Every tax-filing season, the great quest by filers is to find the most tax deductions. But there are some deductions you should steer clear of.
If you claim these wrong write-offs, you'll deduct expenses that don't meet Internal Revenue Service guidelines. And that means you'll end up spending time with a tax auditor and paying more in taxes, penalties and interest.
RELATED: The 8 Craziest Tax Deductions Approved by the IRS
Bankrate doesn't want that to happen to you, so we've put together this list of expenses you might be tempted to claim. Don't you dare!
But don't get too upset. We've also provided some related tax breaks that do pass IRS muster and will lower your tax bill.
1. Homeowners Insurance
The hazard policy you bought to cover damage from fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms and other disasters, as well as for more-routine mishaps, offers peace of mind. What it doesn't provide is a tax deduction for the insurance premiums.
But if you meet some tax law guidelines, you can deduct private mortgage insurance, or PMI on your 2011 tax return. PMI is the insurance your lender requires you to buy if you don't put down a big enough down payment. PMI premiums are deductible as an itemized expense (it goes on Schedule A with your mortgage interest claim) as long as the mortgage insurance policy was issued between 2007 and 2011.
You also must meet income requirements. If your adjusted gross income is $100,000 or less (or $50,000 and you're married and filing separately), your full PMI premium amount is deductible. If you make between $100,001 and $109,000, the amount of PMI that you can deduct is reduced. And if your income is more than $109,000 ($54,500 married filing separately), you can't deduct PMI at all.
You can figure your allowable PMI deduction using the work sheet in the Schedule A instructions.
2. A Telephone Land Line
You can't deduct the cost of your main home telephone land line, even if you primarily use that phone for your business. The IRS says that the first hard-wired phone line in your home is considered a nondeductible personal expense.
But you can deduct as a business expense the cost of business-related long distance charges on that phone.
If you are an employee, they would be claimed as an unreimbursed business expense on Schedule A. If you are self-employed, you would count the phone calls as an expense on your Schedule C or C-EZ. And if you install a second telephone land line specifically for your business, its full cost is deductible.
3. Commuting Costs
The cost of getting to and from your workplace is never deductible. Taking public transportation or driving to work is a personal expense, regardless of how far your home is from your office.
And no, you can't deduct commuting expenses even if you work during the commute.
But you might be able to deduct some commuting costs if you work at two places in one day, whether or not for the same employer. In this case, you can deduct the expense of getting from one workplace to the other.
You also can deduct some expenses related to other work-related travel, such as visits to clients (current and potential) and out-of-office business meetings. If you're self-employed, these expenses would go on your Schedule C or C-EZ.
If you're an employee, travel costs must be claimed as unreimbursed business expenses. As such, your business and other miscellaneous itemized expenses must exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Whatever your business travel situation, be sure to keep good records.
You also could encourage your employer to establish a commuter savings account program. This employee transportation fringe benefit lets workers use pretax dollars to purchase mass-transit passes and pay for parking near work.
4. Pet Expenses
Yes, your dog or cat is a family member. And yes, some insurance companies now include coverage for Fido or Fluffy in auto policies.
But your affection for your pet or an insurer's willingness to pay for some of your domesticated animal's care doesn't carry any weight with the IRS. So don't dare try claiming your pet as a dependent. Yes, it has been done. And yes, it is disallowed by the IRS when the furry facts are revealed.
You can, however, deduct as itemized medical expenses the costs of buying, training and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal to assist a visually impaired or hearing-impaired person, or a person with other physical disabilities.
5. Social Security Taxes
You lose a lot of income each payday to Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA, taxes, the money withheld from your checks to pay for your future Social Security benefits. The debate as to whether Social Security will be around when you retire is still raging. But one thing is sure: Don't even think about trying to deduct these taxes.
But if you overpaid this tax, you can get a credit for your Social Security overwithholding. There is a limit on how much FICA taxes can be contributed each year. The tax is withheld on up to the Social Security earnings base, which is adjusted annually for inflation, and which for 2011 is $106,800 and for 2012 is $110,100.
If you had multiple jobs and your combined earnings exceeded the wage base, you probably had too much FICA withheld. You can claim the excess Social Security tax as a credit when you file your tax return.