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.

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.

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.

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.

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.