Back to top

Tax Briefs

Vacation home: How is your tax bill affected if you rent it out?

If you own a vacation home, you may want to rent it out for part of the year. The tax treatment can be complex. It depends on how many days it’s rented and your level of personal use. Personal use includes vacation use by you, certain relatives and nonrelatives if market rent isn’t charged. However, if you rent the property out for less than 15 days during the year, it’s not treated as “rental property” at all. This can produce revenue and significant tax benefits. Any rent you receive isn’t included in your income for tax purposes. However, you can only deduct property taxes and mortgage interest (no other operating costs or depreciation). Contact us to help plan for the best tax results. Read more. 


Navigating the tax landscape when donating works of art to charity

If you own a valuable piece of art, you may wonder how much of a tax deduction you can get by donating it to charity. Several different tax rules may apply with such contributions. A charitable contribution of a work of art is subject to reduction if the charity’s use of the work of art is unrelated to the purpose that’s the basis for its qualification as a tax-exempt organization. The reduction equals the amount of capital gain you’d realize if you sold the property instead of giving it to charity. In addition, your deduction may be limited to 20%, 30%, 50%, or 60% of your contribution base, which usually is your adjusted gross income. Other rules may apply. Contact us to discuss the rules. Read more. 


The tax score of winning

Studies find that more people are gambling online and sports betting. And there are still more traditional ways to gamble. If you’re lucky enough to win, tax consequences go along with your good fortune. You must report 100% of your winnings as taxable income. If you itemize deductions, you can deduct losses but only up to the amount of winnings. You report winnings as income in the year you actually receive them. In the case of noncash prizes (such as a car), this would be the year the prize is received. With cash, if you take the winnings in annual installments, you only report each year’s installment as income for that year. These are just the basic rules. Questions? Contact us. Read more. 


Is a Health Savings Account right for you?

For eligible individuals, a Health Savings Account (HSA) offers a tax-favorable way to set aside funds (or have an employer do so) to meet future medical needs. Some of the tax benefits: 1) Contributions are deductible, within limits; 2) Earnings on the funds in the HSA aren’t taxed; 3) Contributions an employer makes aren’t taxed to you; and 4) Distributions to cover qualified medical expenses aren’t taxed. An eligible employee must be covered by a “high deductible health plan.” For 2021, a high deductible health plan has an annual deductible of at least $1,400 for self-only coverage or $2,800 for family coverage. An individual can contribute $3,600 ($7,200 for a family) to an HSA for 2021. Read more. 


Selling a home: Will you owe tax on the profit?

Many people have seen their home values increase recently. Be aware of the tax implications if you sell your home. If you’re selling your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain, if you meet certain requirements. For example, you must have owned the property for at least 2 years during the 5-year period ending on the sale date. If you sell your main home, and you qualify to exclude up to $250,000/$500,000 of gain, the excluded gain isn’t subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). However, gain that exceeds the exclusion limit is subject to the tax if your modified adjusted gross income is over a certain amount. Questions? Contact us. Read more. 


Planning for year-end gifts with the gift tax annual exclusion

As we approach the end of the year, many people may want to make gifts of cash or stock to their loved ones. By properly using the annual exclusion, gifts can reduce the size of your taxable estate, within generous limits, without triggering any estate or gift tax. The exclusion amount for 2021 is $15,000. The exclusion covers gifts you make to each recipient each year. Therefore, a taxpayer with 3 children can transfer $45,000 every year free of federal gift taxes. If the only gifts made during a year are excluded in this way, there’s no need to file a federal gift tax return. If annual gifts exceed $15,000 per recipient, the first $15,000 is excluded and only the excess is taxable. Read more. 


You can only claim a casualty loss tax deduction in certain situations

In recent weeks, some Americans have been victimized by severe storms, flooding, wildfires and other disasters. Unexpected disasters may cause damage to your home or personal property. The rules for deducting personal casualty losses on a tax return have changed through 2025. Specifically, taxpayers generally can’t deduct losses unless an event qualifies as a federally declared disaster. (The rules for business or income-producing property are different.) Another factor that now makes it harder to claim a casualty loss is that you must itemize deductions. Through 2025, fewer people will itemize because the standard deduction amounts have been greatly increased. Contact us if you need help. Read more. 


Does your employer provide life insurance? Here are the tax consequences

Employer-provided life insurance is a coveted fringe benefit. However, if group term life insurance is part of your benefit package, and the coverage is higher than $50,000, there may be undesirable income tax implications. The first $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage that your employer provides is excluded from taxable income and doesn’t add anything to your income tax bill. But the employer-paid cost of group term coverage in excess of $50,000 is taxable income to you. It’s included in the taxable wages reported on your Form W-2 — even though you never actually receive it. We can answer questions about group life insurance coverage and whether it’s adding to your tax bill. Read more. 


ABLE accounts may help disabled or blind family members

There may be a tax-advantaged way for people to save for the needs of family members with disabilities, without having them lose eligibility for their government benefits. It’s done though an ABLE account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses. Eligible individuals must have become blind or disabled before turning age 26. ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount ($15,000 in 2021), can be made to an account each year. Contact us if you have questions about setting up or maintaining an ABLE account. Read more. 


Scholarships are usually tax free but they may result in taxable income

If your child is fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship, you may wonder about the tax implications. Scholarships and fellowships are generally (but not always) tax free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the student or reduces tuition. However, certain conditions must be met. A scholarship is tax free if it’s used to pay for tuition and fees required to attend the school, and fees, books, supplies and equipment required of students. Room and board, travel, research and clerical help don’t qualify. Contact us to learn more. Read more. 


5 possible tax aspects of a parent moving into a nursing home

If your parent is entering a nursing home, there may be tax breaks. For example, the costs of qualified long-term care, including nursing home care, are deductible as medical expenses to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you can include any medical expenses you incur for your parent along with your own when determining your medical deduction. Premiums paid for a qualified long-term care insurance contract are deductible as medical expenses (subject to annual limitations based on age) to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed the percentage-of-AGI threshold. Read more.


You may have loads of student debt, but it may be hard to deduct the interest

If you have student loan debt, you may wonder if you can deduct the interest you pay. The answer is yes, subject to certain limits. However, the deduction is phased out if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain levels. The maximum amount of student loan interest you can deduct per year is $2,500. For 2021, the deduction is phased out for single taxpayers with AGI between $70,000 and $85,000 ($140,000 and $170,000 for married couples filing jointly). The deduction is unavailable for singles with AGI of more than $85,000 ($170,000 for married couples filing jointly). The interest must be on funds borrowed to cover qualified education costs of the taxpayer or his spouse or dependent. Read more. 


There’s currently a “stepped-up basis” if you inherit property — but will it last?

If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve inherited assets, you may not know the “basis” for tax purposes. Under the current rules (known as the “step-up” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. For example, if your grandmother paid $500 for stock in 1935 and it’s worth $1 million at her death, the basis is stepped up to $1 million for your grandmother’s heirs, and that gain escapes federal income tax. Be aware that President Biden has proposed ending the ability to step-up the basis for gains exceeding $1 million (with exemptions for farms and family businesses). Contact us for tax help with estate planning or inheritances. Read more. 


Can taxpayers who manage their own investment portfolios deduct related expenses? It depends

Do you have significant investment-related expenses, including subscription costs and home office expenses? Under current tax law, these expenses aren’t deductible through 2025 if they’re considered investment expenses for the production of income. But they’re deductible if they’re considered trade or business expenses. The U.S. Tax Court has developed a 2-part test that must be satisfied in order to be a trader. Under the test, investment activities are considered a trade or business only if: 1) the taxpayer’s trading is substantial, and 2) the taxpayer seeks to profit from short-term market swings, rather than from long-term holding of investments. Contact us if you have questions. Read more. 


