Be Prepared for Pandemic Tax Surprises

Be Prepared for Pandemic Tax Surprises

Numerous new laws provide economic relief to individuals and businesses hardest hit by this year’s pandemic. This much-needed financial assistance, however, comes with a few strings attached.

Here are three potential surprises if you use the available economic relief packages:

  • Getting a tax bill for unemployment benefits. While the $1,200 economic impact payments most Americans received does not have to be reported as taxable income on your 2020 tax return, there is currently no such luck with unemployment benefits. In addition to paying federal taxes on your unemployment compensation, more than half of states also impose a tax on unemployment benefits.
  • What you need to do: See if your unemployment compensation check withholds a portion of your pay for taxes. Even if your check does have withholding for income tax purposes, the withholding amount may not be enough. If possible, talk to your state unemployment office and try to get withholding amounts revised.
  • Paying estimated tax payments. If you normally receive a paycheck from your employer, you may have never needed to write a check to the IRS to pay estimated future taxes. Your employer withholds your taxes from your paychecks and sends it to the IRS for you. If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, however, you may be required to pay tax on the unemployment benefits received during the first six months of 2020 by July 15, 2020.
  • What you need to do: Estimate the amount of tax you owe for all sources of income, then compare that number with the amount of money withheld from your income to pay these taxes. If necessary, send in quarterly estimated tax payments to the U.S. Treasury and, in some cases, state revenue departments. This must be done each quarter with the next payment due July 15. You may need to send money in on September 15, 2020 and January 15, 2021 as well.
  • Reporting emergency distributions from retirement accounts: You may withdraw up to $100,000 in 2020 from various retirement accounts to help cover pandemic-related emergency expenses without incurring penalties. While you will not be required to pay an early withdrawal penalty, you will still be subject to income tax when filing your 2020 tax return.
  • What you need to do: If you plan to withdraw funds from your retirement account, reserve enough of the money to pay the tax! The amount you reserve depends on your potential tax situation so call for a tax review before taking money out of the account.
Think Before Tapping 401(k) as Emergency Fund

Think Before Tapping 401(k) as Emergency Fund

Do you need a quick infusion of cash?

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, you may be able to take money out of a qualified plan, like a 401(k), or an IRA, with favorable tax consequences. But should you do it? You might view withdrawing money from a retirement account as a last resort.

Background

Among other changes in the CARES Act relating to qualified plans and IRAs, a participant can withdraw up to $100,000 of funds without paying the usual 10% tax penalty on distributions before age 59½. Plus, you can take as long as three years to pay the resulting tax bill, spread out evenly over the three years. If you repay the full amount within three years, you owe no tax.

To qualify for this program, you or your spouse must be diagnosed with COVID-19 or experience adverse financial consequences due to the virus such as being laid off, having work hours reduced or being quarantined or furloughed.

What are the pitfalls?

There are several reasons why you may want to avoid taking money out of your retirement accounts unless it’s an absolute emergency:

You’re diluting your retirement savings. Although the money comes in handy now, you’re chipping away at your nest egg and forfeiting growth. For example, if you withdraw the maximum amount of $100,000 that would have earned 6% annually tax-deferred for ten years, the value would have been $179,000.

It may be bad timing. Experts say it is difficult to time the markets in the current volatile environment. If you sell some holdings right now, you may be locking in losses that would miss the recovery in the next few months or years.

You still owe income tax. Income tax is due unless you replace the full amount within three years. Also, depending on your situation, you could end up paying tax at higher rates than you would in your retirement years.

Better options might exist. Arranging a hardship loan from your 401(k) might be a better alternative for your situation. You avoid the taxable event of the withdrawal and you pay back yourself with interest. Other options include refinancing a mortgage with lower interest rates, taking advantage of payment relief from mortgage, rent or student loan payments or deferred credit card billing.

While it is an option, retirement plan withdrawals are not always the best choice. Think through all scenarios before withdrawing from retirement funds to cover emergency expenses.

Key 2020 Coronavirus Tax Changes

Key 2020 Coronavirus Tax Changes

Coronavirus uncertainty abounds. Thankfully, by monitoring tax changes on your behalf, we can work together to navigate the right path for you and your family. Here is a round-up of tax-related laws and information to help with tax planning for 2020.

  • Early distribution penalty waived The 10% early distribution penalty on up to $100,000 of retirement withdrawals for coronavirus-related reasons is waived during 2020. New tax rules allow tax liabilities on these distributions to be paid over a three-year period. So if you need the funds, you won’t see your tax bill skyrocket in one year. Even better, you can return these distributions back into your retirement account over a three-year period and not be subject to the annual contribution limits. Action: This could be a great way to handle emergency payments until you receive a stimulus check, unemployment payments, or a pending small business loan.
  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs) waived for 2020 Required minimum distributions (RMDs) in the year 2020 for various retirement plans is suspended. The corresponding 50% penalty associated with not taking an RMD is also suspended in 2020.Action: Taking out distributions when the market takes a tumble can hurt retirement income for many years. This change allows you to wait to let the value in your retirement account rebound before you withdraw funds.
  • IRS installment agreement suspension The IRS is suspending payments of all amounts due from April 1 through July 15, 2020. If you do not pay your IRS installment payment during this time your installment agreement will not be in default. Interest will continue to accrue on these installment agreements. Action: Being on the bad side of the IRS is never fun. If you currently have an IRS installment agreement, look to take advantage of this delay.
  • Offers-in-compromise The IRS will allow you until July 15, 2020 to provide additional requested information for any pending offers-in-compromise (OIC) and will not close out the OIC during this time without your consent. The IRS is also suspending any payments due under an OIC until July 15, 2020.
  • Enforcement activities suspended? Not so fast…The filing and enforcement of liens and levies will generally be suspended. However, IRS Revenue Officers will continue to pursue high income non-filers and initiate other actions when warranted.
  • No new audits The IRS will not initiate new audits during this time, but will act to protect the statute of limitations.
COVID-19 Bill Enhances Your Unemployment Benefits.   What you need to know!

