Are you age 65 and older and have basic Medicare insurance? You may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage you want. The premiums can be expensive, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But there may be a bright side: You may qualify for a tax break for paying the premiums.
Medicare premiums are medical expenses
You can combine premiums for Medicare health insurance with other qualifying medical expenses for purposes of claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.
Itemizing versus the standard deduction
Qualifying for a medical expense deduction is hard for many people for a couple of reasons. For 2021, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of AGI.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. As a result, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amounts are $12,550 for single filers, $25,100 for married couples filing jointly and $18,800 for heads of household. (For 2020, these amounts were $12,400, $24,800 and $18,650, respectively.)
However, if you have significant medical expenses, including Medicare health insurance premiums, you may itemize and collect some tax savings.
Note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. So, they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.
Medical expense deduction basics
In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct various medical expenses, including those for dental treatment, ambulance services, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.
There are also many items that Medicare doesn’t cover that can be deducted for tax purposes, if you qualify. In addition, you can deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 16-cents-per-mile rate for 2021 (down from 17 cents for 2020), or you can keep track of your actual out-of-pocket expenses for gas, oil and repairs.
Claim all eligible deductions
Contact us if you have additional questions about claiming medical expense deductions on your tax return.
If you have a parent entering a nursing home, you may not be thinking about taxes. But there are a number of possible tax implications. Here are five.
1. Long-term medical care
The costs of qualified long-term care, including nursing home care, are deductible as medical expenses to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
Qualified long-term care services are necessary diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic, curing, treating, mitigating and rehabilitative services, and maintenance or personal-care services required by a chronically ill individual that is provided under care administered by a licensed healthcare practitioner.
To qualify as chronically ill, a physician or other licensed healthcare practitioner must certify an individual as unable to perform at least two activities of daily living (eating, toileting, transferring, bathing, dressing, and continence) for at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity or severe cognitive impairment.
2. Long-term care insurance
Premiums paid for a qualified long-term care insurance contract are deductible as medical expenses (subject to limitations explained below) to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed the percentage-of-AGI threshold. A qualified long-term care insurance contract covers only qualified long-term care services, doesn’t pay costs covered by Medicare, is guaranteed renewable and doesn’t have a cash surrender value.
Qualified long-term care premiums are includible as medical expenses up to certain amounts. For individuals over 60 but not over 70 years old, the 2021 limit on deductible long-term care insurance premiums is $4,520, and for those over 70, the 2021 limit is $5,640.
3. Nursing home payments
Amounts paid to a nursing home are deductible as a medical expense if a person is staying at the facility principally for medical, rather than custodial care. If a person isn’t in the nursing home principally to receive medical care, only the portion of the fee that’s allocable to actual medical care qualifies as a deductible expense. But if the individual is chronically ill, all qualified long-term care services, including maintenance or personal care services, are deductible.
If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you can include any medical expenses you incur for your parent along with your own when determining your medical deduction.
4. Head-of-household filing status
If you aren’t married and you meet certain dependency tests for your parent, you may qualify for head-of-household filing status, which has a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than single filing status. You may be eligible to file as head of household even if the parent for whom you claim an exemption doesn’t live with you.
5. The sale of your parent’s home.
If your parent sells his or her home, up to $250,000 of the gain from the sale may be tax-free. In order to qualify for the $250,000 exclusion, the seller must generally have owned the home for at least two years out of the five years before the sale, and used the home as a principal residence for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. However, there’s an exception to the two-out-of-five-year use test if the seller becomes physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself during the five-year period.
These are only some of the tax issues you may deal with when your parent moves into a nursing home. Contact us if you need more information or assistance.
More than 43 million student borrowers are in debt with an average of $39,351 each, according to the research group EducationData.org. If you have student loan debt, you may wonder if you can deduct the interest you pay. The answer is yes, subject to certain limits. However, the deduction is phased out if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain levels — and they aren’t as high as the income levels for many other deductions.
Basics of the deduction
The maximum amount of student loan interest you can deduct each year is $2,500. The interest must be for a “qualified education loan,” which means a debt incurred to pay tuition, room and board, and related expenses to attend a post-high school educational institution, including certain vocational schools. Post-graduate programs may also qualify. For example, an internship or residency program leading to a degree or certificate awarded by an institution of higher education, hospital, or health care facility offering post-graduate training can qualify.
It doesn’t matter when the loan was taken out or whether interest payments made in earlier years on the loan were deductible or not.
For 2021, the deduction is phased out for single taxpayers with AGI between $70,000 and $85,000 ($140,000 and $170,000 for married couples filing jointly). The deduction is unavailable for single taxpayers with AGI of more than $85,000 ($170,000 or married couples filing jointly).
Married taxpayers must file jointly to claim this deduction.
The deduction is taken “above the line.” In other words, it’s subtracted from gross income to determine AGI. Thus, it’s available even to taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions.
No deduction is allowed to a taxpayer who can be claimed as a dependent on another tax return. For example, let’s say a parent is paying for the college education of a child whom the parent is claiming as a dependent. In this case, the interest deduction is only available for interest the parent pays on a qualifying loan, not for any of the interest the child may pay on a loan the student may have taken out. The child will be able to deduct interest that is paid in later years when he or she is no longer a dependent.