IRS audits may be increasing, so be prepared

The IRS just released audit statistics for the 2020 fiscal year and fewer taxpayers had their returns examined compared with prior years. Overall, just 0.5% of individual returns were audited. Historically, this is very low. However, even though a small percentage of returns are being audited these days, that will be little consolation if yours is one of them. Plus, the Biden administration has announced it would like to increase tax compliance. The easiest way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare. On an ongoing basis, maintain documentation (invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts, or other proof) for items reported on your returns. Contact us if you receive an IRS audit letter. Read more. 


Are you a nonworking spouse? You may still be able to contribute to an IRA

Married couples may not be able to save as much as they need for retirement when one spouse doesn’t work outside the home. An IRA contribution is generally only allowed if you earn compensation. But an exception exists. A spousal IRA allows a contribution for a nonworking spouse. For 2021, a couple can contribute $6,000 to an IRA for a nonworking spouse ($7,000 if the spouse will be 50 by the end of the year). However, if in 2021, the working spouse is an active participant in an employer retirement plan, a deductible contribution can be made to the IRA of the nonparticipant spouse only if the couple’s adjusted gross income doesn’t exceed a certain threshold. Contact us for more details. Read more. 


Seniors may be able to write off Medicare premiums on their tax returns

Are you age 65 and older and have basic Medicare insurance? You may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage you want. The premiums can be expensive, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But there may be a bright side: You may qualify for a tax break for paying the premiums. However, it can be difficult to qualify to claim medical expenses on your tax return. For 2021, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of adjusted gross income. Contact us if you want more information about deducting medical expenses, including Medicare premiums. Read more. 


Tax-favored ways to build up a college fund

If you’re a parent with a college-bound child, you may want to save with tax-favored vehicles. For example, if used to finance college, eligible families don’t have to report the interest on Series EE U.S. savings bonds for federal tax purposes until the bonds are cashed in. And interest on “qualified” Series EE (and Series I) bonds may be exempt from federal tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified education expenses. To qualify for the tax exemption, you must purchase bonds in your name (not the child’s) or with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees, etc. and not room and board. The exemption is phased out if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain amounts. Read more. 


Retiring soon? 4 tax issues you may face

If you’re getting ready to retire, you’ll soon experience changes that may have tax implications. For example, if you sell your principal residence to downsize and you have a gain from the sale, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 if filing jointly). You may have to take required minimum distributions from retirement accounts and your withdrawals will be generally included in your taxable income (although qualified distributions from Roth accounts are excluded). You also may have to pay tax on your Social Security benefits, depending on your income from other sources. As you can see, tax planning is still important after you retire. We can help. Read more. 


Plan ahead for the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax

High-income taxpayers face a 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) that’s imposed in addition to regular income tax. The NIIT applies only if modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds: $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately; and $200,000 for unmarried taxpayers and heads of household. The amount subject to the tax is the lesser of your net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold ($250,000, $200,000, or $125,000) that applies to you. Fortunately, there are some steps you may be able to take to reduce the impact of the NIIT. Consult with us for tax-planning strategies. Read more. 


Many parents will receive advance tax credit payments beginning July 15

Eligible parents will soon receive payments from the federal government by direct deposit, paper check or debit card. The IRS announced that the 2021 advance child tax credit (CTC) payments, which were created in the American Rescue Plan Act, will begin July 15, 2021, and run through Dec. 15, 2021. Payments will get up to $300 monthly for each child under 6, and up to $250 monthly for each child 6 and older. The increased credit amount will be reduced or phased out for households with modified adjusted gross income above: $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and qualifying widows and widowers; $112,500 for heads of household; and $75,000 for other taxpayers. Questions? Contact us. Read more 


Still have questions after you file your tax return?

After filing a tax return, you may have questions. 1) When will you receive your refund? Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status” to find out. 2) How long should you save tax records? In general, save records for three years after filing although you should keep the actual returns indefinitely. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. 3) If you overlooked claiming something on your return, can you still claim a refund for it? You can generally file an amended return to claim a refund within three years after the date you filed the original return or two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Read more. 


Working in the gig economy results in tax obligations

Before the pandemic hit, the number of people engaged in the “gig” or sharing economy was growing. And even more people turned to gig work during the pandemic to make up lost income. There are tax consequences for the people who perform these jobs. Generally, if you receive income from gigs or freelancing, it’s taxable. That’s true even if the income comes from a side job and if you don’t receive a 1099-NEC or other form reporting the money you made. You may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments because your income isn’t subject to withholding. Some or all of your business expenses may be deductible on your tax return, subject to the normal tax rules. Contact us to learn more. Read more. 


Tax filing deadline is coming up: What to do if you need more time

This year, the deadline for filing 2020 individual tax returns is May 17, 2021. The April 15 due date was postponed due to the pandemic. If you still aren’t ready to file, request a tax-filing extension. Anyone can request an automatic extension with IRS Form 4868. This extends the filing deadline until Oct. 15, 2021. Be aware that a filing extension doesn’t grant you an extension of time to pay your taxes. You need to estimate and pay any taxes owed by the deadline to help avoid possible penalties. In some special situations, people can receive more time without filing Form 4868. This includes victims of certain disaster victims, military members in a combat zone and U.S. citizens abroad. Read more. 


Why it’s important to meet the tax return filing and payment deadlines

The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules. 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. The maximum penalty is 25%. The failure-to-file penalty is a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until Oct. 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility to pay. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


Unemployed last year? Buying health insurance this year? You may benefit from favorable new changes

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, meaning if both spouses lost their jobs and collected unemployment last year, they’re eligible for up to a $20,400 exclusion. Contact us if you have questions about your situation. Read more. 


Home sales: How to determine your “basis”

If you’re buying or selling a home, you should know how to determine your basis. The law allows an exclusion from income for all or part of the gain realized on your home sale. The general exclusion limit is $250,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers). You want your basis to be as high as possible in order to avoid or reduce the tax you may owe when you sell. Improvements that add to your home’s basis include: a room addition, finishing the basement, a fence, a central air conditioning system, flooring, a new roof and driveway paving. Repairs, rather than improvements, aren’t added to a property’s basis. Repairs include painting, fixing gutters and repairing leaks. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


Who qualifies for “head of household” tax filing status?

When you file your tax return, you must check one of the following filing statuses: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualifying widow(er). Who qualifies to file as a head of household, which is more favorable than single? To qualify, you must maintain a household, which for more than half the year, is the principal home of a “qualifying child” or other relative of yours whom you can claim as a dependent (unless you only qualify due to the multiple support rules). You’re considered to “maintain a household” if you live in the home for the tax year and pay over half the cost of running it. We can answer any questions you have about your situation. Read more. 


How to ensure life insurance isn’t part of your taxable estate

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. For 2021, the federal estate and gift tax exemption is $11.7 million ($23.4 million for married couples). But in 2026, the exemption is scheduled to fall. Under the estate tax rules, insurance on your life will be included in your taxable estate if your estate is the beneficiary of the insurance proceeds, or you possessed certain economic ownership rights in the policy at your death (or within 3 years of your death). Contact us for assistance with estate planning and taxes. Read more. 


New law tax break may make child care less expensive

The new American Rescue Plan Act provides eligible families with an enhanced child and dependent care credit for 2021. This is the credit for expenses paid for the care of qualifying children under the age 13 so the taxpayer can be gainfully employed. For 2021, the first $8,000 of care expenses generally qualifies for the credit if you have 1 qualifying individual, or $16,000 if you have 2 or more. (These amounts were $3,000 and $6,000, respectively.) If AGI is $125,000 or less, the maximum credit is $4,000 with 1 qualifying individual and $8,000 with 2 or more. The refundable credit phases out and for taxpayers with an AGI greater than $440,000, it’s phased out completely. Read more. 


