How to Eliminate a Tax Surprise

How to Eliminate a Tax Surprise

What is normally a reliable estimate of your taxes – the amount of money withheld from your paychecks by your employer – may be an unreliable estimate this year thanks to the current pandemic. Even worse, using the safety net of paying in what you did last year may not be practical if your financial situation changed due to the coronavirus.

Many taxpayers wrote a large check to the IRS this year for the very first time to pay a portion of their taxes as the 1st and 2nd quarter estimated tax payments for 2020 were both due on July 15. Because of this it may be beneficial to review whether you need to make a 3rd quarter or 4th quarter estimated tax payment in the coming months.

Here’s how to ensure you are not faced with an unpleasant tax surprise – because either not enough money was withheld from your paychecks for income tax purposes or your estimated tax payments were too small – when you file your 2020 tax return next April.

  • Step 1: Estimate your 2020 income. Add up your anticipated income for 2020 – W-2 paychecks, unemployment compensation, business income, interest and dividend income and any other form of income.
  • Step 2: Estimate your 2020 deductions. Add up your anticipated deductions for 2020, including retirement and health savings account contributions, student loan interest you paid and itemized deductions. If you’re not sure, take a look at last year’s tax return and use that figure.
  • Step 3: Calculate your tax. Subtract your deductions from your income to calculate your taxable income. Then calculate the tax you owe based on your taxable income using the IRS tax tables. Use last year’s table until the new one is published later this year. Here is a link to the IRS publication: IRS tax table
  • Step 4: Calculate your remaining estimated tax payments. Take the tax calculated in Step 3 and subtract any 1st and/or 2nd quarter estimated tax payments you made, and any paycheck withholdings so far this year. If you owe more than you have paid in or have had withheld so far this year, you have two more quarters to make up the difference through estimated tax payments.
  • Step 5: Mail your payment to the IRS. The due date to make a 3rd quarter estimated tax payment is September 15, 2020. The 4th quarter deadline is January 15, 2021.

Sound complicated? It definitely can be. If you get stuck trying to figure out if you should make estimated tax payments or have any other questions, please call. Remember, it is better to plan now than to face the unpleasant surprise of an unwanted tax bill on April 15th.

Help! My Stimulus Payment is Wrong or Missing!

Help! My Stimulus Payment is Wrong or Missing!

Millions of Americans already received their economic impact payment. But what if you’re still waiting or your payment was for an incorrect amount?

Here are some common scenarios why you may not have received your payment, or the payment you did receive was for an incorrect amount, and what you can do.

  • Your payment was sent to a closed bank account. If you didn’t update your banking information or mailing address before your payment was processed, your money will probably end up in the wrong location.

    What you can do: You probably must wait. If your bank account on file with the IRS is closed or no longer active, the bank will reject the stimulus payment deposit and you will be issued a physical check to the address the IRS has on file for you.
  • Your check was sent to a wrong address. The IRS will send stimulus checks to the mailing address listed on your most recently-filed tax return. The IRS will also mail a letter with information about how and where the stimulus payment was made, but this letter will go to the most recent address on file.

    What you can do: Change your address on file with the IRS by filing Form 8822. While it won’t solve your immediate problem, your change will correct future issues. In the meantime, keep tracking the status of your payment by visiting the website Get My Payment. You can also try and contact the new people who live at your old address.
  • You didn’t get paid for your dependents or you think your check amount is incorrect. You are certain that you should have received a full $500 payment for each qualifying dependent and the payment was either not received or was for an incorrect amount.

    What you can do: If you did not get the full amount you think you should have received, you will be able to claim the additional amount when you file your 2020 tax return.
  • You received a check for a deceased relative. With more than 300 million people living in the U.S., it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the stimulus checks were mailed to deceased individuals. Unfortunately for living family members, you can’t keep this money.

    What you need to do: You should open the check, write VOID on the check and then return it to the IRS. If the payment was via direct deposit or a check received from the IRS was already cashed, you should write a personal check to the IRS to return the money.

Receiving the wrong amount of money in your stimulus check or not receiving a check at all can be very frustrating. But be reassured the IRS is doing everything it can to help you get the correct amount of money that you deserve.

More information: If you have other questions or concerns, the IRS has a question and answer resource. Click here to read through the IRS Q&A.