The interest must be on funds borrowed to cover qualified education costs of the taxpayer or his spouse or dependent. The student must be a degree candidate carrying at least half the normal full-time workload. Also, the education expenses must be paid or incurred within a reasonable time before or after the loan is taken out.
Taxpayers must keep records to verify qualifying expenditures. Documenting a tuition expense isn’t likely to pose a problem. However, care should be taken to document other qualifying education-related expenses including books, equipment, fees, and transportation.
Documenting room and board expenses should be straightforward for students living and dining on campus. Student who live off campus should maintain records of room and board expenses, especially when there are complicating factors such as roommates.
Contact us if you’d like help in determining whether you qualify for this deduction or if you have questions about it.
If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve recently inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes.
The current rules
Under the current fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. So, for example, if your grandmother bought stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $1 million at her death, the basis is stepped up to $1 million in the hands of your grandmother’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax.
The fair market value basis rules apply to inherited property that’s includible in the deceased’s gross estate, and those rules also apply to property inherited from foreign persons who aren’t subject to U.S. estate tax. It doesn’t matter if a federal estate tax return is filed. The rules apply to the inherited portion of property owned by the inheriting taxpayer jointly with the deceased, but not the portion of jointly held property that the inheriting taxpayer owned before his or her inheritance. The fair market value basis rules also don’t apply to reinvestments of estate assets by fiduciaries.
Gifting before death
It’s crucial to understand the current fair market value basis rules so that you don’t pay more tax than you’re legally required to.
For example, in the above example, if your grandmother decides to make a gift of the stock during her lifetime (rather than passing it on when she dies), the “step-up” in basis (from $500 to $1 million) would be lost. Property that has gone up in value acquired by gift is subject to the “carryover” basis rules. That means the person receiving the gift takes the same basis the donor had in it ($500 in this example), plus a portion of any gift tax the donor pays on the gift.
A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. In that case, the basis is lowered to the date-of-death value. Proper planning calls for seeking to avoid this loss of basis. Giving the property away before death won’t preserve the basis. That’s because when property that has gone down in value is the subject of a gift, the person receiving the gift must take the date of gift value as his basis (for purposes of determining his or her loss on a later sale). Therefore, a good strategy for property that has declined in value is for the owner to sell it before death so he or she can enjoy the tax benefits of the loss.
Change on the horizon?
Be aware that President Biden has proposed ending the ability to step-up the basis for gains in excess of $1 million. There would be exemptions for family-owned businesses and farms. Of course, any proposal must be approved by Congress in order to be enacted.
These are the basic rules. Other rules and limits may apply. For example, in some cases, a deceased person’s executor may be able to make an alternate valuation election. Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after receiving an inheritance. We’ll keep you up to date on any tax law changes.
The IRS recently released guidance providing the 2022 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
Fundamentals of HSAs
An HSA is a trust created or organized exclusively for the purpose of paying the “qualified medical expenses” of an “account beneficiary.” An HSA can only be established for the benefit of an “eligible individual” who is covered under a “high deductible health plan.” In addition, a participant can’t be enrolled in Medicare or have other health coverage (exceptions include dental, vision, long-term care, accident and specific disease insurance).
A high deductible health plan (HDHP) is generally a plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,000 for self-only coverage and $2,000 for family coverage. In addition, the sum of the annual deductible and other annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid under the plan for covered benefits (but not for premiums) can’t exceed $5,000 for self-only coverage, and $10,000 for family coverage.
Within specified dollar limits, an above-the-line tax deduction is allowed for an individual’s contribution to an HSA. This annual contribution limitation and the annual deductible and out-of-pocket expenses under the tax code are adjusted annually for inflation.
Inflation adjustments for next year
In Revenue Procedure 2021-25, the IRS released the 2022 inflation-adjusted figures for contributions to HSAs, which are as follows:
Annual contribution limitation. For calendar year 2022, the annual contribution limitation for an individual with self-only coverage under a HDHP will be $3,650. For an individual with family coverage, the amount will be $7,300. This is up from $3,600 and $7,200, respectively, for 2021.
High deductible health plan defined. For calendar year 2022, an HDHP will be a health plan with an annual deductible that isn’t less than $1,400 for self-only coverage or $2,800 for family coverage (these amounts are unchanged from 2021). In addition, annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) won’t be able to exceed $7,050 for self-only coverage or $14,100 for family coverage (up from $7,000 and $14,000, respectively, for 2021).
There are a variety of benefits to HSAs. Contributions to the accounts are made on a pre-tax basis. The money can accumulate tax free year after year and be can be withdrawn tax free to pay for a variety of medical expenses such as doctor visits, prescriptions, chiropractic care and premiums for long-term care insurance. In addition, an HSA is “portable.” It stays with an account holder if he or she changes employers or leaves the workforce. If you have questions about HSAs at your business, contact your employee benefits and tax advisors.
Your not-for-profit may prefer to avoid activities that subject it to unrelated business income tax (UBIT). But if you accept advertising or sponsorships that aren’t substantially related to your tax-exempt purpose, you may unwittingly expose your organization to UBIT liability. The rules governing these types of support are complicated, so it’s important to have a basic understanding of what is and what isn’t potentially taxable.
Qualified sponsorship dollars: Not taxable
Sponsorship dollars generally aren’t taxed. Qualified sponsorship payments are made by a person (a sponsor) engaged in a trade or business with no arrangement to receive — or expectation of receiving — any substantial benefit from the nonprofit in return for the payment. The IRS allows exempt organizations to use information that’s an established part of a sponsor’s identity, such as logos, slogans, locations, phone numbers and URLs.