New law: Parents and other eligible Americans to receive direct payments

President Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law. Among the many relief provisions are direct payments that will be made to eligible individuals. The full amount for eligible individuals is $1,400 ($2,800 for eligible married couples filing joint tax returns) plus $1,400 for each dependent. Most eligible taxpayers will receive direct bank deposits or paper checks in the mail. The full payments are available to those with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of less than $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples filing jointly and $112,500 for heads of households). There is also an increased Child Tax Credit for eligible taxpayers, part of which will be paid out monthly later this year. Read more. 


Estimated tax payments: The deadline for the first 2021 installment is coming ups

April 15 is not only the deadline for filing your 2020 tax return, it’s also the deadline for the first estimated tax payment for 2021. You may have to make estimated payments if you receive interest, dividends, self-employment income, capital gains or other income. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year through withholding and estimated payments, you may be liable for a tax penalty on top of the tax that’s due. Individuals must generally pay 25% of their required annual tax by April 15, June 15, Sept. 15, and Jan. 15 of the following year, to avoid an underpayment penalty. If a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the payment is due the next business day. Read more. 


Retiring soon? Recent law changes may have an impact on your retirement savings

If you’re approaching retirement, you probably want to ensure the money you’ve saved in retirement plans lasts as long as possible. If so, be aware that a law was enacted in late 2019 that made significant changes to retirement accounts. For example, the SECURE Act repealed the maximum age for making traditional IRA contributions. Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions weren’t allowed once you reached age 70 1/2. An individual of any age can now make contributions, as long as he or she has compensation and is otherwise eligible. The required minimum distribution age was also raised from 70 1/2 to 72. These are only some of the changes. Feel free to contact us with any questions. Read more. 


Didn’t contribute to an IRA last year? There still may be time

If you’re getting ready to file your 2020 tax return, and your tax bill is higher than you’d like, there might still be an opportunity to lower it. If you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the April 15, 2021 filing date and benefit from the tax savings on your 2020 return. For 2020 if you’re qualified, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution of up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or over). To be qualified, you must meet rules involving your income and whether you (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer retirement plan. Contact us if you want more information or ask us about it when you prepare your tax return. Read more. 


Did you make donations in 2020? There’s still time to get substantiation

To claim a deduction for a donation of $250 or more, you generally need a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity. “Contemporaneous” means the earlier of the date you file your income tax return, or the extended due date of your return. If you made a donation in 2020 but don’t have a written acknowledgment, you can request it from the charity and wait to file your 2020 return until you receive it. Additional rules apply to certain types of donations. Keep in mind that under a 2020 law, taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions can claim a federal income tax write-off for up to $300 of cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2020 tax year. Read more. 


 

2021 individual taxes: Answers to your questions about limits

 

It’s understandable if you’re more concerned about your 2020 tax bill than you are about your 2021 tax situation. That’s because your 2020 individual tax return is due to be filed in less than 3 months. However, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with tax amounts for this year. For example, the amount you have to earn in 2021 before you can stop paying Social Security on your salary has increased to $142,800 (from $137,700 for 2020). For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 (unchanged from 2020) to a 401(k) plan. You can contribute another $6,500 catch-up amount to a 401(k) if you’re age 50 or older. Contact us if you have questions or need more information.Read more. 


The power of the tax credit for buying an electric vehicle

Although electric vehicles are a small percentage of the cars on the road today, they’re increasing in popularity. 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 cars 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 is $7,500. There are a number of requirements to qualify and the credit may not be available because of a per-manufacturer cumulative sales limitation. (Tesla and GM vehicles are no longer eligible.) Contact us if you want more information. Read more. 


Don’t forget to take required minimum distributions this year

If you have a traditional IRA or tax-deferred retirement plan account, you probably know that you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) when you reach a certain age. Once you attain age 72 (or age 70½ before 2020), you must begin taking RMDs from traditional IRAs and certain retirement accounts. If you don’t withdraw the minimum amount each year, you may have to pay a 50% penalty tax on what you should have taken out but didn’t. In order to provide tax relief due to COVID-19, the CARES Act suspended RMDs for calendar year 2020 but only for that one year. That means if you’re required to take RMDs, you need to take them this year or face a penalty. Contact us if you have questions. Read more.


One reason to file your 2020 tax return early

The IRS is opening the 2020 individual income tax return filing season on Feb. 12. (This is later than in the past because of a law that was recently enacted.) Even if you usually don’t file until closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file an extension), consider filing early. It can potentially protect you from tax identity theft. In these scams, a thief uses another person’s personal information to file a fraudulent return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund. Another benefit of early filing is that if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get it faster. And if you were eligible for an Economic Impact Payment last year and didn’t receive it, you can claim it on your 2020 return. Read more. 


Educate yourself about the revised tax benefits for higher education

If you or your child attends (or plans to attend) college, you may be eligible for tax breaks to help foot the bill. The new Consolidated Appropriations Act made some changes. The law repeals the Tuition and Fees Deduction for 2021 and later years. In addition, for 2021 and beyond, the new law aligns the income phase-out rule for the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) with the more favorable phase-out rule for the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The LLC can be worth up to $2,000 per tax return annually while the AOTC can be worth up to $2,500 per student each year. Talk with us about which tax credit is the most beneficial in your situation. Each has its own requirements. Read more.


The COVID-19 relief law: What’s in it for you?

The COVID-19 relief law that was signed recently contains many provisions that may affect you. The law provides for direct payments of $600 per eligible individual ($1,200 for a married couple filing jointly), plus $600 per qualifying child. The government has already started making bank direct deposits or mailing checks. Another provision extends a charitable donation tax deduction for individuals who don’t itemize deductions. For 2020, they can take up to a $300 deduction per tax return and for 2021, married joint filers can claim up to $600. These are only a few provisions in the new law. We’ll make sure that you get all the tax breaks you’re entitled to when we prepare your tax return. Read more. 


Your taxpayer filing status: You may be eligible to use more than one

For tax purposes, Dec. 31 is more than just New Year’s Eve. It will affect the filing status box that will be checked on your tax return. When filing a return, you do so with one of 5 tax filing statuses. The box checked on your return generally depends in part on whether you’re unmarried or married on Dec. 31. Here are the statuses: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household and qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child. Head of household status can be more favorable than filing as a single person, but special rules apply. You must generally be unmarried, have a qualifying child (or dependent) and meet certain rules involving “maintaining a household.” Read more. 


The next estimated tax deadline is January 15 if you have to make a payment

Most individuals make estimated tax payments in four installments. In other words, you can determine the required annual payment, divide the number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates. But you may be able to make smaller payments under an “annualized income method.” This can be useful to people whose income isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because of a seasonal business. You may also want to use the annualized income method if a large portion of your income comes from capital gains on the sale of securities that you sell at various times during the year. Read more. 


Can you qualify for a medical expense tax deduction?

Medical services and prescriptions are expensive. You may be able to deduct some expenses on your tax return but the rules make it difficult for many people to qualify. You may be able to time certain medical expenses to your tax advantage. For 2020, the medical expense deduction can only be claimed to the extent unreimbursed costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. You also must itemize deductions. If your total itemized deductions will exceed your standard deduction, moving nonurgent medical procedures and other expenses into 2020 may allow you to exceed the 7.5% floor. This might include refilling prescriptions, buying eyeglasses, going to the dentist and getting elective surgery. Read more 


Maximize your 401(k) plan to 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 nest egg. If you’re not already socking away the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution. With a 401(k), an employee elects 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 for 2020. The IRS recently announced that the 401(k) contribution limits for 2021 will remain the same as they are for 2020. Read more. 


Steer clear of the wash sale rule if you’re selling stock by year end

Are you thinking about selling stock at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during 2020? If so, it’s important not to run afoul of the “wash sale” rule. 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 a 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. We can answer any questions you may have. Read more. 


