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Tax Briefs

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‚Äčad More