There are some exceptions. For example, if the payment amount is contingent upon the level of attendance at an event, broadcast ratings or other factors indicating the quantity of public exposure received, the IRS doesn’t consider it a sponsorship and the payment would likely trigger UBIT.
Providing facilities, services or other privileges to a sponsor — such as complimentary tickets or admission to golf tournaments — doesn’t automatically disallow a payment from being a qualified sponsorship payment. Generally, if the privileges provided aren’t what the IRS considers a “substantial benefit” or if providing them is a related business activity, the payments won’t be subject to UBIT. But when services or privileges provided by an exempt organization to a sponsor are deemed to be substantial, part or all of the sponsorship payment may be taxable.
Advertising payments: Taxable
Payment for advertising a sponsor’s products or services is considered unrelated business income, so it’s subject to UBIT. According to the IRS, advertising includes endorsements, inducements to buy, sell or use products, and messages containing qualitative or comparative language, price information or other indications of value.
Some activities often are misclassified as advertising. Using logos or slogans that are an established part of a sponsor’s identity is not, by itself, advertising. And if your nonprofit distributes or displays a sponsor’s product at an event, whether for free or remuneration, it’s considered use or acknowledgment, not advertising.
Distinctions between taxable advertising and nontaxable sponsorships can be nuanced. So before you seek new income sources, contact us for help determining whether they may subject your nonprofit to UBIT.
Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including the cost of subscriptions to financial services, home office expenses and clerical costs? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses.
For years before 2018, production-of-income expenses were deductible, but they were included in miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were subject to a 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. (These rules are scheduled to return after 2025.) If you do a significant amount of trading, you should know which category your investment expenses fall into, because qualifying for trade or business expense treatment is more advantageous now.
In order to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses, you must be engaged in a trade or business. The U.S. Supreme Court held many years ago that an individual taxpayer isn’t engaged in a trade or business merely because the individual manages his or her own securities investments — regardless of the amount or the extent of the work required.
A trader vs. an investor
However, if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business, you may be considered a trader, who is engaged in a trade or business, rather than an investor, who isn’t. As a trader, you’re entitled to deduct your investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. An investor, on the other hand, isn’t entitled to home office deductions since the investment activities aren’t a trade or business.
Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been extensive litigation on the issue of whether a taxpayer is a trader or investor. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a two-part test that must be satisfied in order for a taxpayer to be a trader. Under this test, a taxpayer’s investment activities are considered a trade or business only where both of the following are true:
Profit in the short term
So, the fact that a taxpayer’s investment activities are regular, extensive and continuous isn’t in itself sufficient for determining that a taxpayer is a trader. In order to be considered a trader, you must show that you buy and sell securities with reasonable frequency in an effort to profit on a short-term basis. In one case, a taxpayer who made more than 1,000 trades a year with trading activities averaging about $16 million annually was held to be an investor rather than a trader because the holding periods for stocks sold averaged about one year.
Contact us if you have questions or would like to figure out whether you’re an investor or a trader for tax purposes.
The IRS just released its audit statistics for the 2020 fiscal year and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined as compared with prior years. But even though a small percentage of returns are being chosen for audit these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them.
Overall, just 0.5% of individual tax returns were audited in 2020. However, as in the past, those with higher incomes were audited at higher rates. For example, in 2020, 2.2% of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of between $1 million and $5 million were audited. Among the richest taxpayers, those with AGIs of $10 million and more, 7% of returns were audited in 2020.
These are among the lowest percentages of audits conducted in recent years. However, the Biden administration has announced it would like to raise revenue by increasing tax compliance and enforcement. In other words, audits may be on the rise in coming years.
Prepare in advance
Even though fewer audits were performed in 2020, the IRS will still examine thousands of returns this year. With proper planning, you may fare well even if you’re one of the unlucky ones.
The easiest way to survive an IRS examination is to prepare in advance. On a regular basis, you should systematically maintain documentation — invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof — for all items reported on your tax returns.
It’s possible you didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a return is selected for audit doesn’t mean that an error was made. Some returns are randomly selected based on statistical formulas. For example, IRS computers compare income and deductions on returns with what other taxpayers report. If an individual deducts a charitable contribution that’s significantly higher than what others with similar incomes report, the IRS may want to know why.
Returns can also be selected if they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers who were previously selected for audit, such as business partners or investors.
The government generally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often the exam won’t begin until a year or more after you file your return.
Complex vs. simple returns
The scope of an audit depends on the tax return’s complexity. A return reflecting business or real estate income and expenses will obviously take longer to examine than a return with only salary income.
An audit may be conducted by mail or through an in-person interview and review of records. The interview may be conducted at an IRS office or may be a “field audit” at the taxpayer’s home, business, or accountant’s office.
Important: Even if you're chosen for audit, an IRS examination may be nothing to lose sleep over. In many cases, the IRS asks for proof of certain items and routinely “closes” the audit after the documentation is presented.
Don’t go it alone
It’s advisable to have a tax professional represent you at an audit. A tax pro knows the issues that the IRS is likely to scrutinize and can prepare accordingly. In addition, a professional knows that in many instances IRS auditors will take a position (for example, to disallow certain deductions) even though courts and other guidance have expressed contrary opinions on the issues. Because pros can point to the proper authority, the IRS may be forced to concede on certain issues.
