Many of the changes Congress and the Internal Revenue Service have given to the tax code over the past year or so can provide valuable savings, but it's easy to overlook some of them. Here are eight new or easily overlooked provisions to be alert for:
* 1. The new Making Work Pay credit can reduce your taxes by up to $400 -- or $800 for a couple -- if you had income (but not too much) from work. You have to file Schedule M to get it.
Schedule M, in turn, will ask you if you received an "economic recovery payment" during 2009. That's a $250 payment the government sent out to Social Security recipients last year. And Schedule M will also ask you about taking the $250 "government retiree credit," available to government retirees who aren't eligible for Social Security.
If you are getting Social Security, or are a government retiree and also had income from work, you need to check and see if you got the economic recovery payment. If you did, your Making Work Pay credit will be reduced. Likewise with the government retiree credit.
You'll have to check your bank records; neither the Social Security Administration nor the IRS is sending out any kind of notice, such as a Form 1099, to remind you.
If your 2009 income was more than $95,000 for a single taxpayer, or $190,000 for a couple, you can't take the Making Work Pay credit, anyway.
* 2. For those who take the standard deduction rather than itemizing, there are a couple of helpful add-ons this year, both claimed by filing Schedule L.
If you paid state and/or local real estate taxes last year, you can add up to $500 of what you paid ($1,000 for a married couple) onto your standard deduction.
* 3. If you bought a new car, you may add the sales or excise tax onto your standard deduction. This benefit is limited to the taxes attributable to the first $49,500 of the car's price.
* 4. The Hope credit for higher-education expenses is expanded for 2009 and 2010 to cover 100 percent of the first $2,000 of tuition and other eligible expenses, and 25 percent of the next $2,000, for a maximum credit of $2,500. And the credit has been made refundable, meaning that if you don't owe any tax, or other credits wipe out your liability, you can get cash back for any portion of the credit that would otherwise be useless.
The Hope credit, which was expanded by the American Opportunity credit, remains limited to the first four years of college. Graduate students and other older students can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit, which remains unchanged.
* 5. The $4,000 ($8,000 for a couple) first-time home buyer credit can be claimed on your 2009 return even if you didn't buy the house until early this year. You must have bought the house before May 1 -- or before July 1 if you had a binding written contract before May 1 -- to exercise this option.
* 6. There's still time to make a contribution to an individual retirement account for 2009. You have until the due date of your return, not including extension, to do that. You can deduct a contribution to a traditional IRA if neither you nor your spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, or if you or your spouse had a retirement plan at work but your income was under certain limits.
* 7. Lower-income taxpayers who contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA may be able to take what is known as the saver's credit. Single taxpayers with incomes of less than $27,750 and married couples earning less than $55,000 may qualify. The value of the credit varies with income. You need to figure the credit on Form 8880.
* 8. There's one freebie: If you got cash for your clunker, that's not taxable, in case you were wondering.