COVID-19 Bill Enhances Your Unemployment Benefits. What you need to know!

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides individuals and businesses significant financial relief from the financial strain caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

Here is a snapshot of the unemployment benefits section of the bill and how it affects individuals and businesses.

  • WHO QUALIFIES TO RECEIVE STATE UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS? In addition to full-time workers who are laid off or furloughed, the Act provides individuals who are not already eligible for state and federal unemployment programs, including self-employed individuals and part-time workers, a set amount of unemployment compensation.
  • HOW MUCH WILL I RECEIVE? There are two different components to the new law’s unemployment benefits:
    1. Each worker will receive unemployment benefits based on the state in which they work, and
    2. In addition to their state unemployment benefits, each worker will receive an additional $600 per week from the federal government.
  • HOW WILL BENEFITS FOR SELF-EMPLOYED WORKERS BE CALCULATED? Benefits for self-employed workers are be calculated based on previous income and are also eligible for up to an additional $600 per week. Part-time workers are also eligible.
  • HOW LONG WILL THE STATE UNEMPLOYMENT PAYMENTS LAST? The CARES Act provides eligible workers with an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits. Most states already provide 26 weeks of benefits, bringing the total number of weeks that someone is eligible for benefits to 39.
  • HOW LONG WILL THE FEDERAL PAYMENTS OF $600 LAST? The federal payment of $600 per week will continue through July 31, 2020.
  • HOW DO I APPLY FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS? You must apply for unemployment benefits through your state unemployment office. Most state applications can now be filled out online. Workers who normally don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed individuals, need to monitor their state’s unemployment office website to find out when they can apply, as many states need to update their computer systems to reflect every type of worker who is eligible to collect unemployment benefits under the CARES Act.

What to do NOW!

If you have lost your job, you must file for unemployment with your state as soon as possible. State offices and websites are being slammed, so the sooner you get in the queue the better for you and your loved ones.

Treasury & IRS Guidance on Deferring Tax Payments Due to COVID-19 Outbreak

Treasury & IRS Guidance on Deferring Tax Payments Due to COVID-19 Outbreak

Washington – Following President Donald J. Trump’s emergency declaration pursuant to the Stafford Act, the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today issued guidance allowing all individual and other non-corporate tax filers to defer up to $1 million of federal income tax (including self-employment tax) payments due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest.  The guidance also allows corporate taxpayers a similar deferment of up to $10 million of federal income tax payments that would be due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest.  This guidance does not change the April 15 filing deadline.

“Americans should file their tax returns by April 15 because many will receive a refund.  Those filing will be able to take advantage of their refunds sooner,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “This deferment allows those who owe a payment to the IRS to defer the payment until July 15 without interest or penalties.  Treasury and IRS are ensuring that hardworking Americans and businesses have additional liquidity for the next several months.”    

Today’s guidance will result in about $300 billion of additional liquidity in the economy in the near term.  Treasury and IRS will issue additional guidance as needed and continue working with Congress, on a bipartisan basis, on legislation to provide further relief to the American people.

View the notice.

Information and resources regarding COVID-19.

IRS efforts to assist taxpayers.

Tax savings can be found in the elections you make!

Tax savings can be found in the elections you make!

Every year is an election year when it comes to making decisions on your annual income tax return. Here are four common examples that can create tax savings opportunities if you elect the correct option.

  1. Tax filing status. Typically, filing a joint tax return instead of filing separately is beneficial to a married couple, but not always! For instance, if one spouse has a high amount of medical expenses and the other doesn’t, your total medical deduction may be greater filing separately due to the 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold before you can deduct these expenses.
  2. Higher education expenses. Thanks to new legislation, many parents of college students again face a decision: Whether to take one of the two credits for higher education expenses or the tuition and fees deduction. The tuition and fees deduction, once expired, is now extended through 2020. To complicate matters, the credits and the deduction are all phased out based on different modified adjusted gross income (AGI) levels. Before you elect which tax benefit makes the most sense, you will need to evaluate all options.
  3. Investment interest. Investment interest expenses can be deducted up to the amount of net investment income for the year. This income does not usually include capital gains, because of favorable tax treatment of this type of gain. However, you can elect to include capital gains to help you deduct your interest expense. You can even cherry-pick which capital gains to use for this deduction. If you take this election you forego the favorable tax rate for long-term gains.
  4. Installment sales. If you sell real estate or other assets in installments over two or more years, the tax liability is spread over the years that payments are received. Thus, you may be able to postpone the tax due. This technique can reduce the total tax paid depending on your effective tax rate each year. However, you can also elect out of installment sale treatment by paying the entire tax in the year of the sale. You may wish to take this election if your income is lower in the year of the sale.

Thankfully there is help navigating these key tax elections. Simply call with any questions.