Five Green Ways to File Your Taxes and Avoid IRS Red Flags

So you’re an environmentally-conscious individual or small business owner who missed the tax deadline, are you? There’s still ways to claim tax credits for all the eco-friendly initiatives you implemented in 2013 that keep the sting of tax time to a minimum with some smart tax incentives that promote green initiatives but gives you breaks on your taxes at the same time. Just be sure that your record-keeping is meticulous when claiming some of these credits because you can raise red flags that make you eligible for an IRS audit if you’re not careful. 

This article outlines the many ways you can be rewarded by the tax man for being an environmental steward, and offers tips on how to avoid common pitfalls when filing your taxes. There’s also some instruction at the end of the article that let you know what to do since you missed the deadline to file your taxes.

Donations to Environmental Charities

Did you have a big heart last year and donate money to your favorite environmental charity?  That can translate to big savings when you fill out your taxes this year. The IRS puts limits on your giving spirit, though, and you can deduct up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for the tax year the donation was paid. This credit applies to many other charitable causes, also.

Potential Red Flags to Avoid

It’s important that your charitable donations to the organization are recorded properly, or you may be looking at an appointment with an IRS auditor. Keep in mind, also, that you will need to be extremely careful with record-keeping of this type if you are donating more than 30% of your income to charity. It’s something that most people don’t do, so you will need proper documentation to back this up if the auditor notices it when you file your return.

For cash donations of less than $250, a receipt or cancelled check is sufficient, but they must display the amount of the contribution, the name of the organization, and date the contribution was made. On the other hand, if the contribution exceeds $250, it’s going to require written documentation from the charitable organization. This document must include the amount you donated and a statement of whether or not you received anything of value in return when you made your contribution.

Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credits

One way to be friendly to the environment is to purchase an electric car for driving, but the price tag on many of them puts many consumers off. However, there are some tax credits available that may bring the car’s price tag back down to what you would pay for a regular gasoline-powered vehicle if you’re creative. The government has put in some really nice monetary incentives through tax credits to motivate consumers to buy alternative fuel vehicles. If you bought a plug-in electric drive vehicle in 2013, you’re in luck.

Here’s why – the minimum federal tax credit for qualified plug-in electric drive vehicles is $2,500, and the maximum credit is $7,500, depending on the battery capacity. That’s relevant because if you bought a car, such as a 2013 Chevrolet Spark plug-in electric drive vehicle, it retailed for about $27,495. Apply the $7,500 tax credit, and you have a vehicle that’s a slightly under $20,000 – about the price of other cars that aren’t so environmentally friendly. Not sure if the car you own is eligible for this credit, you can check to see if your car is on this list of eligible vehicles.

Don’t Wait to Take This Tax Credit

There’s no serious pitfalls to avoid here if you have all your paperwork in order, but be sure to take the credit this year because the ARRA will phase out the credit in 2014, or after the manufacturer sells 200,000 vehicles. Also, be sure to review the Internal Revenue Bulletin, Notice 2009-30; Section 5 Manufacturer’s Certification on IRS website to be familiar with the manufacturer’s certification guidelines – then verify that the manufacturer filled out the required certification to be eligible to claim the qualified plug-in electric vehicle credit on your taxes before the timeline expires.

Small Environmental Business Tax Credits

There are several tax credits that you can take advantage of for your small environmental business venture last year. Here’s two that business owners are eligible for:

Small Business Healthcare Credits

If you run a small green business you’re eligible for some pretty aggressive tax credits – up to a whopping 35 % of premiums paid for your employees health premiums if you meet all the eligibility requirements.

Here’s how it breaks down for you: if you meet the guidelines mentioned above and paid $50,000 toward your workers’ premiums, and also qualified for say, a 15 % credit, then the savings would be $7,500. To get this credit, you must pay at least 50 % of the cost of single health care coverage for all of your employees – the break doesn’t apply for family health care coverage. The small business must have had less than twenty-five full-time equivalent employees the previous year. Those full-time equivalents must make an average wage of less than $50,000 annually.

Changes to Note and Possible Issues to Avoid

The incentive goes up in 2014, but you’ll have to buy insurance through the SHOP Marketplace in order to have eligibility for years 2014 and forward. To avoid any issues when filling your taxes, use good accounting practices and keep good business records during the year previous to the filing. Small business accounting is usually something you don’t need to outsource, and you can either do this yourself manually, or buy accounting software that can make it easier.