Employees: Don’t forget about your FSA funds

Many employees save taxes by placing funds in their employer’s health or dependent care flexible spending arrangements (FSAs). It’s a good time to review 2020 expenditures and project amounts to be set aside for 2021. A pre-tax contribution of $2,750 to a health FSA is permitted in 2020. To avoid forfeiture of your health FSA funds because of a “use-it-or-lose-it” rule, you must make eligible medical expenditures by the last day of the plan year (Dec. 31 for a calendar year plan), unless the plan allows an optional grace period. Like health FSAs, dependent care FSAs are also generally subject to a use-it-or-lose-it rule. Other rules and exceptions may apply. Contact us with any questions. Read more. 


Taking distributions from a traditional IRA

If you’ve built a nice nest egg in a traditional IRA (including a SEP or SIMPLE-IRA), it’s critical that you plan carefully for withdrawals from these tax-deferred retirement vehicles. For example, if you need to take money out of a traditional IRA before age 59½, distributions will generally be taxed and may also be subject to a 10% penalty. However, there are several ways to avoid the penalty (but not the regular income tax). Once you attain age 72, traditional IRA withdrawals must generally begin or you’ll be penalized. However, the CARES Act suspended the required minimum distribution rules for 2020. Contact us with traditional IRA questions and to analyze your retirement planning. Read more. 


How Series EE savings bonds are taxed

Many people have Series EE savings bonds that were purchased many years ago. Perhaps they were given as gifts or maybe you bought them yourself and filed them away. You may wonder: How is the interest taxed? EE bonds don’t pay interest currently. Instead, accrued interest is reflected in their redemption value. (But owners can elect to have interest taxed annually.) EE bond interest isn’t subject to state income tax. And using the money for higher education may keep you from paying federal income tax on it. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow for the tax-free buildup of interest to continue forever. When the bonds reach final maturity, they stop earning interest. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


Disability income: How is it taxed?

You may wonder if and how disability income is taxed. It depends on who paid for the benefit. If the income is paid directly to you by an employer, it’s taxable to you as ordinary salary would be. (Taxable benefits are also subject to federal tax withholding, although they may not be subject to Social Security tax.) Sometimes, payments aren’t made by an employer but by an insurance company under a policy providing disability coverage or other insurance. In this case, the tax treatment depends on who paid for the coverage. If an employer paid, the income is taxed to you just as if paid directly to you by the employer. But if it’s a policy you paid for, the payments you receive aren’t taxable. Read more.


Divorcing couples should understand these 4 tax issues

When a couple is going through a divorce, taxes are probably not foremost on their minds. But without proper planning, some people find divorce to be even more taxing. Several concerns should be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum. For example, if you sell your principal residence or one spouse remains living there while the other moves out, you want to make sure you’ll be able to avoid tax on up to $500,000 of gain. You also must decide how to file your return for the year (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household). There are other issues you may have to deal with. We can help you work through them. Read more. 


Buying and selling mutual fund shares: Avoid these tax pitfalls

If you invest in mutual funds, there are potential pitfalls involved in buying and selling shares. For example, you may already have made taxable “sales” of part of your mutual fund without knowing it. One way this can happen is if your mutual fund allows you to write checks against your fund investment. If you write a check against your mutual fund account, you’ve made a partial sale of your interest in the fund (except for funds such as money market funds, for which share value remains constant). Thus, you may have taxable gain (or a deductible loss) when you write a check. And each such sale is a separate transaction that must be reported on your tax return. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


What tax records can you throw away?

Oct. 15 is the deadline for individual taxpayers who extended their 2019 tax returns. If you’re finally done filing last year’s return, you might wonder: Which tax records can you toss once you’re done? Now is a good time to go through old tax records and see what you can discard. A common rule of thumb is to keep tax records for at least six years from filing, after which the IRS generally no longer can audit your return or assess additional taxes, even if your income was understated. But hang on to certain records longer including the tax returns themselves, W-2 forms and records related to real estate, investments and retirement accounts. Read more. 


There may be relief from tax liability for “innocent spouses”

If you file a joint tax return with your spouse, you should be aware of your individual liability. And if you’re getting divorced, you should know that there may be relief available if the IRS comes after you for certain past-due taxes. When a married couple files jointly, each spouse is liable for the tax on their combined income. That means the IRS can come after either spouse to collect the entire tax, penalties and interest, not just the part that’s attributed to that spouse. In some cases, spouses are eligible for “innocent spouse relief.” Generally, they were unaware of a tax understatement that was attributable to the other spouse. Contact us if you want to try and obtain relief. Read more. 


Why it’s important to plan for income taxes as part of your estate plan

The current federal estate tax exemption ($11.58 million in 2020) means that many people aren’t concerned with estate tax. But they should still plan to save income taxes. For example, be careful making lifetime transfers of appreciated assets. It’s true that the assets and future appreciation generated by them are removed from your estate. But the gift carries a potential income tax cost because the recipient receives your basis upon transfer. He or she could face capital gains tax on the sale of the gifted property in the future. If the appreciated property is held until death, under current law, the heir will get a “step-up” in basis that will reduce or wipe out the capital gains tax. Read more.


Can investors who manage their own portfolios deduct related expenses?

In some cases, investors have related expenses, such as the cost of subscriptions to financial periodicals and clerical expenses. Are they tax deductible? Currently, they’re only deductible if you can show that your investment activities rise to the level of carrying on a trade or business. In that case, you may be considered a trader, rather than an investor. A trader is entitled to deduct investment-related expenses as business expenses. A trader is also entitled to deduct home-office expenses if the home office is used exclusively on a regular basis as the trader’s principal place of business. However, be aware that trader status is difficult to achieve. Contact us with questions. Read more.


Tax implications of working from home and collecting unemployment

COVID-19 has resulted in many changes in our lives, and some of them have tax implications. For example, many employers have required employees to work from home. Unfortunately, employee business expense deductions (including expenses to maintain a home office) are disallowed from 2018 through 2025. However, if you’re self-employed and work from a home office, you can be eligible to claim home office deductions for your related expenses if you satisfy the strict rules. Another tax-related situation involves people who are laid off and collecting unemployment benefits. Be aware that these benefits are taxable and must be reported on federal income tax returns for the tax year received. Read more. 


Homebuyers: Can you deduct seller-paid points?

Despite the pandemic, the National Association of Realtors reports that existing home sales and prices are up nationwide, compared with last year. If you’re a homebuyer, you may wonder if you can deduct mortgage points paid on your behalf by the seller. Yes, you can, subject to some important limitations. For example, the rule allowing a deduction for seller-paid points doesn’t apply to points that are allocated to the part of a mortgage above $750,000 ($375,000 for marrieds filing separately) for tax years 2018 through 2025 (above $1 million for tax years before 2018 and after 2025). It also doesn’t apply to points on a loan used to improve (rather than buy) a home and in other situations. Read more. 


Back-to-school tax breaks on the books

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, students are going back to school this fall, either remotely, in-person or a combination. In any event, parents may be eligible for certain tax breaks to help defray the cost of education. For example, with the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), you can save a maximum of $2,500 for each full-time college or grad school student. This applies to qualified expenses including tuition, room and board, books and computer equipment and other supplies. But the credit is phased out for moderate-to-upper income taxpayers. This is only one of the tax breaks available for education. Contact us for assistance in your situation. Read more. 


Will You Have to Pay Tax on Your Social Security Benefits?

If you’re getting close to retirement, you may wonder: Will my Social Security benefits be taxed? It depends on your other income. If you’re taxed, up to 85% of your payments could be hit with federal income tax. If you file a joint tax return and your “provisional income,” plus half your Social Security benefits, isn’t above $32,000 ($25,000 if unmarried), none of your benefits will be taxed. If it falls above those amounts, you must report a certain percentage of your benefits as income. If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you can arrange to have the tax withheld from the payments. Otherwise, you may have to make estimated tax payments. Contact us for more information. Read more.