Build a Fortress Defense for PPP Loan Forgiveness

Build a Fortress Defense for PPP Loan Forgiveness

More than 70% of small businesses in America now have loan proceeds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help retain employees during the current pandemic. The entire amount of a PPP loan is eligible to be forgiven if the funds are used for qualified expenses. Recent legislation liberalizes the terms of loan forgiveness for funds used for payroll, utilities and rent. It is now based on a 24-week period, not just eight weeks.

But how can you best position your company to fully benefit from PPP loan forgiveness? Here are five tips to help meet the challenge.

  • Restore your staff. If possible, restore the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to previous levels by the safe-harbor due date of December 31 (extended from June 30). Bring back furloughed FTEs as soon as you can. Of course, this should fit into your overall business plan. If an employee does not return, document the refusal. All these actions will help when the forgiveness formula is applied to your loan.
  • Pile on payroll costs. Run payroll and other remaining qualified expenses—including mortgage interest, rent and utilities—on the last day of the 24-week period. This will enable your business to maximize the amount of loan forgiveness allowed under the calculation.
  • Reward employees. Consider paying out reasonable incentive amounts to maximize the forgiveness of payroll costs. The bonuses can even go to family members like your spouse or children. But remember that you can only count up to $100,000 of wages per person, pro-rated for the covered year, and you must be able to defend these payments as reasonable.
  • Use the simplified application form. There are two loan forgiveness forms – the regular form (Form 3508) and a simplified version called Form 3508EZ. Review both forms before deciding which one is right for your situation. For instance, there are fewer calculations on the simplified form with less documentation required. To qualify for the simplified form, you must meet at least one of these requirements:
    • You’re self-employed and have no other employees.
    • You didn’t reduce employee hours or reduce their wages and salaries by more than 25%.
    • You lost business due to health directives relating to COVID-19 and didn’t reduce employee wages and salaries by more than 25%.
  • Document everything. Once you receive PPP loan funds, keep supporting documentation on everything related to the loan. Document when you receive the loan, each time you spend part of the loan and accrued interest expense on the loan. Also keep copies of receipts and invoices to document all loan expenditures, including bank account statements and journal entries.
NEW Tax Rules for 2020!

NEW Tax Rules for 2020!

Here are several new tax laws passed this year to consider as you start planning your 2020 tax obligation.

  • Make up to $300 of charitable contributions. For the 2020 tax year only, an above-the-line deduction of $300 is available to all Americans ($600 for married filing jointly returns) who want to make a charitable contribution. You can donate to more than one charity, but the total amount of contributions must be $300 or less to be able to take an above-the-line deduction. While you will still need to itemize your deductions if you want a tax break for donations greater than $300, this above-the-line deduction for $300 or less helps alleviate the elimination of the charitable deduction for most taxpayers.

    What you need to do. Donate $300 to your favorite charitable organization(s) by December 31, 2020. You must receive a written acknowledgment from the charitable organization(s) to which you made the $300 contribution before filing your 2020 tax return.
  • Donate up to 100% of your income. The normal contribution limit of 60% of your income is suspended for 2020, allowing you to contribute as much of your income as you want to various charities.

    What you need to do. While only a tax break for a few taxpayers, this initiative is meant to help struggling charities during the pandemic. If you are considering additional giving, you must make your charitable contributions by December 31, 2020. Remember to obtain written acknowledgment from each charity you made a donation to before filing your 2020 tax return.
  • Use retirement savings to pay for birth or adoption expenses. Adding a child to your family is very expensive. To help with these costs, you can now cash out up to $5,000 per parent from your retirement accounts to pay for birth and/or adoption expenses. While the withdrawal won’t be hit with the 10% early withdrawal penalty, you’ll still have to pay income taxes.

    What you need to do. Consult your financial advisor or benefits coordinator to find out how to withdraw the funds from your retirement accounts. Since this withdrawal will deplete your retirement savings, first consider whether you have other sources of cash to cover expenses.
  • No age limit for contributing to IRAs. You can now contribute to an IRA regardless of your age as long as you have earned income. The old rule prevented you from contributing to an IRA past age 70½. The IRA contribution limit for 2020 is $6,000 if you’re under age 50 and $7,000 if you’re over age 50.