If you receive an IRS audit letter or simply want to improve your recordkeeping, we’re here to help. Contact us to discuss this or any other aspect of your taxes.
Married couples may not be able to save as much as they need for retirement when one spouse doesn’t work outside the home — perhaps so that spouse can take care of children or elderly parents. In general, an IRA contribution is allowed only if a taxpayer earns compensation. However, there’s an exception involving a “spousal” IRA. It allows contributions to be made for nonworking spouses.
For 2021, the amount that an eligible married couple can contribute to an IRA for a nonworking spouse is $6,000, which is the same limit that applies for the working spouse.
As you may know, IRAs offer two types of advantages for taxpayers who make contributions to them.
As long as the couple together has at least $12,000 of earned income, $6,000 can be contributed to an IRA for each, for a total of $12,000. (The contributions for both spouses can be made to either a regular IRA or a Roth IRA, or split between them, as long as the combined contributions don’t exceed the $12,000 limit.)
Boost contributions if 50 or older
In addition, individuals who are age 50 or older can make “catch-up” contributions to an IRA or Roth IRA in the amount of $1,000. Therefore, for 2021, for a taxpayer and his or her spouse, both of whom will have reached age 50 by the end of the year, the combined limit of the deductible contributions to an IRA for each spouse is $7,000, for a combined deductible limit of $14,000.
There’s one catch, however. If, in 2021, the working spouse is an active participant in either of several types of retirement plans, a deductible contribution of up to $6,000 (or $7,000 for a spouse who will be 50 by the end of the year) can be made to the IRA of the nonparticipant spouse only if the couple’s AGI doesn’t exceed $125,000. This limit is phased out for AGI between $198,000 and $208,000.
Contact us if you’d like more information about IRAs or you’d like to discuss retirement planning.
If you’re a parent with a college-bound child, you may be concerned about being able to fund future tuition and other higher education costs. You want to take maximum advantage of tax benefits to minimize your expenses. Here are some possible options.
Series EE U.S. savings bonds offer two tax-saving opportunities for eligible families when used to finance college:
To qualify for the tax exemption for college use, you must purchase the bonds in your name (not the child’s) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees and certain other expenses — not room and board. If only part of the proceeds is used for qualified expenses, only that part of the interest is exempt.
The exemption is phased out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain amounts.
A qualified tuition program (also known as a 529 plan) allows you to buy tuition credits for a child or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child’s future higher education expenses. Qualified tuition programs are established by state governments or private education institutions.
Contributions aren’t deductible. The contributions are treated as taxable gifts to the child, but they’re eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2021). A donor who contributes more than the annual exclusion limit for the year can elect to treat the gift as if it were spread out over a five-year period.
The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until college costs are paid from the funds. Distributions from 529 plans are tax-free to the extent the funds are used to pay “qualified higher education expenses.” Distributions of earnings that aren’t used for qualified expenses will be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty tax.
Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)
You can establish a Coverdell ESA and make contributions of up to $2,000 annually for each child under age 18.
The right to make contributions begins to phase out once your AGI is over a certain amount. If the income limitation is a problem, a child can contribute to his or her own account.
Although the contributions aren’t deductible, income in the account isn’t taxed, and distributions are tax-free if used on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn’t attend college, the money must be withdrawn when he or she turns 30, and any earnings will be subject to tax and penalty. But unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the child’s family who hasn’t reached age 30. (Some ESA requirements don’t apply to individuals with special needs.)
These are just some of the tax-favored ways to build up a college fund for your children. Once your child is in college, you may qualify for tax breaks such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of the options.
If you’re getting ready to retire, you’ll soon experience changes in your lifestyle and income sources that may have numerous tax implications.
Here’s a brief rundown of four tax and financial issues you may deal with when you retire:
Taking required minimum distributions. This is the minimum amount you must withdraw from your retirement accounts. You generally must start taking withdrawals from your IRA, SEP, SIMPLE and other retirement plan accounts when you reach age 72 (70½ before January 1, 2020). Roth IRAs don’t require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.
You can withdraw more than the minimum required amount. Your withdrawals will be included in your taxable income except for any part that was taxed before or that can be received tax-free (such as qualified distributions from Roth accounts).
Selling your principal residence. Many retirees want to downsize to smaller homes. If you’re one of them and you have a gain from the sale of your principal residence, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income. If you file a joint return, you may be able to exclude up to $500,000.
To claim the exclusion, you must meet certain requirements. During a five-year period ending on the date of the sale, you must have owned the home and lived in it as your main home for at least two years.
If you’re thinking of selling your home, make sure you’ve identified all items that should be included in its basis , which can save you tax.
Engaging in new work activities. After retirement, many people continue to work as consultants or start new businesses. Here are some tax-related questions to ask:
Taking Social Security benefits. If you continue to work, it may have an impact on your Social Security benefits. If you retire before reaching full Social Security retirement age (65 years of age for people born before 1938, rising to 67 years of age for people born after 1959) and the sum of your wages plus self-employment income is over the Social Security annual exempt amount ($18,960 for 2021), you must give back $1 of Social Security benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.
If you reach full retirement age this year, your benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 you earn over a different annual limit ($50,520 in 2021) until the month you reach full retirement age. Then, your earnings will no longer affect the amount of your monthly benefits, no matter how much you earn.