What happens if an individual can’t pay taxes

While you probably don’t have a problem paying your tax bills, you may wonder: What happens if you (or someone you know) can’t pay taxes on time? It’s important to file a properly prepared return even if full payment can’t be made. Include as large a partial payment as you can. You may be able to get an installment agreement with the IRS or borrow the money to make the payment. In some cases, a payment extension may be available if you can show payment would cause “undue hardship.” Not filing and paying could lead to escalating penalties and having liens assessed against your assets and income. It could also result in seizure and sale of your property. Contact us about your options. Read more


More parents may owe “nanny tax” this year, due to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, many parents are hiring nannies and babysitters because daycare centers and summer camps have closed. This may result in federal “nanny tax” obligations. You may be liable for federal income tax, Social Security and Medicare (FICA) tax and federal unemployment tax. (Even if you don’t employ a nanny, you may owe nanny tax if you hire a maid or other household employee who isn’t an independent contractor). In 2020, you must withhold and pay FICA tax if your worker earns $2,200 or more. You pay nanny tax by increasing quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from wages, rather than making a lump-sum payment. Employment taxes are then reported on your return. Read more. 


The tax implications of employer-provided life insurance

Does your employer provide you with group term life insurance? If so, and depending on the amount of coverage, this employee benefit may create undesirable income tax consequences for you. The first $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage that your employer provides is excluded from taxable income and doesn’t add anything to your income tax bill. But the employer-paid cost of group term coverage in excess of $50,000 is taxable income to you. It’s included in the taxable wages reported on your Form W-2 — even though you never actually receive it. Contact us if you have questions about group term coverage or how much it is adding to your tax bill. Read more. 


Are scholarships tax-free or taxable?

If your child has been awarded a scholarship, congratulations! But be aware that there may be tax implications. Scholarships and fellowships are generally tax-free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the student or reduces tuition. However, certain conditions must be met. A scholarship is tax-free if it’s used to pay for: Tuition and fees required to attend the school, and fees, books, supplies and equipment required of students. Room and board, travel, research and clerical help don’t qualify. Contact us to learn more. Read more. 


Take advantage of a “stepped-up basis” when you inherit property

If you’re planning your estate, or you’ve inherited assets, you may be unsure of the “cost” (or “basis”) for tax purposes. Under the fair market value basis rules (also known as the “step-up and step-down” rules), an heir receives a basis in inherited property equal to its date-of-death value. For example, if your grandfather bought stock in 1935 for $500 and it’s worth $5 million at his death, the basis is stepped up to $5 million in the hands of your grandfather’s heirs — and all of that gain escapes federal income tax forever. A “step-down” occurs if someone dies owning property that has declined in value. Contact us for tax assistance when estate planning or after inheriting assets. Read more. 


Conduct a “paycheck checkup” to make sure your withholding is adequate

Did you recently file your tax return and receive a refund that was smaller than you were expecting? Or did you wind up owing additional tax when you filed your return? That might mean it’s time to check and adjust your withholding. This might be necessary due to changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or because something in your situation is different this year (for example, you got married, divorced, purchased a home or had changes in your income). The IRS has a withholding calculator where you can perform a paycheck checkup. You can access the calculator at https://bit.ly/2OqnUod. Contact us if you need help determining whether you should adjust your 2020 withholding. Read more. 


After you file your tax return: 3 issues to consider

After filing a 2019 tax return, there may still be three issues to bear in mind. 1) You can check up on your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status” to find out. 2) Some tax records can now be thrown out. You should generally save statements, receipts, etc. for three years after filing (although keep the actual returns indefinitely). But there are exceptions to this general rule. 3) If you forgot something, you can generally file an amended tax return. File Form 1040X to claim a refund within three years after the date you filed the original return or two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Contact us for more information. Read more.


Some people are required to return Economic Impact Payments that were sent erroneously

Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) are being sent to eligible individuals in response to the financial impact caused by COVID-19. However, the IRS says some payments were sent erroneously and should be returned. For example, an EIP made to someone who died before receipt of the payment should be returned. The entire EIP should be returned unless it was made to joint filers and one spouse hadn’t died before receipt. In that case, you only need to return the EIP portion made to the decedent. This amount is $1,200 unless your adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000. Instructions for returning the payment can be found here: https://bit.ly/31ioZ8W. Read more. 


What qualifies as a “coronavirus-related distribution” from a retirement plan?

The CARES Act allows qualified people to take “coronavirus-related distributions” from retirement plans without paying tax. So how do you qualify? You can take up to $100,000 in coronavirus-related distributions made from an eligible retirement plan between Jan. 1 and Dec. 30, 2020. If you repay the distribution to your IRA or plan within 3 years, you can treat it and the later recontribution as a tax-free rollover. In Notice 2020-50, the IRS explains that a qualified person is one who is diagnosed (or whose spouse/dependent is diagnosed) with COVID-19. Alternatively, it is someone who experiences adverse financial consequences due to COVID-19. For more details: https://bit.ly/37STcwK Read more. 


If you’re selling your home, don’t forget about taxes

Traditionally, spring and summer are popular times for selling a home. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a slowdown in sales. The National Association of Realtors reports that existing home sales in April decreased 17.2% from April 2019. Still, many people are selling this year. If you’re one of them, it’s a good time to review the tax implications. If you’re selling your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain, so long as you meet certain tests. For example, you must have owned the property for at least 2 years during the 5-year period ending on the sale date. A loss generally isn’t deductible. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


Seniors: Can you deduct Medicare premiums?

If you’re age 65 and older, and you have basic Medicare insurance, you may need to pay additional premiums to get the level of coverage you want. The premiums can be costly, especially if you’re married and both you and your spouse are paying them. But there may be a silver lining: You may qualify for a tax break for paying the premiums. However, it can be difficult to qualify to claim medical expenses on your tax return. For 2020, you can deduct medical expenses only if you itemize deductions and only to the extent that total qualifying expenses exceeded 7.5% of adjusted gross income. Contact us if you want more information about deducting medical expenses, including Medicare premiums. Read more.


A nonworking spouse can still have an IRA

It’s often hard for married couples to save for retirement when one spouse doesn’t work. An IRA contribution is generally only allowed if you have compensation. However, an exception exists. A spousal IRA allows a contribution to be made for a nonworking spouse. Under the rules, a couple can contribute $6,000 to an IRA for a nonworking spouse in 2020 ($7,000 if the spouse will be age 50 by the end of the year). However, if in 2020, the working spouse is an active participant in an employer retirement plan, a deductible contribution can be made to the IRA of the non-participant spouse only if the couple’s adjusted gross income doesn’t exceed a certain threshold. Contact us for more details. Read more.


Student loan interest: Can you deduct it on your tax return?

Many taxpayers with student loans have been hard hit by the economic impact of COVID-19. The CARES Act contains some help. It allows borrowers with federal student loans to stop making monthly payments until Sept. 30, 2020. If you do make student loan payments, you may be able to deduct the interest on your tax return, depending on your income and subject to certain requirements. The maximum amount of student loan interest you can deduct each year is $2,500. For 2020, the deduction is phased out for married taxpayers filing jointly with adjusted gross income (AGI) between $140,000-$170,000 ($70,000-$85,000 for single filers). The deduction is unavailable for taxpayers with AGIs above that. Read more. 


Did you get an Economic Impact Payment that was less than you expected?

Did you get an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) that was less than you expected? The federal government is sending EIPs to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19. If you’re under a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold, you’re generally eligible for the full $1,200 ($2,400 if married filing jointly). And if you have a “qualifying child,” you’re eligible for an additional $500. Some people have received EIPs for less than they were expecting because they make too much money to receive the full EIP. Others may think their children are eligible for a payment and they aren’t. Still others may have debts, such as past-due child support or garnishments from creditors, that reduced their EIPs. Read more. 