    What you need to do. Consider getting a part-time job or doing some consulting work if you project that you won’t have earned income by the end of 2020. You can then use this earned income to fund your traditional or Roth IRA.
Small Business Owners Get Good News on PPP Loan Forgiveness

Small Business Owners Get Good News on PPP Loan Forgiveness

Small business owners, self-employed workers and freelancers received some welcome news when Congress recently passed the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act. This new law clarifies how businesses can qualify to have all or a portion of its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiven.

Here is what you need to know:

December 31, 2020 is the new deadline to spend loan proceeds. When the PPP program was rolled out this spring, businesses were given 8 weeks after loan funding to use the loan’s proceeds if they wanted to qualify for loan forgiveness. That timeline has now moved to 24 weeks. Due to the extended stay-at-home orders and further assessment of the pandemic, the new deadline is now effectively December 31, 2020.

More loan proceeds can be used for non-payroll expenses. The original law required 75% of loan proceeds to be spent on payroll. For businesses with high cost of goods sold or who had trouble convincing furloughed workers to return to work, hitting this 75% threshold was problematic. The new law reduces the amount of loan proceeds required to be spent on payroll to 60%.

More flexibility in fully restoring workforce. Borrowers now have through December 31, 2020 to restore their workforce levels and wages to the pre-pandemic levels required for full forgiveness. There are three exceptions allowed for not having a fully-restored workforce by Dec. 31. Borrowers can adjust their loan forgiveness calculations because of:

  • Employees who turned down good faith offers to be re-hired at the same hours and wages as before the pandemic;
  • Difficulty finding qualified employees;
  • COVID-19 related operating restrictions

Loan terms extended. For loans that do not qualify for forgiveness, borrowers now have up to five years to repay the loan instead of two. The interest rate remains at 1%. Since your bank has 60 days to process your loan forgiveness application and the SBA has 90 days to process the request, your initial payment is now effectively five to six months after your forgiveness application.

What you need to do

  • Download EZ Application Form. If you are a self-employed worker, independent contractor or sole proprietor who has no employees, you may be eligible to use the EZ Loan Forgiveness Application. Click here to download the EZ form. Click here to download instructions for the EZ form.
  • Download Regular Application Form. If you aren’t eligible to use the EZ Loan Forgiveness Application, then you’ll need to complete the regular loan forgiveness application. Click here to download the regular application.
  • Stay in contact with your lending institution about when and how to complete the loan forgiveness application.
  • Consider reaching out to your legislators to let your voice be heard on how you were impacted and to share your story on your PPP loan experience as several U.S. Senators indicated that there will be more changes in the future regarding the program.

The New Face of Banking

The New Face of Banking

It suddenly just got a whole lot more difficult to buy a home

The banking sector is the latest industry to dramatically change how it operates in response to the current economic environment. The most visible change for consumers are new requirements for taking out a mortgage.

Here are some tips for working with banks and other lending institutions in the midst of tighter lending requirements and a heightened awareness of staying healthy.

Save more for a mortgage downpayment. New requirements for taking out a mortgage are requiring borrowers to put down at least 20% and have a credit score of 700 or better. Unfortunately, the average credit score of U.S. citizens under the age of 50 is below 700. The short-term reality is that you may need to save for a bigger downpayment and actively manage your credit before getting your dream home.

Take advantage of your bank’s mobile app. Social distancing is changing the way we interact in public and banking is no exception. Traditional bank tellers, drive through options, and in some cases entire branches, are being replaced with digital banking options and mobile deposits. This trend will surely accelerate in the aftermath of COVID-19. For the branches that remain open, visiting will likely be more restrictive. Smaller capacity banking spaces and appointments might be required to help banks control the flow of traffic.

Use digital payments for your purchases. While cash might still be king in the U.S. economy, consider using “germ-free” digital payments as retailers are steering customers toward electronic transactions. With businesses needing to adapt to new spending habits, innovation is going to steer towards digital payment technologies and make paying with cash more difficult in the future.

Look for lending deals. During these uncertain times, banks will be putting more effort into connecting with their customers. Bank leaders are making it a priority to personalize the banking experience with proactive marketing campaigns. Be on the lookout for special deals offered by lending institutions to help keep you as a customer.

Ideas to Help Local Businesses

Ideas to Help Local Businesses

Shuttered businesses are realizing that lifting lockdown restrictions doesn’t mean a return to business as usual. Social distancing guidelines and a public wary of venturing into crowded environments means light customer traffic for many businesses.