Honeybee Agricultural Credits

This law varies by state, but if you are in the right one, those little honeybees not only work hard to pollinate plants and give you honey – they’ll earn you an agricultural property tax credit, as well. Bees are considered agriculture in many states like Florida, and the state allows an agricultural tax credit for raising honeybees if you meet the requirements to lease them. That means if you met eligibility requirements and rented and raised bees on your land last year, then you may get an exemption of up to 25 % off your property taxes.

However, if you didn’t raise bees last year and want to rush out and try to take an exemption or set up a bee colony for next year’s tax credit, there are many regulations governing it that vary from state to state and even county to county that can be very sticky if you’re not careful.

Watch Out for Fraud Pitfalls

There’s been instances of fraud in this industry, and that is definitely something that could get you in serious trouble with the IRS – maybe even serious trouble. There are individuals that are unwittingly doing it, but there are also some people that are just leasing the land and paying for the bees who aren’t placed close enough to any flowers to live. The bees die because they can’t fly far enough to find a food source. If that’s done on purpose, it’s not only fraud, it’s cruel to the dwindling population of honeybees.

The Florida laws governing beekeeping clarify the law the best by indicating that you just can’t keep bees on your property and call it a day; you have to prove to officials that you’re making a profit on the bees or the honey. Be sure to talk with a county assessor or an official that can direct you to the requirements needed for your property before beginning this type of business venture. You want to make sure you don’t miss out on a chance to capitalize on this credit and lend a hand to the honeybee recovery efforts.

Residential Energy Property Credits

The Non-business Energy Property Credit can get you a quick tax credit worth up to $500 when filing your 2013 tax returns. The credit is found on part two of the 5695 form. The credit has spending limits, so make sure you don’t go over it – also make sure those improvements were installed in your main residence by Dec. 31, 2013. One example of its use would be to spend $300 for a heat pump or air conditioner and claim it on form 5695. It’s important to note the overall $500 tax credit cap is applicable to individuals that got a previous energy tax credit that started January1, 2005.

No Issues if You Have Good Records

This tax break like others requires you to keep tight records and worksheets, but if you are eligible, your tax bill reduced for you a dollar-for-dollar amount – and every little bit counts.

Paperless Tax Return

Going paperless on your tax return won’t get you any money back, but you are getting a return for the planet when you do it. An added bonus: you can often save a lot of money with using tax software to file your taxes – and save trees while doing it. Environmentally aware individuals know that trees are one of Earth’s greatest biological treasures, and that we are beginning to lose them just as we started to learn their true value. Researchers estimate that the last of the rainforests could disappear in as little as forty years.

You can do something about it at tax time by going paperless and filling them out electronically. Many people are switching from mailing their returns to electronic filing services by using professional online tax filing services or preparing them electronically using online tax forms and submitting them to the IRS. The added benefit to the environment is that you no longer depend on paper to prepare your taxes and mail them in. Forms can be viewed and filled out online, and the whole process is done electronically with no paper usage involved – at least on your side.

Check Your Return-The Auditor Will

According to the IRS, the error rate for a paper return is about 21% percent, and the rate for returns filed electronically hover around 0.5 %- Don’t be a part of that 0.5% if you are going to file electronically. Data entry errors on your filings are a common problem, and a big red flag for auditors. It’s easily preventable, though, so be sure to double-check your return or have a professional CPA or tax preparer look over your finished tax documents. They’ll likely charge a fee, but it’s cheaper than having them prepare your total tax package, and much better than the IRS finding an error when they are going over your completed return.

What To Do if You Filed Late

If you missed the deadline on April 15 to file your taxes, there’s no need to be worried if you’re getting a refund. Filers have until April 15, 2017, and until October 15, 2017 with an extension, to file your 2013 tax returns with the IRS before the statute of limitations expires on your refund. After that, the U.S. Treasury will poocket your refund as a “donation.” If you owe back taxes, you need to file your return as soon as possible even if you can’t pay the total right away. The penalty for late filing can be ten times greater than the late payment penalty, and the more you wait, the worse it gets.

If you file your tax return after April 15th, filing is typically the same as normal procedures–check to make sure you have all the tax-related documents for deduction and income, prepare the tax returns, review them for accuracy and completeness, and then send the returns to the IRS.

Services that Help When There is an Issue

Some people wait really late, haven’t kept as good of records as they should have, kept some really spotty bookkeeping–you name it. They wind up getting in trouble with the IRS–that’s one of the worst case scenarios. According to InstTaxSolutions, a tax relief legal service, many people that have got to this stage feel it is an insurmountable problem, but there are services that can help filers understand their legal options and bring it down to something that can be better managed. 

