“Last-Minute” 2020 Year-End Tax-Saving Moves for Individuals

There are only a few days left before the year ends, but here are some actions you can take before the new year to improve your situation for 2020 and beyond.

Consider President-elect Biden’s proposals. As the year comes to an end, it is hard to predict what, if anything, that the Biden Administration has proposed will become law and take effect in 2021. Most experts believe that taxes will need to be increased after the economic effects of the pandemic to help pay for the increased federal spending as a result of the pandemic. But enacting any major tax legislation is likely to be a slow process and may not affect 2021 taxes.

Here are some of the Biden Administration’s most noteworthy tax proposals:

Tax increase proposals

  • Raise the highest individual income tax rate to 39.6% from 37%.
  • Cap itemized deductions for the wealthiest Americans at 28%.
  • End favorable capital gains rates, including those rates on qualified dividends, for anyone with income over $1 million.
  • Eliminate the step-up in basis at death (taxing all appreciated investments at death)
  • Reducing the estate and gift tax exemption to its pre-Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) level.

Tax decrease proposals.

  • $8,000 tax credit to help offset the costs of child care.
  • Exclusion from income for student loans that have been forgiven.
  • A refundable tax credit for low- and middle-income workers who contribute to IRAs and employer-provided retirement savings plans.

Solve underpayment of estimated tax/withheld tax issues.

Add an extra amount of withholding from your paycheck to solve an underpayment of estimated tax problem. Employees may discover that their prepayments of tax for 2020 have been too small because, for example, their estimate of income or deductions was off and they are underwithheld, or they failed to make estimated tax payments for unanticipated income, such as gains from sales of stock. Or they may have an underpayment of estimated tax because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax and/or the 3.8% surtax on unearned income. To reduce an estimated tax underpayment penalty, an employee can ask their employers to increase withholding for their last paycheck or paychecks to make up or reduce the deficiency. If you are significantly underwithheld annually, you can file a new Form W-4 or simply request that the employer withhold a flat amount of additional income tax. If you are unable to add an additional withholding amount on your final paycheck, you can make a final estimated tax payment for 2020 (due on Jan. 15, 2021) to cut or eliminate the penalty for a Q4 underpayment only. It doesn’t help with underpayments for preceding quarters. By contrast, tax withheld on wages can wipe out or reduce underpayments for previous quarters because, as a general rule, an equal part of the total withholding during the year is treated as having been paid on each quarterly estimated payment date.

Charitable donations.

Use IRAs to make charitable donations. Taxpayers who have reached age 70½ by the end of 2020, own IRAs, and are thinking of making a charitable gift should consider arranging for the gift to be made by way of a qualified charitable contribution, or QCD—a direct transfer from the IRA trustee to the charitable organization. Such a transfer (up to $100,000 for 2020) will neither be included in gross income nor allowed as a deduction on the taxpayer’s return. But, since such a distribution is not includible in gross income, it will not increase Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for purposes of the phaseout of any deduction, exclusion, or tax credit that is limited or lost completely when AGI reaches certain specified level.

Taxpayers who have reached age 72 by Dec. 31 normally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their IRAs or 401(k) plans (or other employer-sponsored retired plans) by Dec. 31. As a result of the CARES Act, there is no such requirement for 2020.

A QCD before Dec. 31, 2020 can still be a good idea for retired taxpayers who don’t need their as-yet undistributed RMD for living expenses. A 2020 QCD will reduce the taxpayer’s retirement account balance and therefore reduce the amount of the RMD that must be withdrawn in future tax years.

Charitable donation by non-itemizers. Non-itemizers can deduct up to $300 of cash charitable donations that they make in 2020 ($600 for married filing joint taxpayers).

Higher limit on charitable contributions. In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the limit on charitable contributions of cash by an individual in 2020 was increased to 100% of the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI). For previous years, the limit was 60% of a taxpayer’s AGI. While this increased limit was extended to 2021 by the CAA, 2021, taxpayers should consider increasing 2020 contributions to take advantage of the increased limit.

Retirement plans.

Establish a Keogh plan. A self-employed person who wants to contribute to a Keogh plan for 2020 must establish that plan before the end of 2020. If that is done, deductible contributions for 2020 can be made as late as the taxpayer’s extended tax return due date for 2020.

Relief with respect to withdrawal from retirement plans. A distribution from a qualified retirement plan is generally subject to a 10% additional tax unless the distribution meets an exception under Code Sec. 72(t).

2020 legislation provides that the Code Sec. 72(t) 10% additional tax does not apply to any coronavirus-related distribution, up to $100,000. A coronavirus-related distribution is any distribution made on or after January 1, 2020, and before December 31, 2020, from an eligible retirement plan, made to a qualified individual.

