent Care Credit is a credit for the expenses incurred for care for a qualifying individual, to allow you to either work or look for work. The maximum amount that can be claimed is $3,000 for the care of one individual and $6,000 for two or more individuals. The amount of the credit is between 20% and 35% of allowable expenses, depending on your adjusted gross income.

Qualifying individuals include:

  • A dependent qualifying child who is under the age of 13 at the time of care.
  • A spouse who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.
  • An individual who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care and has lived with you  for more than half of the year.

Earned Income Tax Credit:

The Earned Income Tax Credit is a benefit for working people with low income. The EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe or gives you a refund, and to qualify, you must file a tax return .
To qualify for the ETCI,  you must:

  • Have tax year investment income of no more than $3,400.
  • Not file Form 2555.
  • Have a total income of $1.
  • Have earned income and adjusted gross income of no more than $53,267. This amount could be less depending on the number of children claimed as dependents and the filing status of the taxpayer.

Mortgage Interest Credit:

The Mortgage Interest Credit was created to help lower-income individuals afford home ownership. If you were issued a Mortgage Credit Certificate by a state or local government for low-income housing, you may be able to receive the credit. However, if you sell your home after you have taken this credit, you could be forced to repay all or part of the credit. You must use form 8396 to figure out the amount of credit available and to acquire the credit.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit:

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit is a credit for homeowners who use an alternative energy system which benefits the environment. Homeowners can take this credit of up to 30% of the cost of the alternative energy equipment installed in or on your home.
Qualified equipment for the credit includes:

  • Qualified solar electric systems.
  • Qualified solar water heats.
  • Qualified fuel cell property.
  • Qualified small wind energy property.
  • Qualified geothermal heat pumps.

There is no dollar limit on this credit for the equipment, except for qualified fuel cell property, which has a $500 limit for each one-half kilowatt of capacity of the property. Additionally, the property must be in the United States.

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit:

The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit is a credit of 10 % of the cost of qualified energy-efficient improvements. These improvements include adding or improving insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, and certain types of roofs. A credit is also available for the costs of installation or improvement for certain high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems, high-efficiency water heaters, and stoves the burn biomass fuel.

However, there is a $500 lifetime limit for this credit, only $200 of which may be used on windows. Additionally, the improvements must have been placed in service in the United States prior to December 31, 2016.

Low-Income Housing Credit:

The Low-Income Housing Credit is a credit for owners of residential low-income rental buildings that satisfy specified conditions. For an owner to claim the credit, the housing credit agency (any state or local agency authorized to make low-income housing allocations) must make an allocation of the credit by the close of the calendar year in which the building is placed in service. To acquire the credit, the owner and agency must complete a separate Form 8609 for each qualifying building.

For the building to qualify as a low-income housing building, it must meet the minimum set of requirements and be able to pass either:

  • The 20-50 test, in which 20% or more of the residential units must be occupied by individuals whose incomes are 50% or less of the area median income, and those units must be rent–restricted; or
  • The 40-60 test, in which 40% or more the residential units must be occupied by individuals whose incomes are 60% or less of the area median income, and those units must be rent-restricted.

New Markets Tax Credit:

The New Markets Tax Credit is a credit for those who invest in the development of a qualified low-income community. The credit is the applicable percentage of the amount paid to the qualified community development entity.

The applicable percentage of allowable credit is in respect to the original investment. The investor gets a credit of five percent on the date of the original investment, and then five percent on the following two anniversary dates of original investment. The investor then receives a tax credit of six percent of the original investment on the anniversary dates of the following four years. This adds up to a total credit of 39% of investment at its issue over the seven years for which the credit can be claimed.

To qualify as a low-income community, the population tract must:

  • Have a poverty rate that is at least 20 percent.
  • Have a median family income that is not greater than 80 percent of the statewide median family income, if it is not located within a metropolitan area.
  • Have a median family income that is not greater than 80 percent of the statewide median family income or the metropolitan area median family income. if it is located within a metropolitan area.

American Samoa Economic Development Credit:

The American Samoa Economic Development Credit is a credit for domestic corporations that invest in the American Samoa. To qualify for the credit, the corporation must meet the qualified production activities income (QPAI) requirement, which is defined as requiring the QPAI to be positive. The credit comes from any gross income that is received through business activities in the American Samoa. However, amounts received in the American Samoa may not be included if they are from sources outside of the American Samoa.

Orphan Drug Credit:

The Orphan Drug Credit is a credit for a taxpayer that incurs qualified clinical testing expenses for drugs for rare diseases. The credit can be claimed for 50% of those expenses for the tax year.

Clinical testing refers to human clinical testing which is carried out under an exemption for a drug being tested for a rare condition or disease. Additionally, the expenses that qualify for the credit only apply to the extent to which the drug is tested to treat the disease or condition for which it is designated.

For this credit, a rare disease or condition is defined as affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. However, if the disease or condition affects more than 200,000 people but there is no reasonable expectation that the costs of developing the drug in the United States will lead to recovery of those costs from sales, it can still qualify for the Orphan Drug Credit.

Disabled Access Credit:

The Disabled Access Credit is a credit for small businesses that provide access to people with disabilities in compliance with the American Disabilities Act of 1990. The credit can be claimed for the amount equal to 50% of the costs of providing the access, up to $5,000. For this credit, the term "eligible small business" refers to any person or business whose gross receipts do not exceed $1 million or does not employ more than 30 full-time employees.

Costs incurred for the following expenditures are eligible for the credit:

  • Removing architectural, communication, physical, or transportation barriers for the purpose of making a business accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Providing qualified interpreters or other methods to make orally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.
  • Providing qualified readers or other methods for the purpose of making visually delivered materials available to persons with visual impairments.
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment for individuals with disabilities.