Here are several ideas to help local businesses financially as they re-open their doors:

Continue buying gift cards. For many small businesses, positive cash flow is the primary factor whether they survive this economic downturn. Buying gift cards is a great way to get them the cash they need now, while still providing value for yourself down the road. Even better, if you are in a position to do so, consider giving a gift card to a friend who’s negatively been affected financially. Also consider donating gift cards to schools, churches or non-profit organizations. Just remember to keep your receipts so you can potentially claim a tax deduction!

Tip more than usual. Of all industries impacted by the economic downturn, the leisure and hospitality industry is being hit the hardest. On top of the millions of workers in this industry that have filed for unemployment, even more have had their hours scaled back. When you order takeout or pay for a service, consider tipping more than you normally would. It may not seem like much, but every extra dollar helps.

Shop online locally. The prices you pay might be higher, but when you add the property taxes, local employment taxes and donations to school events that local businesses fund, the added costs are worth it. Also, with many retail shops restricted to limited foot traffic because of social distancing guidelines, online sales are currently a significant source of revenue for many small businesses.

Write a review. Reviews left on Google, Yelp, and other sites are a major source of new customers for local businesses and restaurants. Take the time to leave a positive review for each of your favorite local businesses so new, potential customers can find them.

Offer your services. With the change in spending habits, businesses are forced to adapt. If you have skills and knowledge that could help a small business make the transition, consider donating some of your time. Some examples include web development, marketing strategies, cash flow management and budgeting.

Financial Questions to Ask Mom and Dad

Financial Questions to Ask Mom and Dad

Many Americans have been focused on their own finances over the past several months. But don’t neglect helping those closest to you with their finances as well, especially aging parents. Here are some questions to ask your parents to help them sort through their financial picture.

Have you decided when you’ll start taking Social Security benefits? If your parents have not started taking Social Security, a discussion in this area will help both of you. Generally, Baby Boomers can receive their full amount of benefits at age 66, but benefits increase gradually if they wait longer, reaching the peak at age 70. Conversely, if your parents intend to retire early, they may wish to start receiving reduced benefits as soon as age 62. To add more complexity, a spouse can take retirement benefits from their partner’s work history. Often a rule of thumb is if you expect to live past 80, consider delaying when you first receive benefits, if you can afford to do so.

Do you have a durable power of attorney? If you need to act on behalf of your parents regarding financial matters, you will need a power of attorney. Without this document in place, you’ll have to go to court to get guardianship of your parents in order to access their financial accounts.

Is there an executor? Who is responsible for going through everything when necessary? You don’t really need to know who it is, just that there is someone in place with a potential backup executor if the primary executor is unwilling or unable to help.

Where do you keep financial records? Does someone, other than your parents, know where financial documents and information are kept? This includes bank account numbers along with usernames and passwords for websites.

Who are key advisors? The executor will need the names and contact information for each member on your parents’ team of trusted advisors. Ideally your parents have introduced their executor to each of the members of their team.

How are you planning to pay for long-term care? One of the main financial concerns is the possibility of paying exorbitant amounts for long-term care in a nursing home or with stay-at-home assistance that will drain all your parents’ assets. Traditionally, this was handled by long-term care insurance to absorb at least some of the cost. Unfortunately, these policies are now very expensive. But there are other ideas that can help, including certain tax advantaged insurance policies and establishing a trust to shield assets from nursing home costs (subject to certain restrictions for Medicaid assistance).

Do trusts need to be created or updated? Although there are numerous types of trusts, each with a various purpose, your parents may use a trust to preserve assets for their heirs. They are also used to avoid probate. An irrevocable trust can fully protect assets, but your parents must give up all control over their assets. In contrast, a revocable trust can be modified (where your parents can still change beneficiaries), but offers less protection.

Remember, your goal is not to pry into your parents’ finances, but to help ensure a plan is in place. And as an added benefit, many of the questions outlined here are great to apply to your own situation!

Keep Your Social Security Number Safe

Keep Your Social Security Number Safe

Identity thieves are very active right now

Countries and citizens around the world are banding together to defeat the coronavirus. While your attention is concentrated on protecting your family, friends and community, identity thieves are seeing an opportunity to swipe your confidential information.