A qualified individual is an individual

  1. Who is diagnosed with the virus SARS-CoV-2 or with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
  2. Whose spouse or dependent (as defined in Code Sec. 152) is diagnosed with such virus or disease by such a test, or
  3. Who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus or disease, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Other relief also applies to coronavirus-related distributions, including the ability to recognize income over a 3-tax-year period.

Other.

Make year-end gifts. A person can give any other person up to $15,000 for 2020 without incurring any gift tax. The annual exclusion amount increases to $30,000 per donee if the donor’s spouse consents to gift-splitting. Anyone who expects eventually to have estate tax liability and who can afford to make gifts to family members should do so. Besides avoiding transfer tax, annual exclusion gifts take future appreciation in the value of the gift property out of the donor’s estate, and they shift the income tax obligation on the property’s earnings to the donee who may be in a lower tax bracket (if not subject to the kiddie tax).

Watch out for the use-it-or-lose-it rule. Unused cafeteria plan amounts left over at the end of a plan year must generally be forfeited (use-it-or-lose-it rule). A cafeteria plan can provide an optional grace period immediately following the end of each plan year, extending the period for incurring expenses for qualified benefits to the 15th day of the third month after the end of the plan year. Benefits or contributions not used as of the end of the grace period are forfeited. Under an exception to the use-it-or-lose-it rule, at the plan sponsor’s option and in lieu of any grace period, employees may be allowed to carry over up to $500 of unused amounts remaining at year-end in a health flexible spending account.

Taxpayers should make sure they understand their employer’s plan and should make last-minute purchases before year end to the extent that not doing so will result in losing benefits. In most cases, a trip to the drug store, dentist or optometrist, for goods or services that the taxpayer would otherwise have purchased in 2021, can avoid “losing it.”

Paying by credit card creates deduction on date of credit card transaction. Taxpayers should consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase their 2020 deductions even if they don’t pay their credit card bill until after the end of the year.

Increase 2020 itemized deductions via a “bunching strategy.” Many taxpayers who claimed itemized deductions in prior years will no longer be able to do so. That’s because the standard deduction has been increased and many itemized deductions have been cut back or abolished. Paying some otherwise-deductible-in-2021 itemized deductions in 2020 can decrease taxable income in 2020 and will not increase 2021 taxable income if 2021 itemized deductions would otherwise have still been less than the 2021 standard deduction. For example, a taxpayer who expects to itemize deductions in 2020 but not 2021, and usually contributes a total of $1,500 to charities each year, should consider making a total of $3,000 of charitable contributions before the end of 2020 (and skipping charitable contributions in 2021).

Please contact our office for additional guidance and tax savings strategies that may be applicable to your personal situation.

Taxpayers should include tax plans in their wedding plans

Couples getting married this year know there are a lot of details in planning a wedding. Along with the cake and gift registry, their first tax return as a married couple should be on their checklist. The IRS has tips and tools to help newlyweds consider how marriage may affect their taxes.

Here are five simple steps that can make filing their first tax return as newlyweds less stressful.

Step 1: Taxpayers should check their withholding at the beginning of each year, or when their personal circumstances change — like after getting married. Using the IRS Withholding Calculator is a good way for taxpayers to check their withholding. Taxpayers who need to change their withholding should complete and submit a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to their employer.

Step 2: Marriage may mean a change in name. If either – or both – of the newlyweds legally change their name, it’s important to report that change to the Social Security Administration. The names on the taxpayers’ tax return must match the names on file at the SSA. If it doesn’t, it could delay any refund.

Step 3: If a marriage means a change in address, the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service need to know. Newlyweds can file Form 8822, Change of Address, to update their mailing address with the IRS. They should notify the postal service to forward their mail by going online at USPS.com or by visiting their local post office.

Step 4: Taxpayers who receive advance payments of the premium tax credit should report changes in circumstances to their Health Insurance Marketplace as they happen. Certain changes to household, income or family size may affect the amount of the premium tax credit. This can affect a tax refund or the amount of tax owed. Taxpayers should also notify the Marketplace when they move out of the area covered by their current Marketplace plan.

Step 5: Newlyweds should consider their filing status. A taxpayer’s marital status on December 31 determines whether they’re considered married for that full year. Generally, the tax law allows married couples to file their federal income tax return either jointly or separately in any given year. Taxpayers can use the Interactive Tax Assistant to determine which status is best for them.

Source: IRS Tax Tip 2019-68

Worried About Owing Taxes at Year-End?

