Give yourself some credit for being a taxpayer. While the list of deductions people can take on their income taxes is long, often hard to understand, and sometimes open to dispute, the list of credits is fairly short and easier to understand. Still, many people don't give them the respect they deserve.
Listed on the back of the 1040, the credits provide a nice way for taxpayers to get some financial assistance for things like child care, energy conservation , or for having reached their 65th birthday.
(You will need the 1040 ''long form'' for these credits. The only credit allowed on Form 1040A is a partial credit for political contributions; and there are no credits on the new 1040EZ.)
With more two-wage-earner households, and more homes being headed by one parent, many families have to shell out a big part of their earnings to pay for someone, like a day-care center, to tend the children. The credit can also be used for care of a disabled dependent or a disabled spouse while a taxpayer is working.
For taxpayers who had less than $10,000 of gross income last year, the credit is equal to 30 percent of expenses for this care. The percentage drops as income rises, going to 20 percent of expenses. The maximum amount of expenses that can be claimed is $2,400 for one child or dependent or $4,800 for two or more children or dependents.
Employment-related expenses apply to people looking for work as well as those holding jobs. You will have to fill out and include Form 2441 to claim the child-care credit.
You can also save tax dollars while you save energy. By this time many homeowners, particularly in cold climates, have done something to their homes to cut down on heating bills. If you made any of these improvements last year, you can claim a credit of 15 percent of the first $2,000 of qualifying expenditures. The maximum credit is $300.
There is an even larger credit for qualified renewable energy source expenditures, such as solar and geothermal energy systems, and wind and hydroelectric power used on your principal residence. For tax years 1980, '81, and '82 the energy-sources credit is equal to 40 percent of the first $10,000 of these expenses, for a maximum credit of $4,000. For tax years 1979 and before, the credit is 30 percent of the first $2,000 and 20 percent of the next $8,000 of expenditures, giving you a maximum of $2,200.
Qualified expenditures include external storm windows and doors, caulking and weatherstripping, and certain types of insulation. To claim this credit, you will need Form 5695.
One may also claim credit for being 65 or over. A single individual is entitled to a credit equal to 15 percent of $2,500. The same is true for a married couple if only one spouse has reached 65. If both husband and wife are over 65, the credit is 15 percent of $3,750. There are some things that must be subtracted from these amounts, including social-security payments, railroad retirement benefits, and nontaxable pensions and annuities.
People who are under 65 may also claim a credit if they are receiving a taxable pension or annuity from a public retirement system. The credit is 15 percent of the retirement income or of a certain ''maximum amount,'' whichever is less. The maximum amount is $2,500 for single taxpayers, $1,875 for those who are married and filing separate returns, and $3,750 for those who are married and filing joint returns.
To claim either of these credits, you will need Schedules R or RP.
There are several other credits people might qualify for, including credits for foreign tax payments, investments in tangible property used in a trade or business or for income, political contributions, and for employers who hire members of certain ''targeted'' groups.
Each of these credits has its own form that must be filled out and included with the 1040, but filling them out can be the fastest way - on a hourly wage basis - to earn a few hundred, or a few thousand, tax dollars. A small amount to invest
I am a recent widow, 71 years of age. I own my own mortgage-free condominium, have a monthly income of about $1,500, and $5,000 to invest. What is the wisest way to handle this money in order to assure some increase in monthly income, not for an extravagant life style but rather for common-sense management? -B.I.S.
There are several ways to meet your criteria for income and good management. Assuming the $5,000 is all you have to invest, our suggestions would be fairly conservative. One of the safest is the new money market deposit account (not the lower-yielding ''Super NOW account) available at banks and savings and loans. Be sure to go to a bank that pays the advertised rate on the entire deposit, not just that portion over $2,500. For income, you can write up to three checks or make three transfers a month, limiting yourself to use of the interest. Another choice might be a mutual fund specializing in stocks or bonds. There are several income-oriented funds that will periodically send you a check for the dividends.
If you would like a question considered for publication in this column, please send it to Moneywise, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. No personal replies can be given by mail or phone. References to investments are not an endorsement or recommendation by this newspaper.