Talking Tax Refunds with Vice President Biden: Get Every Dollar You're Owed


On Monday morning, in an exclusive interview with me on The Today Show, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the average U.S. tax refund has climbed to $3,036 for 2009 -- an increase of $266 per return. Biden credits the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the nearly 10% increase. But he's concerned that not all Americans are getting every last dollar they're eligible for.

"The people who need [these breaks] are the people sitting at those kitchen tables figuring out, 'How do I keep my child in school? How do I [deal with] the cost [of] childcare?" said Biden. "I'm saying, don't miss it. For somebody, this could mean as much as $8,000 or $10,000 in tax breaks."

So far, approximately 50% of taxpayers have filed their 2009 returns. If you haven't, here's a list of the major breaks and who qualifies. If you have filed and you missed something, you can file an amended return and claim what's coming to you. And, if you aren't sure, starting Monday on, you'll find a new widget that will walk you through a Q&A process to figure out what credits you qualify for and how much they'll put in your pocket.

Making Work Pay Tax Credit. Worth up to $400 for single filers and $800 for couples filing jointly. To qualify, you need to be employed. Singles earning up to $75,000 a year qualify for the full credit, as do couples filing jointly earning up to $150,000 a year. Above those points, the credit starts to phase out and is not available at all to singles earning more than $95,000 or couples earning more than $190,000. Note: If you work two or more jobs, check your pay stubs. If more than one employer paid you the credit, you'll owe the overage back to the government.

American Opportunity Tax Credit. Worth up to $2,500 for tuition and related expenses, this credit takes over where the Hope Credit left off. Education expenses include course materials such as books, always a big chunk of change. The full credit is available to individuals making $80,000 a year or less, and couples filing jointly making $160,000 a year or less. Above those income levels, it begins to phase out, and is not available at all to singles making more than $90,000 a year or couples filing jointly making more than $180,000 a year.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit. People who purchased homes in 2009 can get a credit of up to $8,000 with no payback requirement. If you purchased between Jan. 1 and Nov. 6, you are eligible for the full credit if you make up to $75,000 filing single or $150,000 for couples filing jointly. If you bought -- or will buy -- a home between Nov. 7, 2009, and April 30, 2010, the income ceilings are even higher: $125,000 for single filers, or $250,000 for couples filing jointly. (There is also a $6,500 credit available for buyers transitioning into a new primary residence.)

Tax Credit for Energy Efficient Purchases. Purchase an energy-efficient product or products between Jan. 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010 and you're eligible for a tax credit for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500 total. Note: If you get the full credit in 2009, you're not eligible for it in 2010.