Speaking of Social Security, you may have to pay federal (and possibly state) tax on your benefits. Depending on how much income you have from other sources, you may have to report up to 85% of your benefits as income on your tax return and pay the resulting federal income tax.
As you can see, tax planning is still important after you retire. We can help maximize the tax breaks you’re entitled to so you can keep more of your hard-earned money.
High-income taxpayers face a 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) that’s imposed in addition to regular income tax. Fortunately, there are some steps you may be able to take to reduce its impact.
The NIIT applies to you only if modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds:
The amount subject to the tax is the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold ($250,000, $200,000, or $125,000) that applies to you.
Net investment income includes interest, dividend, annuity, royalty, and rental income, unless those items were derived in the ordinary course of an active trade or business. In addition, other gross income from a trade or business that’s a passive activity is subject to the NIIT, as is income from a business trading in financial instruments or commodities.
There are many types of income that are exempt from the NIIT. For example, tax-exempt interest and the excluded gain from the sale of your main home aren’t subject to the tax. Distributions from qualified retirement plans aren’t subject to the NIIT. Wages and self-employment income also aren’t subject to the NIIT, though they may be subject to a different Medicare surtax.
It’s important to remember the NIIT applies only if you have net investment income and your MAGI exceeds the applicable thresholds above. But by following strategies, you may be able to minimize net investment income.
If your income is high enough to trigger the NIIT, shifting some income investments to tax-exempt bonds could result in less exposure to the tax. Tax-exempt bonds lower your MAGI and avoid the NIIT.
Dividend-paying stocks are taxed more heavily as a result of the NIIT. The maximum income tax rate on qualified dividends is 20%, but the rate becomes 23.8% with the NIIT.
As a result, you may want to consider rebalancing your investment portfolio to emphasize growth stocks over dividend-paying stocks. While the capital gain from these investments will be included in net investment income, there are two potential benefits: 1) the tax will be deferred because the capital gain won’t be subject to the NIIT until the stock is sold and 2) capital gains can be offset by capital losses, which isn’t the case with dividends.
Because distributions from qualified retirement plans are exempt from the NIIT, upper-income taxpayers with some control over their situations (such as small business owners) might want to make greater use of qualified plans.
These are only a couple of strategies you may be able to employ. You also may be able to make moves related to charitable donations, passive activities and rental income that may allow you to minimize the NIIT. If you’re subject to the tax, you should include it in your tax planning. Consult with us for tax-planning strategies.
Eligible parents will soon begin receiving payments from the federal government. The IRS announced that the 2021 advance child tax credit (CTC) payments, which were created in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), will begin being made on July 15, 2021.
How have child tax credits changed?
The ARPA temporarily expanded and made CTCs refundable for 2021. The law increased the maximum CTC — for 2021 only — to $3,600 for each qualifying child under age 6 and to $3,000 per child for children ages 6 to 17, provided their parents’ income is below a certain threshold.
Advance payments will receive up to $300 monthly for each child under 6, and up to $250 monthly for each child 6 and older. The increased credit amount will be reduced or phased out, for households with modified adjusted gross income above the following thresholds:
Under prior law, the maximum annual CTC for 2018 through 2025 was $2,000 per qualifying child but the income thresholds were higher and some of the qualification rules were different.
Important: If your income is too high to receive the increased advance CTC payments, you may still qualify to claim the $2,000 CTC on your tax return for 2021.
What is a qualifying child?
For 2021, a “qualifying child” with respect to a taxpayer is defined as one who is under age 18 and who the taxpayer can claim as a dependent. That means a child related to the taxpayer who, generally, lived with the taxpayer for at least six months during the year. The child also must be a U.S. citizen or national or a U.S. resident.
How and when will advance payments be sent out?
Under the ARPA, the IRS is required to establish a program to make periodic advance payments which in total equal 50% of IRS’s estimate of the eligible taxpayer’s 2021 CTCs, during the period July 2021 through December 2021. The payments will begin on July 15, 2021. After that, they’ll be made on the 15th of each month unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday. Parents will receive the monthly payments through direct deposit, paper check or debit card.
Who will benefit from these payments and do they have to do anything to receive them?
According to the IRS, about 39 million households covering 88% of children in the U.S. “are slated to begin receiving monthly payments without any further action required.” Contact us if you have questions about the child tax credit.
Even after your 2020 tax return has been successfully filed with the IRS, you may still have some questions about the return. Here are brief answers to three questions that we’re frequently asked at this time of year.
Are you wondering when you will receive your refund?
The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status.” You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.
Which tax records can you throw away now?
At a minimum, keep tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. In general, the statute of limitations is three years after you file your return. So you can generally get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2017 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2017 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.)
However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.
You should hang on to certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep the actual tax returns indefinitely, so you can prove to the IRS that you filed legitimate returns. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)
When it comes to retirement accounts, keep records associated with them until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (You can keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)
If you overlooked claiming a tax break, can you still collect a refund for it?
In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
However, there are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.
Year-round tax help
Contact us if you have questions about retaining tax records, receiving your refund or filing an amended return. We’re not just here at tax filing time. We’re available all year long.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people engaged in the “gig” or sharing economy had been growing, according to several reports. And reductions in working hours during the pandemic have caused even more people to turn to gig work to make up lost income. There are tax consequences for the people who perform these jobs, which include providing car rides, delivering food, walking dogs and providing other services.
