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Get REAL: Tax Benefits

April 29, 2010

Steven Mendelsohn

Welcome to Real Economic Impact’s Get REAL (Reliable Experts, Answers & Lessons) series: reliable advice re: your economic concerns from leading money, legal, and financial experts from around the country.

This week’s Get REAL expert is Steven Mendelsohn, Attorney and Co-Principal Investigator and Researcher at Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute.

Q: Why is it important for individuals with disabilities, parents and family members, teachers, support coordinators, and rehabilitation counselors to know more about tax benefits

A: Recognized or not, tax law touches upon everyone’s life. From the wealthy investor who makes a variety of personal and business decisions on the basis of tax consequences, to the individual who receives services through tax-exempt community organizations, tax law plays an inevitable if sometimes invisible role.

For people with disabilities, their families, their employers and the nonprofit organizations with which they may work, this role can be very important, and an understanding of tax options and strategies available can — in many cases — make the difference between being financially able or unable to pursue a particular course of action or attain a particular goal.

For these many points of interaction between tax law and living or working with a disability to be understood, an in-depth knowledge of both the issues facing people with disabilities and the intersecting provisions for law is necessary. 

Most importantly, a general understanding of tax benefits can individual consumers, families and service professionals to the existence of a major tax dimension to their activities and situations. Where employment-related, assistive technology, accommodation or other specialized expenditures are involved, there is usually a means within the tax law for obtaining some degree of tax benefit; however, the way the transaction, expense or action is documented and explained, as well as its timing, will largely determine how much of the potential benefit can be realized.

One thing to keep in mind: often, conventional sources of tax advice (books, IRS publications and even professional tax preparers) may provide only limited help to taxpayers with disabilities. Many key provisions are obscure and rarely encountered, and tax preparers may also find it awkward to raise disability-related issues if these are not surfaced by the taxpayer.

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