In addition to the tax relief previously announced by the IRS, on Sept. 23 President Bush signed into law the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005. It contains tax breaks not only for victims and their families, but also for those assisting and contributing to the relief operations. Here's a brief overview of some of the major provisions:
Retirement plan withdrawals: Katrina victims who take money from their company retirement plans or IRA accounts to make repairs or pay bills will not be hit with the normal 10% early distribution penalty, even if they are under age 59 1/2. However, this applies only to withdrawals that total less than $100,000. Additionally, taxpayers will be able to spread the tax burden of any income distributed from a retirement account over three years.
Hardship loans: If your company pension or retirement plan offers "hardship loans," the maximum amount of those loans is temporarily raised from $50,000 to $100,000.
Volunteer mileage: Vehicles used for charitable purposes are normally allowed a standard mileage rate deduction of 14 cents per mile. The act raises this amount to 34.2 cents per mile until the end of the year.
Deductible losses: In most cases, casualty losses (fire, flood, etc.) are deductible only if they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Katrina victims are now allowed to deduct 100% of their hurricane-related losses.
Tax filing status: Normally, when your living situation changes, so does your tax-filing status. But this act allows hurricane victims who have been forced to live with friends or relatives or in other temporary housing not to lose those various tax breaks based on filing status. They will be allowed to use their 2004 income to compute their 2005 eligibility for things such as the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. If you filed as "head of household" for 2004, you can still do so for 2005, even if you are now living in someone else's home because you were displaced by the hurricane.
Temporary housing break: If you're providing rent-free housing to Katrina victims for at least 60 days, you'll receive a tax deduction of $500 per person that you're housing, up to a maximum deduction of $2,000.
Incentives for contributions: If you donate cash to a qualified charity that is supporting the Katrina relief efforts, you will be able to deduct the entire amount of your contribution. Generally, your deduction is limited to 50% of your AGI and is further reduced when itemized deductions are phased out at higher income levels. The new law provides for a complete deduction, regardless of your other tax considerations.
No tax on debt relief: If a creditor forgives some or all of your debt, you are usually considered to have received taxable income. Under this legislation, if a debt such as your home mortgage is cancelled because of the hurricane, your debt relief won't be taxable.
Insurance proceeds deadline: Normally, if you receive insurance proceeds because of a loss, you have four years (businesses have two years) to reinvest the insurance proceeds in order to keep those funds from being fully or partially taxable. The new tax law extends this deadline to five years for both individuals and businesses, so long as the replacement property is located within the disaster area.
Remember, this is simply an overview of some the new tax act's many provisions. If you, your family, or your friends have been directly affected by Katrina, or indirectly affected by providing assistance or shelter, you'll want to learn more about the new tax law.
More changes are coming. As it did in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress is expected to pass additional long-term tax breaks to help New Orleans and the rest of Gulf Coast disaster area.
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