These suggestions are just a few ways you can be an advocate for green initiatives and get some of your money back at tax time. Keeping excellent records and researching all the regulations and documentation required at tax time will almost always protect you if you are scrutinized by the IRS. Should the IRS decide that they are going to audit you, there may be little you can do to keep it from happening. You are always in control of making sure you aren’t singled out by the IRS’s extra attention, though. The tax season can be very hectic seem hectic and taxpayers don’t want to get audited so it’s very important to find file on time.

Have An Eco-Friendly Party With This Organic Tequila

Just because you like to have a party doesn’t mean you can’t think green at the same time.

Just because you like to have a party doesn't mean you can't think green at the same time. While most liquors aren't designed to be environmentally-friendly, there are a few brands out there that specialize in making organic, gluten-free options that are healthier and more sustainably produced than conventional spirits.

One such brand is Baron, who make their tequila with a careful triple distillation process that removes all the impurities that can lead to a bitter, harsh flavor. This stuff is smooth, and when mixed with some lime juice and Cointreau​, will give you one of the best margaritas you've ever had!

Another nice thing about Baron Tequila is that, unlike many other brands, it's made by a family-owned business. The Ansan Distillery, located in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico, was started by Jana Khaimoff, and continues to adhere to its origins as a craft spirit company, despite having experienced substantial growth in the past few years.

When people talk about organic food products, they tend not to focus on alcoholic beverages, but if you like to have a beer, glass of wine or cocktail every now and then, make sure you're buying brands that focus on creating environmentally friendly products. Here are a few things to look for in an organic, sustainable liquor:

  • For beer, find companies that feed their "spent grains" (the barley malt that is removed from the beer before fermentation) to livestock
  • For wine, look for producers who use only organically grown grapes, meaning that they didn't use pesticides or conventional fertilizers.

Lastly, always recycle the bottles that these drinks came in!

Keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com for more information on the benefits of going green!

Looking For An Eco-Friendly Disinfectant? Try These Alternatives To Bleach

There are alternatives to bleach available that are cheap, effective and best of all, non-toxic and green.

Bleach is a remarkably effective disinfectant, but it's also toxic and corrosive. If you're committed to removing cleaning chemicals from your life and replacing them with eco friendly products, we have good news: There are alternatives to bleach available that are cheap, effective and best of all, non-toxic and green.

Here are some solutions that you can use without fear of causing harm to yourself, your family or your pets:

  • Baking soda: This is a great cleaner that also removes odors from whatever you're washing. 
  • Lemon: Mixing lemon juice with water can kill some bacteria, and since most homeowners have some around the house it's typically easy to find and use. However, it's not as powerful as our last option, which is by far the best choice for green-conscious residents.
  • Vinegar: You probably already have this in your kitchen, as some recipes call for it. It's also a great cleaning agent that will even kill salmonella, E. coli and mycobacterium, the organism that causes tuberculosis. It's also biodegradable, so you don't need to worry about pouring it down the drain. Simply mix one part vinegar with eight parts water, and you'll have a terrific disinfectant for your kitchen areas.

You can also purchase green disinfectant from companies like Seventh Generation and PureGreen 24.

If you're looking for other alternatives, the Environmental Protection Agency has a list of sanitizers that they have determined to be eco-friendly. With so many options available to green-conscious homeowners, there's no reason to keep using bleach and other chemicals that create health hazards for you and your family. Instead, check out the above environmentally-friendly options and make your home clean and green at the same time!

LifeIsGreen.com is your number one source for green living tips and ideas, so keep visiting for more!

Green Tips For The Dorm Room

Colleges are famous for their efforts to make campuses more sustainable and environmentally-friendly, and this wouldn’t be the case without pressure from students.

Colleges are famous for their efforts to make campuses more sustainable and environmentally-friendly, and this wouldn't be the case without pressure from students. If you're one of those college kids that wants to make sure their school is mitigating its environmental impact, we hope you're also doing your part to make sure you're individually producing less pollution, trash and waste!