There’s still time to make a deductible IRA contribution for 2019

You still have time to make your 2019 traditional and Roth IRA contributions. The deadline is generally April 15 but because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the IRS extended the deadline until July 15, 2020. If you qualify, deductible contributions to traditional IRAs can lower your 2019 tax bill. Even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial because of tax-deferred growth. If you’re eligible, the 2019 contribution limit is $6,000 (plus $1,000 for those age 50 or older on Dec. 31, 2019). However, your deduction or contribution may be reduced or eliminated based on your income. Contact us to learn more about retirement saving in your situation. Read more. 


Do you have tax questions related to COVID-19? Here are some answers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected many Americans’ finances. You may have questions about the implications. For example, if your employer is requiring you to work from home, can you claim home office deductions on your tax return? Unfortunately, if you’re an EMPLOYEE who telecommutes, home office expenses aren’t deductible through 2025. What about unemployment compensation? Is it taxable for federal tax purposes? Yes. This includes state unemployment benefits plus the temporary $600 per week from the federal government. (Benefits may also be taxed for state tax purposes.) Contact us if you have questions or need more information about these or other COVID-19-related tax issues. Read more. 


IRA account value down? It might be a good time for a Roth conversion

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the ensuing stock market downturn has caused the value of some retirement accounts to decrease. But if you have a traditional IRA, a downturn may provide a valuable opportunity: It may allow you to convert to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost. Roth IRA qualified withdrawals are tax free and you don’t have to begin taking RMDs after you reach age 72. But if you convert to a Roth, you’ll owe income tax on the converted amount. If your traditional IRA has lost value due to a market downturn, converting to a Roth now will minimize the tax, and you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation. Interested? Contact us to see whether a conversion is right for you. Read more.


COVID-19: IRS announces more relief and details

In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Americans are focusing on their health and financial well-being. To help with the impact facing many people, the government has provided a range of relief. On its Twitter account, the IRS announced that it deposited the first Economic Impact Payments into bank accounts on April 11. “We know many people are anxious to get their payments; we’ll continue issuing them as fast as we can,” the agency added. There’s also a new online tool on the IRS website for people who didn’t file a 2018 or 2019 federal tax return because they didn’t have enough income or otherwise weren’t required to file. You can access the tool here: https://bit.ly/2JXBOvM Read more. 


CARES ACT changes retirement plan and charitable contribution rules

The CARES Act contains a range of relief, notably the “economic impact payments” that will be made to people under a certain income threshold. But the law also makes some changes to retirement plan rules. The additional 10% tax on early distributions from IRAs and 401(k) plans is waived for distributions made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020 by a person who (or whose family) is infected with COVID-19 or is economically hurt by it. Penalty-free distributions are limited to $100,000, and may, subject to guidelines, be re-contributed to the plan or IRA. Income from the distributions may be spread out over 3 years. Other rules may apply. Contact us with any questions. Read more. 


Cash payments and tax relief for individuals in new law

A new law signed March 27 provides a variety of tax and financial relief to Americans during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The CARES Act provides an eligible individual with a cash payment of: $1,200 ($2,400 for eligible married couples filing jointly) plus $500 for each qualifying child. The payment is reduced by 5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) in excess of: $150,000 for a joint return, $112,500 for a head of household, and $75,000 for all other taxpayers. Under the rules, the payment is completely phased-out for a single filer with AGI exceeding $99,000 ($198,000 for for joint filers with no children and $146,500 for a head of household with one child). Contact us with questions. Read more


Individuals get coronavirus (COVID-19) tax and other relief

Taxpayers now have more time to file their returns and pay any tax owed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The IRS announced that the filing due date is automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. Taxpayers can also defer making federal income tax payments, due on April 15 until July 15, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount they owe. The deferment applies to individuals, trusts, estates, corporations, other non-corporate tax filers and those who pay self-employment tax. They can also defer their initial quarterly estimated federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year from the April 15 deadline until July 15. Contact us with questions. Read more.


Why you should keep life insurance out of your estate

If you have a life insurance policy, you probably want to make sure that the life insurance benefits your family will receive after your death won’t be included in your estate. That way, the benefits won’t be subject to the federal estate tax. Under the estate tax rules, life insurance will be included in your taxable estate if either: 1) Your estate is the beneficiary of the insurance proceeds, or 2) You possessed certain economic ownership rights (called “incidents of ownership”) in the policy at your death (or within three years of your death). There are other strategies for keeping insurance out of your estate. Contact us for more information about your situation. Read more. 


The 2019 gift tax return deadline is coming up

If you made large gifts to your children, grandchildren or others in 2019, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file a gift tax return by April 15 (Oct. 15 if you file for an extension). Generally, you’ll need to file one if you made 2019 gifts that exceeded the $15,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (unless to your U.S. citizen spouse) and in certain other situations. But sometimes it’s desirable to file a gift tax return even if you aren’t required to. If you’re not sure whether you must (or should) file a 2019 gift tax return, contact us. Read more. 


Home is where the tax breaks might be

If you own a home, the interest you pay on your home mortgage may provide a tax break. However, many people believe that any interest paid on home mortgage loans is deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not true. First, you must itemize deductions in order to deduct mortgage interest. And the deduction is limited. From 2018-2025, you can’t deduct the interest for mortgage acquisition debt greater than $750,000 ($375,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). From 2018-2025, there’s no deduction for home equity debt interest. But interest may be deductible on a home equity loan, home equity credit line, etc., if the proceeds are used to substantially improve or construct the home. Read more. 


Tax credits may help with the high cost of raising children

If you’re a parent, or if you’re planning on having children, you know that it’s expensive to pay for their food, clothes, activities and education. Fortunately, there’s a tax credit available for taxpayers with children under the age of 17, as well as a dependent credit for older children. Read more. 


Reasons why married couples might want to file separate tax returns

Married couples often wonder if they should file joint or separate tax returns. It depends on your individual tax situation. In general, you should use the filing status that results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for tax on your combined income (as well as any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties). Therefore, the IRS can come after either of you for the full amount. In most cases, joint filing offers more tax savings but some people can save by filing separately. We can look at both options. Contact us to prepare your tax return or if you have questions. Read more.


The tax aspects of selling mutual fund shares

The tax rules involved in selling mutual fund shares can be complex. If you sell appreciated mutual fund shares that you’ve owned for more than one year, the profit will be a long-term capital gain. As such, the top federal income tax rate will be 20% and you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax. One difficulty is that certain mutual fund transactions are treated as sales even though they might not seem like it. For example, many funds provide checkwriting privileges. Each time you write a check on your fund account, you’re selling shares. Another problem may arise in determining your basis for shares sold. Contact us. We can explain in greater detail how the rules apply to you. Read more. 


There still might be time to cut your tax bill with IRAs

If you’re getting ready to file your 2019 tax return, and your tax bill is higher than you’d like, there may still be an opportunity to lower it. If you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the Wed., April 15, 2020, filing date and benefit from the resulting tax savings on your 2019 return. For 2019 if you’re qualified, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution of up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or over). To be qualified, you must meet rules involving your income and whether you’re an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. If you’d like more information about whether you can contribute to an IRA, contact us. Read more. 


Answers to your questions about 2020 individual tax limits

Right now, you may be more concerned about your 2019 tax bill than you are about your 2020 tax picture. That’s because your 2019 individual tax return is due to be filed in less than 3 months. However, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with tax amounts that may have changed. For example, for 2020, the amount you can put into a 401(k) plan has increased to $19,500 (from $19,000). You may want to start making contributions early in the year because they’ll lower your taxable income. Keep in mind that not all tax figures are adjusted for inflation and some amounts can only change with new tax legislation. Contact us if you have questions or need more information about your situation. Read more. 


Can you deduct charitable gifts on your tax return?