Individuals should review their withholding and avoid having too little (or too much!) federal income taxes withheld from their paychecks. Nobody likes a surprise in April, so it’s best to review your withholding for the year now and take into consideration any life changes; such as marriage, changes in dependents, or changes in income. Having the correct amount taken out helps to move taxpayers closer to a zero balance at the end of the year when they file their tax return, which means no taxes owed or refund due.

What to do if you have any life changes such as changes in marital status, dependents, income, or credit eligibility:

  1. Use the IRS withholding calculator to help determine the correct amount of tax to withhold.
  2. Give your employer a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to change their withholding status or number of allowances. Employers use the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from pay. Making these changes in the late summer or early fall can give taxpayers enough time to adjust their withholdings before the tax year ends in December.

There are also a few other resources on the IRS website, such as this article on tax withholding.

Self-employed taxpayers, including those involved in the sharing economy, can use the Form 1040-ES worksheet to correctly figure their estimated tax payments. If they also work for an employer, they can often forgo making these quarterly payments by instead having more tax taken out of their pay.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about withholding.

How to Handle an IRS Letter

The IRS mails millions of letters every year to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. Many of these letters are computer generated. It’s important to keep the following tips in mind if you are ever the recipient of a letter or notice from the IRS:

  1. Don’t panic. Most notices can be resolved with a simple response providing the requested information.
  2. While you shouldn’t panic, you should certainly not ignore the letter. The majority of IRS notices are sent in respect to federal tax returns or tax accounts. Since every notice is different, be sure to read the notice carefully. Most will require a response in 30 days.
  3. Respond timely. Most notices ask for more information about a specific issue or item on a tax return. Not only will a timely response minimize additional interest and penalty charges (if, any), but it will also prevent the IRS from automatically making adjustments for lack of a response from you.
  4. Some notices will come from the Automated Under Reporting Service Center. These notices will typically indicate a changed or corrected tax return. The most common occurrence is when the IRS has information from another source that was missing on your return, such as stock sales reported by your broker, but not included on your return. Review the information and changes on the notice and compare it with your original return. If you agree with the changes, you should note the corrections on your copy of the tax return for you records. There is usually no need to reply to a notice like this when you agree to the changes unless specifically instructed to do so, or to make a payment.
  5. Respond promptly to a notice you do not agree with. You should mail a letter explaining why you disagree to the address on the contact stub at the bottom of the notice. Include information and documents for the IRS to consider and allow at least 30 days for a response.
  6. There is no need to call the IRS or make an appointment at a taxpayer assistance center for most notices. If a call seems necessary, use the phone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. Be sure to have a copy of the related tax return and notice when calling.
  7. Always keep copies of any notices received with tax records.
  8.  The IRS and its authorized private collection agency will send letters and notices by mail. The IRS will not demand payment a certain way, such as prepaid debit or credit card.

For more more information on notices, or for notice resolution, please contact Paul at Launch Consulting, Inc for assistance resolving any IRS issues.

 


Controversial Charitable Contribution Regulation Withdrawn

This past September, the IRS proposed a regulation that would require charitable organizations to collect personal information from its donors and file information returns with the IRS with this personal information for donations over $250. The IRS would, in turn, would use informational returns received from the donee to match the amounts with the social security numbers of the donors.

A few days ago, we received notice that the IRS has scrapped these regulations. (whew!) This could have only led to more paperwork for non-profit organizations and greater risks for individuals to become victims of identity theft.

As a reminder, the IRS still requires contemporaneous written acknowledgement of a contribution from a charitable organization if the donation exceeds $250.  The acknowledgement must state the amount of cash or a description (but not the value) of property other than cash contributed. The letter must also state whether the donee provided any “goods or services” in consideration for the contribution. Lastly, if the goods or services received were entirely intangible religious benefits, the letter must provide a statement to that effect.

For more information on charitable contributions, please contact Paul Glantz, CPA at paul@launchconsultinginc.com

 

Highway Bill Gives IRS Power over Passports

Last week President Obama signed into law the Highway Bill, a five-year $305 billion law that will focus on improving highway and transit projects. Included in that law were two controversial provisions that didn’t receive as much press.Both these provisions were included as offsets that are expected to cover the infrastructure spending.

Aside from the IRS bringing back private debt collectors, the new law gives the State Department the power to deny or revoke the passport of individuals with unpaid disputed tax bills. The passport revocation would only occur after the IRS has issued a lien or levy. If you have a payment agreement set up with the IRS, don’t worry, you’re in the clear. As far as privatizing debt collectors, expect to see an increase in criminals posing as IRS agents or collection companies.