Here are some green ideas for college students to follow:

  • Drink tap water: It's tempting to simply pick up water bottles at an on-campus convenience store, but it's important to note how damaging bottled water can be to the environment. To begin with, the water itself isn't any cleaner than tap water (in fact, it's often worse in terms of contaminants and toxins). Additionally, all those plastic bottles simply end up in dumps. Try using a reusable bottle instead.
  • Reuse materials as much as you can: Whether it's converting a plastic container into a pencil holder, or purchasing used textbooks instead of new ones, there are many opportunities for college students to recycle. The more you do, the fewer of these items will end up in landfills, where they can decompose over time and create greenhouse gases.
  • Use your school's printing resources: Many students will purchase a printer for their desk when they start college, but this is a waste of resources. Given that many professors are now asking their students to turn papers in electronically, try using your school's printers in the library. Not only will this save you money, it will also keep you from generating waste when you eventually have to throw out your printer.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com frequently for more tips on environmentally friendly products and practices!

Limit Your Paper Towel Use To Save Trees And Cut Down On Trash!

Here are some tips to help you minimize your paper towel usage.

Generally speaking, people really shouldn't use paper towels. Americans use 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year, and it's difficult to overstate how wasteful this is when a cloth alternative is both more cost-effective and easy to obtain. However, it's also virtually impossible to avoid using paper towels entirely. After all, you can't control what the owner of a public building chooses to use in his bathrooms, and sometimes the substance that you're cleaning is something you don't want to get on your cloth towels at home.

Having said that, there are ways to use paper towels so as to minimize your impact on the environment:

  • Follow the instructions that Joe Smith, a former District Attorney in Oregon, provided during a Tedx lecture, which you can view on YouTube by clicking here. To summarize, you don't need to pull four or five sheets out of a paper towel dispenser. Instead, shake any excess moisture off your hands (Smith recommends shaking your hands 12 times), then fold your paper towel so that it is thicker and thus more absorbent, and wipe away any remaining moisture.
  • Whenever possible, use recycled paper towels rather than new ones. Although recycled paper can't itself be recycled, you're at least ensuring that another tree has not been cut down.

Smith points out that by following his directions and cutting paper towel usage by one sheet a day per person, Americans can save over 571 million pounds of paper every year – and that's by simply reducing your usage by one sheet! Imagine how much paper would be saved if you relied almost exclusively on cloth towels instead!

If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of going green, your best resource for tips and information is LifeIsGreen.com. Keep checking back for more!

Green Ideas For Your Bedroom

Here are some helpful energy saving tips that can make your bedroom more environmentally sound.

Not too long ago, green living was considered just a trendy fad. Now, it's virtually essential for homeowners and buyers, many of whom have placed energy efficiency at the top of their house-hunting shopping lists. There are two obvious benefits to going green. For one thing, using less energy in your daily life and opting for more eco friendly products is simply better for the environment. The other is that these avenues provide considerable savings on monthly utility bills.

One of the easiest ways to adopt a greener lifestyle is to create a more eco-friendly home. Not sure where to start? The bedroom seems like a good first step, particularly since you spend roughly one-third of your life there as it is. 

Greener Ideal has compiled some helpful energy saving tips that can make your bedroom more environmentally sound:

  • Place hot water bottles under the duvet before going to bed. No one likes jumping into cold sheets at night, but this an easy and energy-saving way to ensure that your bed is nice and toasty before sleeping.
  • Seal up windows. Use weatherstripping or caulk to plug up any cracks or leaks that may be letting cold outdoor air draft into your room. If more extensive work is required, it may be better to simply replace the window outright.
  • Use curtains and duvets made from natural, organic material. These covers create a more insulated room, helping to inhibit any heat loss that may occur in the winter and keep you warm for cheaper.

For more energy conservation tips that can ensure a comfortable, eco-friendly and cost-effective home life, be sure to check back with LifeIsGreen.com!

Top Green Living Habits

If helping protect the environment and living green is among your list of New Year’s resolutions, take a look at some energy-saving habits to implement in your day-to-day life.

It's time to go green! If helping protect the environment and living green is among your list of New Year's resolutions, take a look at some energy-saving habits to implement in your day-to-day life. Although going completely green may feel like a big jump, the key is to take baby steps throughout the year.

Check out some of the top tips suggested by the Huffington Post for green home improvement projects:

  • Commuting: Commuting to work every day can waste a lot of energy as well as lead to unhealthy smog in the atmosphere. If you work close to your home, try walking or biking instead. Or, opt to use public transportation. If you must drive, carpool with a colleague so that you save gasoline.
  • Green gardening: If you have a green thumb, complement it with green living habits. The news source suggests collecting water from your drain pipe and using it to water your lawn. Also, stay away from any harsh fertilizers and chemical pesticides. Instead of putting toxins into the land, look for all-natural formulas  at your local store.
  • Light-switch: "Start with conserving the amount of energy you use in the home," suggest the source. "Turn a light off when you leave a room or when you're no longer using it. Replace fluorescent bulbs with energy saving lights. Changing one light can save you six dollars a year in electricity costs, and they use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs."