Bottom line: If you receive income from freelancing or from one of the online platforms offering goods and services, it’s generally taxable. That’s true even if the income comes from a side job and even if you don’t receive an income statement reporting the amount of money you made.
Basics for gig workers
The IRS considers gig workers as those who are independent contractors and conduct their jobs through online platforms. Examples include Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and DoorDash.
Unlike traditional employees, independent contractors don’t receive benefits associated with employment or employer-sponsored health insurance. They also aren’t covered by the minimum wage or other protections of federal laws and they aren’t part of states’ unemployment insurance systems. In addition, they’re on their own when it comes to retirement savings and taxes.
Pay taxes throughout the year
If you’re part of the gig or sharing economy, here are some tax considerations.
It’s important to keep good records tracking income and expenses in case you are audited by the IRS or state tax authorities. Contact us if you have questions about your tax obligations as a gig worker or the deductions you can claim. You don’t want to get an unwanted surprise when you file your tax return.
The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up soon. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules.
Failure to pay
Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty is 1/2% for each month (or partial month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due May 17 and is made June 22, the penalty is 1% (1/2% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.
The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid through withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.
For example, if your payment is two months late and your return shows that you owe $5,000, the penalty is 1%, which equals $50. If you’re audited and your tax bill increases by another $1,000, the failure-to-pay penalty isn’t increased because it’s based on the amount shown on the return as due.
Failure to file
The failure-to-file penalty runs at a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until October 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.
If the 1/2% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the total combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. After that, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 1/2% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties could reach 47.5% over time.
The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. So if no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual tax liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure to file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply for an additional $135 in penalties.
A minimum failure to file penalty will also apply if you file your return more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or the tax amount required to be shown on the return.
Both penalties may be excused by IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause.” Typical qualifying excuses include death or serious illness in the immediate family and postal irregularities.
As you can see, filing and paying late can get expensive. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can reach 15% per month, with a 75% maximum. Contact us if you have questions or need an appointment to prepare your return.
In recent months, there have been a number of tax changes that may affect your individual tax bill. Many of these changes were enacted to help mitigate the financial damage caused by COVID-19.
Here are two changes that may result in tax savings for you on your 2020 or 2021 tax returns. The 2020 return is due on May 17, 2021 (because the IRS extended many due dates from the usual April 15 this year). If you can’t file by that date, you can request an extra five months to file your 2020 tax return by October 15, 2021. Your 2021 return will be due in April of 2022.
1. Some unemployment compensation from last year is tax free.
Many people lost their jobs last year due to pandemic shutdowns. Generally, unemployment compensation is included in gross income for federal tax purposes. But thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted on March 11, 2021, up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation can be excluded from federal gross income on 2020 federal returns for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) under $150,000. In the case of a joint return, the first $10,200 per spouse isn’t included in gross income. That means if both spouses lost their jobs and collected unemployment last year, they’re eligible for up to a $20,400 exclusion.
However, keep in mind that some states tax unemployment compensation that is exempt from federal income tax under the ARPA.
The IRS has announced that taxpayers who already filed their 2020 individual tax returns without taking advantage of the 2020 unemployment benefit exclusion, don’t need to file an amended return to take advantage of it. Any resulting overpayment of tax will be either refunded or applied to other outstanding taxes owed.
The IRS will take steps in the spring and summer to make the appropriate change to the returns, which may result in a refund. The first refunds are expected to be made in May and will continue into the summer.
2. More taxpayers may qualify for a tax credit for buying health insurance.
The premium tax credit (PTC) is a refundable credit that assists individuals and families in paying for health insurance obtained through a Marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act. The ARPA made several significant enhancements to this credit.
For example, under pre-ARPA law, individuals with household income above 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL) weren’t eligible for the PTC. But under the new law, for 2021 and 2022, the premium tax credit is available to taxpayers with household incomes that exceed 400% of the FPL. This change increases the number of people who are eligible for the credit.
Let’s say a 45-year-old unmarried man has income of $58,000 (450% of FPL) in 2021. He wouldn’t have been eligible for the PTC before ARPA was enacted. But under the ARPA, he’s eligible for a premium tax credit of about $1,250.
Other favorable changes were also made to the premium tax credit.
Many more changes
The 2020 unemployment benefit exclusion and the enhanced premium tax credit are just two of the many recent tax changes that may be beneficial to you. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
The housing market in many parts of the country is strong this spring. If you’re buying or selling a home, you should know how to determine your “basis.”
How it works
You can claim an itemized deduction on your tax return for real estate taxes and home mortgage interest. Most other home ownership costs can’t be deducted currently. However, these costs may increase your home’s “basis” (your cost for tax purposes). And a higher basis can save taxes when you sell.
The law allows an exclusion from income for all or part of the gain realized on the sale of your home. The general exclusion limit is $250,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers). You may feel the exclusion amount makes keeping track of the basis relatively unimportant. Many homes today sell for less than $500,000. However, that reasoning doesn’t take into account what may happen in the future. If history is any indication, a home that’s owned for 20 or 30 years appreciates greatly. Thus, you want your basis to be as high as possible in order to avoid or reduce the tax that may result when you eventually sell.
To prove the amount of your basis, keep accurate records of your purchase price, closing costs, and other expenses that increase your basis. Save receipts and other records for improvements and additions you make to the home. When you eventually sell, your basis will establish the amount of your gain. Keep the supporting documentation for at least three years after you file your return for the sale year.