Many people who used to claim a tax break for making charitable contributions are no longer eligible. That’s because of some tax law changes that went into effect a couple years ago. You can only claim a deduction if you itemize deductions on your tax return and your itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. Today’s much higher standard deduction combined with limits or suspensions on some common itemized deductions means you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction. If you do meet the rules for itemizing, there are still other requirements to claim a charitable deduction. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


Help protect your personal information by filing your 2019 tax return early

The IRS is opening the 2019 individual income tax return filing season on Jan. 27. Even if you usually don’t file until closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file an extension), consider being an early-bird filer this year. It can potentially protect you from tax identity theft. In these scams, a thief uses another person’s personal information to file a fraudulent return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund. Then, when the legitimate taxpayer files, the IRS rejects the return because one with the same information has already been filed for the year. If you file first, any would-be fraudulent returns will be rejected by the IRS, rather than yours. Read more. 


4 new law changes that may affect your retirement plan

If you save for retirement with an IRA or other plan, be aware there’s a new law that makes several changes to these accounts. For example, the SECURE Act repealed the maximum age for making traditional IRA contributions. Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions weren’t allowed once you reached age 70½. Starting in 2020, an individual of any age can make contributions, as long as he or she has compensation. The required minimum distribution age was also raised from 70½ to 72. In addition, penalty-free withdrawals up to $5,000 are now allowed from a retirement plan for birth or adoption expenses. These are only some of the new law changes. Questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us. Read more. 


Your home office expenses may be tax deductible

Technology has made it easier to work from home. However, just because you have a home office doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it on your tax return. In order to be deductible, you must be self-employed and the space must be used regularly and exclusively for business purposes. If you qualify, there are two options for a deduction. You can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating and substantiating actual expenses. Alternatively, you can take a “safe harbor” deduction. Other rules and limits apply. Contact us for details. Read more. 


Congress gives a holiday gift in the form of favorable tax provisions

As part of a year-end budget bill, Congress just passed a package of tax provisions that will provide savings for some taxpayers. It contains a variety of tax breaks. For example, the age limit for IRA contributions is being raised from age 70½ to 72. The age to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) is also going up from 70½ to 72. Most of the tax “extenders” have been reinstated through 2020. In addition, there is a package of retirement-related provisions, including new rules that allow some part-time employees to participate in 401(k) plans. These are only some of the provisions in the new law. Contact us with any questions. Read more.


Adopting a child? Bring home tax savings with your bundle of joy

If you’re adopting a child, or you adopted one this year, there may be significant tax benefits available to offset the expenses. For 2019, adoptive parents may be able to claim a nonrefundable credit against their federal tax for up to $14,080 of “qualified adoption expenses” for each adopted child. (This amount is increasing to $14,300 for 2020.) The credit allowable for 2019 is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $211,160 ($214,520 for 2020). It is eliminated when AGI reaches $251,160 for 2019 ($254,520 for 2020). We can help ensure that you meet all the requirements to get the full benefit of the tax savings available to adoptive parents. Read more.


Medical expenses: What it takes to qualify for a tax deduction

Medical services and prescriptions are expensive. You may be able to deduct some expenses on your tax return but the rules make it difficult for many people to qualify. You may be able to time certain medical expenses to your tax advantage. For 2019, the medical expense deduction can only be claimed to the extent unreimbursed costs exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. You also must itemize deductions. If your total itemized deductions will exceed your standard deduction, moving nonurgent medical procedures and other expenses into 2019 may allow you to exceed the 10% floor. This might include refilling prescriptions, buying eyeglasses, going to the dentist and getting elective surgery. Read more.


What is your taxpayer filing status?

When you file your tax return, you do so with one of five filing statuses. It’s possible that more than one status will apply. The box checked on your return generally depends in part on whether you’re unmarried or married on December 31. Here are the filing statuses: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household and qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child. Head of household status can be more favorable than filing as a single person, but special rules apply. You must generally be unmarried, have a qualifying child (or dependent relative) and meet certain rules involving “maintaining a household.” If you have questions about your filing status, contact us. Read more. 


Using your 401(k) plan to save this year and next

Does your employer offer a 401(k) or Roth 401(k) plan? Contributing to it is a taxwise way to build a nest egg. If you’re not already socking away the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution between now and year end. With a 401(k), an employee elects 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 2019 is $19,000. Employees age 50 or older by year end are also permitted to make additional “catch-up” contributions of $6,000, for a total limit of $25,000 in 2019. The IRS just announced that the 401(k) contribution limit for 2020 will increase to $19,500 (plus the $6,500 catch-up contribution). Read more. 


You may be ABLE to save for a disabled family member with a tax-advantaged account

There’s a tax-advantaged way for people to save for the needs of family members with disabilities, without having them lose eligibility for government benefits to which they’re eostId=24150ntitled. It’s done though an ABLE account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses. ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount, currently $15,000, can be made to an account each year. If the beneficiary works, he or she can also contribute some income to their ABLE account. Contact us if you’d like more details. Read more. 


IRA charitable donations are an alternative to taxable required distributions

Are you charitably minded and have a significant amount of money in an IRA? If you’re age 70-1/2 or older, and don’t need the money from required minimum distributions, you may benefit by giving these amounts to charity. A popular way to transfer IRA assets to charity is through a tax provision that allows IRA owners who are 70-1/2 or older to give up to $100,000 per year of their IRA distributions to charity. These distributions are called qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs. The money given to charity counts toward the donor’s required minimum distributions (RMDs) but doesn’t increase the donor’s adjusted gross income or generate a tax bill. Contact us for more information. Read more. 


Selling securities by year end? Avoid the wash sale rule

If you’re planning to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year, it’s important to be aware of the “wash sale” rule. 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 a 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. Contact us if you have any questions. Read more. 


Use a Coverdell ESA to help pay college, elementary and secondary school costs

You may be able to save for your child’s or grandchild’s education with a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA). There’s no upfront federal tax deduction for contributions, but the earnings grow tax-free. No tax is due when the account funds are withdrawn, to the extent the amounts don’t exceed the child’s qualified education expenses. Qualified expenses include college tuition, fees, books and room, as well as elementary and secondary school expenses. The annual contribution limit is $2,000 a year from all contributors for all ESAs for the same child. The amount you can contribute is phased out if your modified adjusted gross income exceeds $95,000 ($190,000 for married joint filers). Read more. 


Watch out for tax-related scams

Victims of tax-related scams can be contacted through regular mail, phone calls and email. If you receive a text, letter, email or phone call purporting to be from the IRS, keep in mind that the tax agency never calls taxpayers demanding immediate payment using a specific method of payment (such as a wire transfer or prepaid debit card). The IRS generally mails bills or notices to taxpayers and gives them time to respond with questions or appeals. The tax agency also doesn’t threaten taxpayers with arrest. In addition, the IRS doesn’t initiate contact by email, text message or social media channels to request information. Contact us if you have questions about a letter, email or call from the IRS. Read more. 


Take advantage of the gift tax exclusion rules

As we head toward gift-giving season, you may be considering giving cash or securities to your loved ones. Taxpayers can transfer amounts free of gift taxes to their children or others each year through the use of the annual federal gift tax exclusion. For 2019, the exclusion is $15,000 to each person. If you’re married, gifts made during a year can be treated as split between you and your spouse. By “gift-splitting,” up to $30,000 a year can be transferred to each person by a married couple, because two annual exclusions are available. If you give appreciated assets to loved ones in lower tax brackets, they may be able to pay a 0% long-term capital gains tax rate. Contact us with questions. Read more. 


When is tax due on Series EE savings bonds?

Do you have Series EE U.S. savings bonds that were bought many years ago, and you now wonder how the interest on them is taxed? EE bonds don’t pay interest currently. Instead, the accrued interest is reflected in their redemption value. (However, owners can elect to have the interest taxed annually.) EE bond interest isn’t subject to state income tax. And using the money for higher education may keep you from paying federal income tax on the interest. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow for the tax-free buildup of interest to continue indefinitely. When the bonds reach final maturity, they stop earning interest. Contact us if you have questions about the taxability of savings bonds. Read more. 