Adoption Credit:

The Adoption Credit provides a $13,400 credit per child under the age of 18 or physically or mentally incapable of self-care, who is adopted. Phaseouts apply if Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) falls between $201,010 and $241,010 and completely phases out if income exceeds $241,010.

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Saver's Credit:

The Saver's Credit provides a credit to low/moderate income workers to encourage saving for retirement. To be considered a low or moderate income worker, AGI cannot exceed $30,500 for individuals; $45,750 for head of household; or $61,000 for married filing jointly. The credit helps the first $2,000 for married couples and the first $1,000 for single individuals. Contributions must be made to IRAs, 401(k) plans, or other similar workplace plans. The taxpayer has until April 15 to make a contribution or to start a retirement plan. The taxpayer must be at least 18 years old, was not a full-time student in the previous tax year, and may not be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return. 

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Child Tax Credit:

The child tax credit allows a maximum credit of $1,000 per qualifying child.

A qualifying child encompasses the following:

  • Your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, or descendant of any of them.
  • Under the age of 17.
  • Did not provide over half of his/her own support.
  • Lived with you for more than half of the year.
  • Is claimed as a dependent on your return.
  • Does not file a joint return for the year.
  • Was a U.S. citizen, U.S national or U.S. resident alien.

The credit is phased out if adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than $110,000 if married filing jointly; $75,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow; or $55,000 if married filing separately.

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The Work Opportunity Credit:

This credit is to encourage employers to hire employees within certain minority groups that exhibit higher than average unemployment rates. This program is intended help targeted employees earn a steady income and become independent contributing taxpayers. Employers will also benefit by being able to reduce their federal income tax liability.  A list of the targeted groups may be found at: www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/eligible.cfm.

The Work Opportunity tax credit is equal to 40% of qualified first-year wages. The credit will be reduced to 25% if fewer than 400 hours, but at least 120 hours, were worked. The credit will be denied if fewer than 120 hours are worked. Qualified wages are wages paid to individuals who are members of a targeted group or incurred by the employer during the taxable year.
Targeted group members include:

  • A qualified IV-A recipient.
  • A qualified veteran.
  • A qualified ex-felon.
  • A designated community resident.
  • A vocational rehabilitation referral.
  • A qualified summer youth employee.
  • A qualified supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits recipient.
  • A qualified SSI recipient.
  • A long-term family assistance recipient.
  • A qualified long-term unemployment recipient.

The amount of the tax credit is based on a percentage of qualified wages paid to the new employee during the first year of employment. The target group the new employee falls into determines the percentage and cap on qualifying wages. Higher cutoffs are set in place for qualified veterans. The employer and the job-seeker must sign Form 8850, indicating that the job- seeker is a member of a target group. The employer must then forward the form to the Department of Career Services no later than the 28th day after the job-seeker begins work.

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Indian Employment Credit:

This is a credit for hiring registered Native American Indians who live on or near an Indian reservation and work for an employer on that reservation. The credit amount is equal to 20% of the excess of the sum of the qualified wages paid or incurred during the taxable year and the qualified employee health insurance cost paid/incurred during the taxable year. To qualify, wages and qualified health insurance costs should not exceed $20,000. If any employee is terminated day 1 of the following year or earlier, no credit will be granted.

Credit for Small Employer Pension Startup Plan:

This is a credit for employers who start simplified employee pension plans (SEP), savings incentive match plan for employees plans (SIMPLE), or Qualified plans. Qualified plans consist of H.R. 10 plans, Keogh plans and 401 (k) plans. The credit is equal to 50% of the cost to set up, administer, and educate employees up to $500 per year for the first three years. You must have 100 or fewer employees who received at least $5,000 in compensation the previous year.

Maximum Contributions:

  • SEP – The lesser of $53,000 or 25 % of participant's compensation.
  • SIMPLE IRA and SIMPLE 401 (k) – Dollar-for-dollar matching up to 3% of employee's compensation or 2% of compensation for fixed nonselective contributions.
  • Defined Contribution Plan – Smaller of $53,000 or 100% of participant's contribution.
  • Defined Benefit Plan – The smaller of $210,000 or 100% of participant's average compensation for 3 years.

*These amounts are limited to a maximum of $265,000.

Maximum Deduction:

  • SEP – 25% of all participants' compensation.*
  • SIMPLE IRA and SIMOLE 401 (k) – Same as maximum contribution.
  • Defined Contribution Plan – 25% of all participants' compensation plus the amount of elective deferrals made.*
  • Defined Benefit Plan – Based on actuarial assumptions.

*Limited to $265,000.

Distilled Spirits Credit

This is another small business credit. The credit is based on a calculation using the total number of cases of distilled spirits purchased and the average tax-financing cost per case. The credit will vary depending on the proof of the alcohol. The calculation can be seen on Form 8906.

Credit for Producing Fuel from a Nonconventional Source

This credit is equal to $3 times the number of barrels sold or produced during the taxable year. If sales occur for more than $23.50, the $3 is increased to $6.

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Mine Rescue Team Training Credit

This credit is for the lesser of 20% of the amount paid for training costs or $10,000. A qualified mine rescue team employee is any full-time employee who is a miner eligible for more than six months of the taxable year, who has completed a minimum 20-hour course of instruction. The miner is also required to complete 40 hours of refresher training. An eligible miner must mine in the United States.

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Tax Credits & Incentives Brochure



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William  Kuhlman

R&D Tax Credits Leader
Tax & Business
Philadelphia, PA

The Marcum 2017 Year-End Tax Guide continues our tradition of providing timely tax guidance for the upcoming year.




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