Start with the purchase price
The main element in your home’s basis is the purchase price. This includes your down payment and any debt, such as a mortgage. It also includes certain settlement or closing costs. If you had your house built on land you own, your basis is the cost of the land plus certain costs to complete the house.
You add to the cost of your home expenses that you paid in connection with the purchase, including attorney’s fees, abstract fees, owner’s title insurance, recording fees and transfer taxes. The basis of your home is affected by expenses after a casualty to restore damaged property and depreciation if you used your home for business or rental purposes,
Over time, you may make additions and improvements to your home. Add the cost of these improvements to your basis. Improvements that add to your home’s basis include:
Home expenses that don’t add much to the value or the property’s life are considered repairs, not improvements. Therefore, you can’t add them to the property’s basis. Repairs include painting, fixing gutters, repairing leaks and replacing broken windows. However, an entire job is considered an improvement if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of extensive remodeling.
The cost of appliances purchased for your home generally don’t add to your basis unless they are considered attached to the house. Thus, the cost of a built-in oven or range would increase basis. But an appliance that can be easily removed wouldn’t.
Plan for best results
Other rules and requirements may apply. We can help you plan for the best tax results involving your home’s basis.
If you have a life insurance policy, you may want to ensure that the benefits your family will receive after your death won’t be included in your estate. That way, the benefits won’t be subject to federal estate tax.
Current exemption amounts
For 2021, the federal estate and gift tax exemption is $11.7 million ($23.4 million for married couples). That’s generous by historical standards but in 2026, the exemption is set to fall to about $6 million ($12 million for married couples) after inflation adjustments — unless Congress changes the law.
In or out of your estate
Under the estate tax rules, insurance on your life will be included in your taxable estate if:
It’s easy to avoid the first situation by making sure your estate isn’t designated as the policy beneficiary.
The second rule is more complicated. Just having someone else possess legal title to the policy won’t prevent the proceeds from being included in your estate if you keep “incidents of ownership.” Rights that, if held by you, will cause the proceeds to be taxed in your estate include:
Be aware that merely having any of the above powers will cause the proceeds to be taxed in your estate even if you never exercise them.
Buy-sell agreements and trusts
Life insurance obtained to fund a buy-sell agreement for a business interest under a “cross-purchase” arrangement won’t be taxed in your estate (unless the estate is the beneficiary).
An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is another effective vehicle that can be set up to keep life insurance proceeds from being taxed in the insured’s estate. Typically, the policy is transferred to the trust along with assets that can be used to pay future premiums. Alternatively, the trust buys the insurance with funds contributed by the insured. As long as the trust agreement doesn’t give the insured the ownership rights described above, the proceeds won’t be included in the insured’s estate.
The three-year rule
If you’re considering setting up a life insurance trust with a policy you own currently or simply assigning away your ownership rights in such a policy, consult with us to ensure you achieve your goals. Unless you live for at least three years after these steps are taken, the proceeds will be taxed in your estate. (For policies in which you never held incidents of ownership, the three-year rule doesn’t apply.)
Contact us if you have questions or would like assistance with estate planning and taxation.
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11, provides a variety of tax and financial relief to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the many initiatives are direct payments that will be made to eligible individuals. And parents under certain income thresholds will also receive additional payments in the coming months through a greatly revised Child Tax Credit.
Here are some answers to questions about these payments.
What are the two types of payments?
Under the new law, eligible individuals will receive advance direct payments of a tax credit. The law calls these payments “recovery rebates.” The law also includes advance Child Tax Credit payments to eligible parents later this year.
How much are the recovery rebates?
An eligible individual is allowed a 2021 income tax credit, which will generally be paid in advance through direct bank deposit or a paper check. The full amount is $1,400 ($2,800 for eligible married joint filers) plus $1,400 for each dependent.
Who is eligible?
There are several requirements but the most important is income on your most recently filed tax return. Full payments are available to those with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of less than $75,000 ($150,000 for married joint filers and $112,500 for heads of households). Your AGI can be found on page 1 of Form 1040.
The credit phases out and is no longer available to taxpayers with AGIs of more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married joint filers and $120,000 for heads of households).
Who isn’t eligible?
Among those who aren’t eligible are nonresident aliens, individuals who are the dependents of other taxpayers, estates and trusts.
How has the Child Tax Credit changed?
Before the new law, the Child Tax Credit was $2,000 per “qualifying child.” Under the new law, the credit is increased to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under age 6 as of the end of the year). But the increased 2021 credit amounts are phased out at modified AGIs of over $75,000 for singles ($150,000 for joint filers and $112,500 for heads of households).
A qualifying child before the new law was defined as an under-age-17 child, whom the taxpayer could claim as a dependent. The $2,000 Child Tax Credit was phased out for taxpayers with modified AGIs of over $400,000 for joint filers, and $200,000 for other filers.
Under the new law, for 2021, the definition of a qualifying child for purposes of the Child Tax Credit includes one who hasn’t turned 18 by the end of this year. So 17-year-olds qualify for the credit for 2021 only.
How are parents going to receive direct payments of the Child Tax Credit this year?
Unlike in the past, you don’t have to wait to file your tax return to fully benefit from the credit. The new law directs the IRS to establish a program to make monthly advance payments equal to 50% of eligible taxpayers’ 2021 Child Tax Credits. These payments will be made from July through December 2021.