Very few things in life create a higher degree of stress and hassle than having your Social Security Number (SSN) stolen, especially during a pandemic like we are now experiencing. This is because, unlike other forms of ID, the SSN is virtually permanent. While most instances of SSN theft are outside your control, there are some things that you can do to minimize the risk of this ever happening to you.

  • Never carry your card. Place your SSN card in a safe place. This place is NEVER your wallet or purse. Only take the card with you when you need it, then return it immediately to your designated safe place.
  • Know who needs it. As identity theft becomes more common, there are fewer people or organizations who really need to know your Social Security number. Here is a list of entities who still need your SSN:
    • The government. Federal and state governments use this number to track your earnings for retirement benefits and to ensure you pay proper taxes.
    • Your employer. The SSN is used to track your wages and withholdings. It is also used as proof of citizenship and to contribute to your Social Security and Medicare accounts.
    • Certain financial institutions. Your SSN is used by various financial institutions to prove citizenship, open bank accounts, provide loans and establish other forms of credit.
  • Know who really does not need it. Many other vendors may ask for your Social Security number, but having it is not an essential requirement. The most common requests come from health care providers and insurance companies. But the request for your number may come from anyone who wishes to collect an unpaid bill. When asked on a form for your number, leave it blank. Challenge the provider if it is requested.
  • Destroy and distort. Shred any documents that have your SSN listed. When providing copies of your tax return to anyone, distort or cover your SSN. Remember your entire SSN could appear on the top of each page of Form 1040, although that is becoming less common. If the government requests your SSN on a check payment, only place the last four digits on the check, while pre-filling the first five digits with x’s.
  • Keep your scammer alert on high. Never give out your SSN over the phone or via e-mail. Do not even confirm your SSN to someone who happens to read it back to you on the phone. If this happens to you, file a police report and report the theft to the IRS and Federal Trade Commission.
  • Proactively check for use. Periodically check your credit reports for potential use of your SSN. If suspicious activity is found, have the credit agencies place a fraud alert on your account. Remember, everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year. Multiple businesses can provide you with your free credit report.

Replacing a stolen SSN is not only hard to do, it can create hardships. You will need to re-establish your credit history, re-assign your SSN benefits history, and realign your tax records. Your best defense is to stop the theft before it happens.

Keep Cultivating Your Network

Keep Cultivating Your Network

Don’t let social distancing get in the way of your personal and professional relationships

Keeping up with your friends and maintaining professional relationships is a challenge as most in-person activities have come screeching to a halt. Drive-by birthday parties, video happy hours and pre-recorded commencement speeches are the new normal.

Despite social distancing guidelines, here are some tips to stay connected.

Embrace digital communication. Whether you were ready for it or not, face-to-face contact has been replaced with video screens, headphones and microphones. For many, this introduces a whole host of new variables. To hold a simple conversation, you need a solid internet connection and reliable equipment just to hear and see each other. Take time to learn best practices for the different communication apps like Zoom, Skype and Teams. In addition, give yourself some time before a scheduled meeting or digital hangout to work out all the kinks before others join.

Up your social media game. For all its faults, social media is very good at connecting people. With more time and less entertainment options, people are spending a lot of time scrolling through their feeds. Don’t just be an observer, figure out a way that works for you to get connected. Even if you aren’t interested in posting a bunch of pictures, try to find an old friend and check in to see how they are doing. On the professional side, use this time to create or update your profile on professional networking sites. Being more visible can help create future professional and business connections.

Make a habit of checking in. This is good advice for any time, but it’s especially important now. Uncertain times bring out different emotions for people that can be unexpected. Checking in on friends and loved ones can provide a positive boost for you and them. Whether you want an opinion from someone you trust or just wish to touch base, a simple conversation can go a long way. Create an appointment on your calendar to have a check-in time with your key friends, family and cohorts at least quarterly.

Practice engaged listening. With everyone being affected by COVID-19 in one way or another, small talk may seem trivial. However, don’t be afraid to engage in a conversation, be authentic and ask purposeful questions. Spend more time listening than talking and use your contact time to nurture and strengthen your relationships. In other words, don’t just connect when you need something.

Even though the mediums of connecting have changed, the importance of human relationships remains. Take the time to develop your listening skills in this new environment so you can continue to invest in and grow your network.

As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation please feel free to call.