Major Green Tax Deductions

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Ah, tax season. The time of year where no accomplishment is unworthy of mention if it equals a write-off.

If you’ve taken the time (and money) to invest in energy-efficiency or other green initiatives, there’s likely a deduction for that. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you might be eligible for this year.

Behind the Wheel

First, the good news: If you participated in 2009’s Cash for Clunkers program to get a more fuel-efficient car with government incentive, your $3,500 or $4,500 rebate is not considered taxable income. Imagine how much more you’d have to deduct with this additional income.

While the tax credit for hybrid autos is decreasing, big bucks for plug-in vehicles was included in last year's stimulus package. Photo: Flickr/e-connected

Plus, if you went the whole nine yards last summer and purchased a hybrid car, you’re eligible for an energy tax credit. This means that not only can you potentially drive 1,000 miles on a single tank of gas, but you’ll also receive a financial incentive for it.

According to the Tax Incentives Project, the availability and amount of the credit are unrelated to the type of car that the purchaser replaced, meaning you’re still eligible even if you just traded in your old hybrid for a new one.

Now for the bad news: The hybrid tax credit has been around since 2006 but is now in the process of being phased out, so what once was worth $2,000 is now worth less than $1,000. Keep in mind that 2010 is the last year of eligibility for the tax credit, so if you want any incentive at all for your hybrid, time is of the essence.

But if you made the big splurge and upgraded to an electric vehicle, you qualify for some major dough.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009 (the stimulus package) expanded the credit for plug-in vehicles, and it is now available for a new plug-in electric drive vehicle having a battery capacity of at least 4 kilowatt hours, which qualifies for a credit of $2,500. Each kilowatt hour of battery above this adds $417 to the credit, up to a maximum of $7,500 for vehicles up to 14,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.

Big Breaks at Home

Relax, you don’t need solar panels on the roof to get tax credit for being energy-efficient. In fact, the ENERGY STAR program has an entire Web site dedicated to identifying credits available for your purchases.

The key is that you need to upgrade a product – such as a water heater or air conditioning unit – in your primary home, meaning that new construction or rentals are not eligible. For most products, you can only get a $1,500 tax credit every two years, and it’s based on 30 percent of the cost of the unit.

You could be eligible for tax deductions if you made the switch to energy-efficient lighting in your home. Photo: Flickr/Karin Beil

But the credits are not limited to just appliances. You may qualify for extra money if you have installed insulation or weather stripping, a qualified roof that reflects the sun or even skylights, among many other upgrades. Note that tax credits do not include the cost of installation.

For a full list of your possible tax credits, enter your ZIP code and any upgrades on the ENERGY STAR checklist. You may also qualify for sales tax exemptions, rebates and sponsored recycling programs that will reduce the burden of disposing your old products.

Double- and triple-check your local tax credit descriptions because even the little stuff counts. Here are a couple of quick upgrades you may have overlooked:

  • Energy-efficient lighting – Did you make the switch to CFL bulbs or make an LED upgrade?
  • New electronics or office equipment – New laptop or desktop computers, printer/scanners, even televisions may be eligible. Last year, the state of California’s Energy Commission implemented energy standards for plasma and liquid crystal TVs.
  • Heating and cooling improvements – While programmable thermostats do not qualify, some states will give you tax credit for installing energy-efficient ceiling fans.

If you’re planning on making some home improvements in 2010, do some quick rebate research for next year’s tax season. As always, remember to save your receipts. If you make the upgrade, you’ll have to prove it.

Deductible Donations

It may go without saying that reuse is always the preferred option over tossing. It requires energy and resources to create a new product from recycled material, whereas reuse provides a second life for the same product.

There are plenty of organizations that specialize in offering products for reuse, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army. Plus, the IRS also lets you determine the fair market value of products donated, which can be treated as a tax write-off.

If your items – clothing, toys or even electronics – are still in usable condition, find a local second-hand store and ask if it they are eligible for donation. Don’t forget to ask for the appropriate tax form when you donate your products. Without proof of donation, it will be more difficult to receive a credit.

One area where you should be leery about seeking a tax credit for donation is with carbon offsets. These programs provide an opportunity to invest in renewable energy in order to compensate for the carbon emitted on things like travel. However, it will only be seen as a tax-deductible donation if the group providing the offsets is a nonprofit organization.

Carbonfund.org is one example of a nonprofit that is fighting climate change through carbon offsetting. Your contribution is tax-deductible by law, making it more cost-effective to reduce your carbon footprint while saving money.

If you’re unsure about an organization’s classification, look for the 501(c)(3) notation in the About Us section of its Web site.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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