What if my income is above the amounts listed above?
Taxpayers who aren’t eligible to claim an increased Child Tax Credit, because their incomes are too high, may be able to claim a regular credit of up to $2,000 on their 2021 tax returns, subject to the existing phaseout rules.
There are other rules and requirements involving these payments. This article only describes the basics. Stay tuned for additional details about other tax breaks in the new law.
Although electric vehicles (or EVs) are a small percentage of the cars on the road today, they’re increasing in popularity all the time. And if you buy one, you may be eligible for a federal tax break.
The tax code provides a credit to purchasers of qualifying plug-in electric drive motor vehicles including passenger vehicles and light trucks. The credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional amount, based on battery capacity, that can’t exceed $5,000. Therefore, the maximum credit allowed for a qualifying EV is $7,500.
The EV definition
For purposes of the tax credit, a qualifying vehicle is defined as one with four wheels that’s propelled to a significant extent by an electric motor, which draws electricity from a battery. The battery must have a capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours and be capable of being recharged from an external source of electricity.
The credit may not be available because of a per-manufacturer cumulative sales limitation. Specifically, it phases out over six quarters beginning when a manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles for use in the United States (determined on a cumulative basis for sales after December 31, 2009). For example, Tesla and General Motors vehicles are no longer eligible for the tax credit.
The IRS provides a list of qualifying vehicles on its website and it recently added a number of models that are eligible. You can access the list here: https://bit.ly/2Yrhg5Z.
Here are some additional points about the plug-in electric vehicle tax credit:
There’s a separate 10% federal income tax credit for the purchase of qualifying electric two-wheeled vehicles manufactured primarily for use on public thoroughfares and capable of at least 45 miles per hour (in other words, electric-powered motorcycles). It can be worth up to $2,500. This electric motorcycle credit was recently extended to cover qualifying 2021 purchases.
These are only the basic rules. There may be additional incentives provided by your state. Contact us if you’d like to receive more information about the federal plug-in electric vehicle tax break.
Contributing to a tax-advantaged retirement plan can help you reduce taxes and save for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or Roth 401(k) plan, contributing to it is a smart way to build a substantial sum of money.
If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions can have a major impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.
With a 401(k), an employee makes an election to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by an employer on his or her behalf to the plan. The contribution limit for 2020 is $19,500. Employees age 50 or older by year end are also permitted to make additional “catch-up” contributions of $6,500, for a total limit of $26,000 in 2020.
The IRS recently announced that the 401(k) contribution limits for 2021 will remain the same as for 2020.
If you contribute to a traditional 401(k)
A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits, including:
If you already have a 401(k) plan, take a look at your contributions. Try to increase your contribution rate to get as close to the $19,500 limit (with an extra $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older) as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pretax — so, income tax isn’t withheld.
If you contribute to a Roth 401(k)
Employers may also include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your employer offers this, you can designate some or all of your contributions as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.
Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. Your ability to make a Roth IRA contribution for 2021 will be reduced if your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2021 exceeds:
Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA in 2021 will be eliminated entirely if you’re a married joint filer and your 2021 AGI equals or exceeds $208,000 (up from $206,000 for 2020). The 2021 cutoff for single filers is $140,000 or more (up from $139,000 for 2020).
The best mix
Contact us if you have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth 401(k) contributions. We can discuss the tax and retirement-saving strategies in your situation.
Are you thinking about selling stock shares at a loss to offset gains that you’ve realized during 2020? If so, it’s important not to run afoul of the “wash sale” rule.
IRS may disallow the loss
Under this rule, if you sell stock or securities for a loss and buy substantially identical stock or securities back within the 30-day period before or after the sale date, the loss can’t be claimed for tax purposes. The rule is designed to prevent taxpayers from using the tax benefit of a loss without parting with ownership in any significant way. Note that the rule applies to a 30-day period before or after the sale date to prevent “buying the stock back” before it’s even sold. (If you participate in any dividend reinvestment plans, it’s possible the wash sale rule may be inadvertently triggered when dividends are reinvested under the plan, if you’ve separately sold some of the same stock at a loss within the 30-day period.)
The rule even applies if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.
Although the loss can’t be claimed on a wash sale, the disallowed amount is added to the cost of the new stock. So, the disallowed amount can be claimed when the new stock is finally disposed of in the future (other than in a wash sale).
An example to illustrate
Let’s say you bought 500 shares of ABC Inc. for $10,000 and sold them on November 5 for $3,000. On November 30, you buy 500 shares of ABC again for $3,200. Since the shares were “bought back” within 30 days of the sale, the wash sale rule applies. Therefore, you can’t claim a $7,000 loss. Your basis in the new 500 shares is $10,200: the actual cost plus the $7,000 disallowed loss.
If only a portion of the stock sold is bought back, only that portion of the loss is disallowed. So, in the above example, if you’d only bought back 300 of the 500 shares (60%), you’d be able to claim 40% of the loss on the sale ($2,800). The remaining $4,200 loss that’s disallowed under the wash sale rule would be added to your cost of the 300 shares.
If you’ve cashed in some big gains in 2020, you may be looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio so you can sell those investments before year end. By doing so, you can offset your gains with your losses and reduce your 2020 tax liability. But be careful of the wash sale rule. We can answer any questions you may have.