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.