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.
Often if you are in dire need for money the most tempting area to look is your IRA, 401(k), and other qualified retirement accounts. These funds, set aside for your retirement, may seem to be the answer to your financial woes.
Should I take an early withdrawal?
Is it a good idea to tap into retirement account funds prior to reaching age 59½? Here are some things to consider:
- The penalty. Retirement funds taken out for non-qualified use are not only subject to regular income tax, but are also subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
- Debt collectors love it. Debt collectors are commonly prohibited from access to your retirement accounts. So if you are using the funds to put off debt collectors, be aware that you may be using funds that might be protected if you became insolvent.
- There is an opportunity cost. Currently the funds in your traditional IRA, 401(k), and similar retirement plans grow tax deferred. So a dollar today will compound until you withdraw the funds at retirement. This growth is lost with early withdrawals.
- Not for your kids. It is usually not a good idea to use early withdrawals to help pay a child’s debt or school costs. There are better ways to help children financially than to pay the stiff penalty on your early withdrawal.
If you still need to make the early withdrawal
- Withdraw “after-tax” contributions first. This can be Roth IRA contributions or other after-tax contributions. Why? Since these funds have already been taxed, there is often no additional tax burden or early withdrawal penalty.
- Certain withdrawals from qualified plans are allowed. This includes hardship withdrawals for qualified medical expenses, qualified educational expenses, and up to $10,000 to purchase a first time home.
- Consider taking out a loan from your employer-provided 401(k). You will then repay this loan to your retirement account with interest. But be careful, you are required to repay any outstanding balance when you leave your job.
- Look into substantially equal payments. Look into taking the distributions as part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments over your life expectancy. If done right, this can help avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty.
While it is never a great idea to tap into funds that are specifically set aside to make your retirement stress-free, if you must do so it is worth being thoughtful about how you go about the withdrawal.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Internal Revenue Service today just announced the 2020 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, vans, pickups or panel trucks will be:
- 57.5 cents per mile driven for business use, down one half of a cent from the rate for 2019,
- 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down three cents from the rate for 2019, and
- 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.
The business mileage rate decreased one half of a cent for business travel driven and three cents for medical and certain moving expense from the rates for 2019. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.
Note that under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers cannot claim a miscellaneous itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee travel expenses. Taxpayers also cannot claim a deduction for moving expenses, except members of the Armed Forces on active duty moving under orders to a permanent change of station. For more details, see Rev. Proc. 2019-46.
The standard mileage rate for business use is based and set on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.
Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.
A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. Also, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than five vehicles used simultaneously. These plus other limitations are described in section 4.05 of Rev. Proc. 2019-46.
Notice 2020-05, posted on IRS.gov, has the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan. To add to that, for employer-provided vehicles, the Notice provides the maximum fair market value of automobiles first made available to employees for personal use in calendar year 2020 for which employers may use the fleet-average valuation rule in § 1.61-21(d)(5)(v) or the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule in § 1.61-21(e).
In 2018, the government attempted to “simplify” the tax-filing process by drastically shortening Form 1040. The result was six new schedules that created a lot of confusion. Now the IRS is attempting to ease some of that pain by revising the form and removing some schedules. Will it help? Here is what you need to know:
- More information on the main form. To make it easier for the IRS to match pertinent information across related tax returns, new fields have been added on the main Form 1040. For example, there’s now a spot for your spouse’s name if you choose the married filing separate status. In addition, there’s a separate line for IRA distributions to more clearly differentiate retirement income.
- 3 schedules are gone. What was your favorite memory of Schedules 4, 5 and 6? Was it the unreported Social Security tax on Schedule 4? Or the credit for federal fuels on Schedule 5? While those schedules will no longer exist, those lines (and many others) have found a new home on one of the first three schedules. Less paperwork, but still the same amount of information.
- You can keep your pennies! For the first time, the IRS is eliminating the decimal spaces for all fields. While reporting round numbers has been common practice, it’s now required.
- Additional changes on the way. The current versions of Form 1040 and Schedules 1, 2 and 3 are in draft form and awaiting comments on the changes. Because of the importance of the 1040, the IRS is expecting to make at least a few updates in the coming weeks (or months) before they consider it final. Stay tuned for more developments.
How to prepare for the changes
The best way to prepare is to be aware that 1040 changes are coming. The information required to file your taxes will remain the same, but some additional hunting will be necessary to find the shifting lines and fields on the modified form.
Remember, changes bring uncertainty and potential for delays, so getting your tax documents organized as early as possible will be key for a timely tax-filing process.
There’s still time to reduce your potential tax obligation and save money this year (and next). Here are some ideas to consider:
- Estimate your 2019 and 2020 taxable income. With these estimates you can determine which year receives the greatest benefit from a reduction in income. By understanding what the tax rate will be for your next dollar earned, you can understand the tax benefit of reducing income this year AND next year.
- Fund tax-deferred retirement accounts. An easy way to reduce your taxable income is to fully fund retirement accounts that have tax-deferred status. The most common accounts are 401(k)s, 403(b)s and various IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE).
- Take your required minimum distributions (RMDs). If you are 70½ or older, you need to take required RMDs from your retirement accounts by Dec. 31. Don’t forget to make all RMDs because the fines are hefty if you don’t — 50 percent of the amount you should have withdrawn.Keep in mind, even if you don’t have RMDs yet, removing a planned amount from your retirement accounts each year may be more tax efficient than waiting until you are required to do so.
- Manage your gains and losses. Rebalance your investment portfolio, and take any final investment gains and losses. When you have more losses than gains, up to $3,000 can be used to reduce your ordinary income. With careful planning, you can take advantage of this loss amount each year.
- Finalize your gift-giving strategy. Each year you may gift up to $15,000 without tax reporting consequences to as many individuals as you choose. Consider any gift-giving you wish to make up to the annual limit. This could include gifts of cash or property, and investments.
- Donate to charities. Consider making end-of-year donations to eligible charities. Donations of property in good or better condition and your charitable mileage are also deductible. Receiving proper documentation that acknowledges your contributions is important to ensure you obtain the full deduction. Have a plan by knowing your total deductions for the year to help you decide how much and when to donate. Pulling some donations planned for 2020 into 2019 may be a good strategy.
- Review your automated billing transactions. This is a good time to identify what automatic monthly expenses should be reviewed for reduction or elimination. You may also discover billing for services you thought were canceled. This specific review often catches errors that a simple account reconciliation may be missing.
- Organize records now. Start collecting and organizing your tax records to avoid the scramble come tax season.
- Develop your own list. Use these ideas as a jumping off point to create your own list of annual review items. It might also include reviewing college savings accounts, beneficiaries, insurance needs, wills, and going through an aging parent’s financial accounts.
Questions about the most effective money-saving moves for your situation? Call today.