5 Surprising Things You Pay Taxes On

5 Surprising Things You Pay Taxes On

five tax surprisesMost of us are used to the idea of paying taxes on regular income. After all, if you earn a wage, or if you have business income, it makes sense to pay income taxes on it.

However, there are some items of financial import that you might be surprised to learn are taxable. Here are 5 things that you might pay taxes on:

1. Unemployment Benefits

Common sense might indicate that you shouldn't pay income taxes on unemployment benefits – after all, you don’t have a job. However, these benefits are still a source of income to you, and the government takes back some of what it is giving you.

For those who find a job rather quickly, this isn't as big a deal. However, if you are unemployed long-term, or if you made just enough at the beginning of the year – before you lost your job – to ensure that you will owe taxes, this can be a real hit to your finances.

If you don’t want an unpleasant surprise at tax time, you can specify, when you apply for benefits, that you want taxes withheld. It means a smaller check, but it can prevent you trying to come up with what you owe come April 15.

2. Forgiven Debt

If a creditor forgives your debt, that is considered income. So, if you have $20,000 in credit card debt, and you settle and are forgiven $12,000 of that debt, your income is increased by that amount. You might not actually have the cash in hand, but you are still taxed as if you do.

One recent exception is mortgage debt. Normally, your forgiven mortgage debt would be considered income, but that rule has been suspended during the last few years. Congress extended the exclusion through 2013, but might not do so again.

3. Non-Money Prizes

A few years ago, Oprah made big news when she gave away cars to members of her audience. Then, more news was made when the recipients found out they had to pay taxes on the car. A prize, such as a car or other non-money item, is considered windfall income (to the tune of cash value) and is taxed as such. That means that if you win a $20,000 car, it looks like income, and can even bump you into a higher tax bracket. Many taxpayers have a hard time dealing with these higher taxes, since it they don’t have the ready cash to pay what’s owed.

4. Scholarships

It’s true that you can take deductions for certain education expenses, and even claim credits. But you also have to report scholarships you earn as income. The good news that you don’t have to pay taxes on scholarship money that is used for tuition, books, required fees, and supplies. But if some of that scholarship money is spent on travel, living expenses, or unnecessary expenses, that money is subject to income tax.

5. Gifts You Give

When you receive a gift, you don’t have to pay taxes on it. However, if you give a present, you might be on the hook for taxes. So, you pay taxes on the money when you earn it, and then pay taxes again if you give it to someone else. The good news is that there are exclusion rules. You are exempt from paying the gift tax if you keep it to $14,000 per person during 2013.

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