Uncle Sam may provide relief from college costs on your tax return

We all know college is expensive. Fortunately, there are two sizable federal tax credits for higher education costs that you may be able to claim. The American Opportunity credit generally provides the biggest benefit to most taxpayers. It offers a maximum benefit of $2,500. But it phases out based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). For 2019, the MAGI phaseout ranges are between $80,000 and $90,000 for single taxpayers, and between $160,000 and $180,000 for married joint filers. There’s also the Lifetime Learning credit, which equals 20% of qualified education expenses for up to $2,000 per tax return. There are requirements to qualify for both credits. Contact us for more information. Read more. 


Getting a divorce? There are tax issues you need to understand

In addition to the difficult personal issues that divorce entails, several tax concerns need to be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum and that important tax-related decisions are properly made. For example, if you sell your personal residence or one spouse remains living there while the other moves out, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be able to avoid tax on up to $500,000 of gain. You also must decide how to file your tax return for this year (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household). There are several other issues you may have to deal with. We can help you work through all of the financial issues involved in divorce. Read more. 


The next estimated tax deadline is September 16: Do you have to make a payment?

If you’re self-employed and don’t have paycheck withholding, you probably have to make estimated tax payments. These payments must be sent to the IRS on a quarterly basis. The 3rd 2019 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is Monday, Sept. 16. Even if you do have some withholding from paychecks or other payments, you may still have to make estimated payments if you receive income such as Social Security, prizes, rent, interest and dividends. Generally, taxpayers send four equal installments. But people who earn income unevenly during the year (for example, from a seasonal business) may be able to send smaller payments. Contact us if you have questions about the estimated tax rules. Read more.


Expenses that teachers can and can’t deduct on their tax returns

As teachers head back to school, they often pay expenses for which they don’t receive reimbursement. Fortunately, they may be able to deduct some of them on their tax returns. You don’t have to itemize your deductions to claim this “above-the-line” tax break. For 2019, educators can deduct up to $250 of eligible expenses that weren’t reimbursed. Eligible expenses include books, supplies, computer equipment, software, other classroom materials, and professional development courses. To be eligible, taxpayers must be kindergarten through grade 12 teachers, instructors, counselors, principals or aides. They must also work at least 900 hours a school year in an elementary or secondary school. Read more


Taking distributions from your traditional IRA

If you’re like many people, you’ve worked hard to accumulate a large nest egg in your traditional IRA (or a SEP-IRA). It’s critical to carefully plan for withdrawals. For example, if you need to take money out of your traditional IRA before age 59-1/2, the distribution will generally be taxable. In addition, distributions before age 59-1/2 may be subject to a 10% penalty tax. (However, several exceptions may allow you to avoid the penalty tax but not the regular income tax.) And once you reach age 70-1/2, distributions from a traditional IRA must begin. If you don’t withdraw the minimum amount each year, you may have to pay a 50% penalty tax on what should have been taken but wasn’t. Read more.


“Innocent spouses” may get relief from tax liability

When a married couple files a joint tax return, each spouse is liable for the full amount of tax on the couple’s combined income. Therefore, the IRS can come after either spouse to collect the entire tax, not just the part that’s attributed to that spouse. This includes any tax deficiency that the IRS assesses after an audit, as well as any penalties and interest. In some cases, spouses are eligible for “innocent spouse relief.” Generally, these spouses were unaware of a tax understatement that was attributable to the other spouse. If you’re interested in trying to obtain relief, paperwork must be filed and deadlines must be met. Contact us. We can assist you with the details. Read more


The tax implications of being a winner

If you’re lucky enough to be a winner at gambling or the lottery, congratulations! But be aware there are tax consequences. You must report 100% of your winnings as taxable income. If you itemize deductions, you can deduct losses but only up to the amount of winnings. You report lottery winnings as income in the year you actually receive them. In the case of noncash prizes (such as a car), this would be the year the prize is received. With cash, if you take the winnings in annual installments, you only report each year’s installment as income for that year. These are just the basic rules. Contact us with questions. We can help you minimize taxes and stay in compliance with all requirements. Read more


The “kiddie tax” hurts families more than ever

Congress created the “kiddie tax” to discourage parents from putting investments in their children’s names to save tax. Over the years, it has gradually affected more families because the age at which it generally applies was raised to children under age 19 and full-time students under age 24 (unless the children provide more than half of their own support). Now, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the kiddie tax hits even harder. For 2019, an affected child’s unearned income above $2,200 generally will be taxed at rates paid by trusts and estates, up to 37%. That means children’s unearned income could be taxed at higher rates than their parents’ income. Read More


If your kids are off to day camp, you may be eligible for a tax break

Now that most schools are out for the summer, you might be sending your children to day camp. The good news: You might be eligible for a tax break for the cost. Day camp is a qualified expense under the child and dependent care credit, which is worth 20% to 35% of qualifying expenses, up to a maximum credit of $3,000 for one qualifying child and $6,000 for two or more. Note: Sleep-away camp doesn’t qualify. Eligible costs for care must be employment-related. In other words, they must enable you to work or look for work if you’re unemployed. Additional rules apply. Contact us if you have questions about your eligibility for this credit and other tax breaks for parents.Read More


Volunteering for charity: Do you get a tax break?

Are you a volunteer who works for charity? You may be entitled to some tax breaks if you itemize deductions on your tax return. Unfortunately, they may not amount to as much as you think your generosity is worth. Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible for itemizers, it may seem like donations of something more valuable for many people — their time — would also be deductible. However, no tax deduction is allowed for the value of time you spend volunteering or the services you perform for a charitable organization. However, you potentially can deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work. Many rules apply, so contact us with questionsRead More


Summer: A good time to review your investmentsSummer: A good time to review your investments

It’s a good time to review your portfolio for tax-saving strategies. The long-term capital gains tax rate is still historically low on appreciated securities that have been held for more than 12 months. The federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains recognized in 2019 is 15% for most taxpayers. However, the top rate of 20% plus the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) can apply at higher income levels. For 2019, the 20% rate applies to single taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $425,800 ($479,000 for joint filers and $452,400 for heads of households). Contact us to learn how to grow your investments by minimizing the amount of tax you must pay on profits.Read More


 

It’s a good time to check your withholding and make changes, if necessary

Due to the massive changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the 2019 filing season resulted in surprises. Some filers who have gotten a refund in past years wound up owing money. The IRS reports that the number of refunds paid this year is down from last year — and the average refund is lower. Read More


 

Check on your refund — and find out why the IRS might not send it

In most cases, refunds are routinely sent to taxpayers within a few weeks. However, there may be delays, or, in worst-case scenarios, refunds may be applied to debts owed to the federal or state governments. Read More


 

Catch-up retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous post-TCJA

Will you be age 50 or older on December 31? Are you still working? Are you already contributing to your 401(k) plan or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) up to the regular annual limit? Then you may want to make “catch-up” contributions by the end of the year. Increasing your retirement plan contributions can be particularly advantageous if your itemized deductions for 2018 will be smaller than in the past because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Read More


 

Time for NQDC plan deferral elections

If you’re an executive or other key employee, your employer may offer you a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan, which pays you in the future for services currently performed and allows deferral of income tax. But NQDC plans must meet many requirements. One is that, if you wish to defer part of your 2019 compensation, you generally must make the election by the end of 2018. Questions? Contact us. We can answer them and help you determine what, if any, steps you need to take before year end to defer taxes and avoid interest and penalties... Read More


 

Tax planning for investments gets more complicated

For investors, fall is a good time to review year-to-date gains and losses. Not only can it help you assess your financial health, but it also can help you determine whether to buy or sell investments before year end to save taxes. This year, you also need to keep in mind the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While the TCJA didn’t change long-term capital gains rates, it did change the tax brackets for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends... Re​ad More