For more energy conservation tips, be sure to follow our blog and visit LifeIsGreen.com!

Indoor Plants Improve Air Quality

It may seem counterintuitive, but the air inside your home can contain much more pollution than the air outside.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the air inside your home can contain much more pollution than the air outside. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has many resources on its website dedicated to educating the public about the adverse effects of too much exposure to pollution from indoor sources.

What are these sources? Sometimes it's something as simple as cigarette smoke, which can have detrimental health effects not just for the smoker but for those around them. Other times it may be the paint on the walls that is slowly releasing toxic particles into the air, or mold spores that have developed in dark, moist corners of a room.

In any case, ventilating your home can mitigate the effects of these pollutants, but that's not always an option. If you live in an area where temperatures drop dramatically in winter, it's simply not economical to leave windows open and waste energy from your heating system.

One solution you may want to consider instead is to stock your house with indoor plants. As LivingGreenMag.com points out, there are a number of species of plant that are particularly adept at purifying the air in your home and removing toxins that can cause long-term health issues. Some examples include the spider plant, ivy and ferns, all of which are very low maintenance, require only indirect light and do a good job of filtering out carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

The effects of too much exposure to indoor air pollution are very real, and range from lung cancer and asthma to heart disease. But by using house plants as air filters, and embracing healthy green living, you can avoid these problems and live a longer, happier life.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for continuing coverage of green news, topics and information.

Practice E-cycling To Avoid Toxic Waste

Despite the harms that can be caused by disposing of electronics in landfills along with other refuse, e-cycling is mandated by law in only half of the United States.

Despite the harms that can be caused by disposing of electronics in landfills along with other refuse, e-cycling is mandated by law in only half of the United States. As a result, in many areas it is left up to the consumer to make sure they throw away their used batteries, computers, cell phones and other equipment through the proper channels.

According to 8NewsNow.com, a Nevada local news station, electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of garbage in the country. But very few people realize that all of those items they're tossing in the garbage can contain heavy metals and toxic substances that, if sent to a landfill, could seep into the groundwater supply and contaminate drinking water.

Some municipalities also burn their trash for energy. When electronic refuse ends up in these incinerators, it can release toxic materials into the atmosphere, causing respiratory problems for local populations.

Another reason to have your electronic products recycled is that they often contain valuable materials that can be reused in other consumer goods. This could result in lower prices for electronics in the long run as manufacturers don't have to mine for new materials, and can instead rely on a steady stream of recycled supplies.

In other words, e-cycling isn't just an environmental imperative, it's also an economic one. If you're unsure where you can dispose of your used electronic items, we recommend checking out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website. There you can find information on local recycling programs, as well as the many public health risks associated with improper disposal of e-waste.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide news and green tips, so keep visiting!

Does Your Nail Polish Contain Harmful Substances?

Heading to the nail salon may be one of the highlights of your day, but recent studies have shown that you might want to be careful about what you let others apply to your nails.

Heading to the nail salon may be one of the highlights of your day, but recent studies have shown that you might want to be careful about what you let others apply to your nails. You may find that these substances aren't exactly environmentally friendly products conducive to living a healthy lifestyle.

According to The New York Times, many nail product manufacturers have removed what are known as "the toxic trio" of chemicals from their polishes and paints. These include formaldehyde, a carcinogen that is used to preserve cadavers, and two substances known for causing developmental defects: toluene and plasticizer dibutyl phthalate (PBD).

While researchers are quick to note that the occasional nail painting isn't going to lead to any long-term health effects, they caution that many manufacturers have yet to remove these chemicals from their polishes. As a result, doctors recommend not letting young children paint their nails, as they tend to chew on them and could potentially swallow small amounts of these subtances.

As further proof that these products are dangerous, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an entire website dedicated to educating workers in the cosmetics industry about the risks of long-term exposure to nail products, particularly from breathing in the fumes they produce. 

If you're looking for a greener alternative for nail polish that is non-toxic, you may want to check out Honeybee Gardens or Zoya, two brands that produce all-natural, healthy nail products that contain none of the toxic chemicals listed above. In general, look for items that are labeled "Three Free" or "Five Free," indicating that they aren't made with dangerous substances.

For more information on green living and consumer goods, keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com!