More information on the Highway Bill here .

If you have questions about safeguarding your personal information, be sure to check out these tips.

For additional questions on how this law may impact you, contact Paul Glantz, CPA at paul@launchconsultinginc.com

Store or Shred? What you need to know about document retention

CPA, Certified Public Accountant, Texas, Austin, Taxes, Tax Preparer, Tax Accountant, Tax Refund

The IRS recently revised legislation that previously kept the statute of limitations open for 6 years for any understatement of income greater than 25% of gross income. The new law now provides that an in addition to understatement of income, overstatement of deductions that results in the same 25% omission of income leaves you open to IRS audit for 6 years!

With the 2014 tax season behind us, I’ve had several clients ask how long they actually need to keep some of their tax records. I’ve compiled a list of the more common documents, specifically related to individuals, and how long you actually need to hoard these pieces of paper for.

Personal Documents to keep forever:

  • Audit reports
  • Legal documents
  • Property records, improvement receipts (or 7 years after property is disposed)
  • Investment trade confirmations
  • Retirement and Pension records until all distributions are made

Personal Documents to keep seven years:

  • Supporting documents for tax returns (W-2’s, charitable contribution receipts, etc.)
  • Income tax returns
  • Income tax payments

Personal Documents to keep three years:

  • Utility records
  • Expired insurance policies
  • Medical bills

Note that these times are from the date that your original tax return was filed. If you have a scanner, the IRS does accept digital copies as long as they are legible. I recommend keeping a local backup as well as a cloud backups on Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or any other secure cloud based storage.

If you have any questions about document retention, please contact Paul Glantz, CPA at paul@launchconsultinginc.com

 

Five Tax Strategies Now for Refunds in April

As the year winds down, there is nothing more important than discussing year-end tax strategy. Building communication between yourself, your CPA, and your investment advisor will guarantee you are a winner come April 15. Far too often, poor decision making and bad planning will lead to a big bill from the IRS. I’ve compiled a list of five powerful tips you can use now to help reduce your tax bill next year.

  1. If you had any big losers in the market this year, consider “realizing” these losses, and preserving your investment position by purchasing back that same security 31 days later.
  2. Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. The IRS operates on the “year of swipe” principle. So while you will not receive the bill for these expenses until 2016, you can benefit from the deduction in 2015.
  3. Apply strategy to your itemized deductions. In some states, and cities (like Austin, Texas), you can make your property tax payment between October and January. If planned correctly, you can double your real estate tax deduction every other year, while still taking advantage of the standard deduction for in-between years.
  4. Defer income and accelerate your deductions. Ask your boss to hold on to that year-end bonus until January or have your employer bump up your last few 401k contributions. Other strategies for accelerating your deductions include increasing the amount you set aside for next year’s FSA or, if eligible, make a full years worth of HSA contributions before December 1, 2015.
  5. If you made a Traditional to Roth IRA conversion earlier in the year, and the value of the assets has since declined, you could wind up paying a higher tax than necessary. You can combat this by backing out of the transaction, and re-characterizing the conversion. Later, you can reconvert to a Roth.

Stay tuned for more tax planning tips as we wait for information on any “extender legislation” for temporary tax rules set to expire Dec 31.

For more information on year end planning, contact Paul Glantz, CPA at paul@launchconsultinginc.com

 

Spring 2015 Statistics of Income IRS Bulletin Released!

Last week, the IRS released the Spring 2015 Statistics of Income Bulletin. The bulletin includes preliminary numbers from the 2013 tax year. Some of the more interesting data points include the following:

  • 147.7 Million tax returns were filed, 1.9% more than the previous year.
  • Although Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and taxable income was only up 0.8% from 2012 to 2013, total income tax increased 3.6% and total tax liability increased 4.5%, mainly due to the increase in the marginal tax rates implemented in 2013.
  • The Net Investment Income Tax (NII Tax – 3.8%), new for 2013, brought in $11.7 Billion from 3.1 million tax returns.

The complete bulletin can be found here.

CPA, Austin, Texas, Taxes, Tax Refunds, IRS

Spring 2015 Statistics of Income Bulletin

Affordable Care Act and what it means for you

As many of you are well-aware of at this point, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required individual taxpayers to have a minimum essential coverage beginning in 2014. This act has many moving pieces and still remains complex to the bulk of taxpaying Americans. Recently, the IRS released a webinar, hoping to alleviate much of the confusion. Here is the link for anyone who may be interested in obtaining a better understanding of exactly how this act impacts them or their families.

For questions or more information, please contact Paul Glantz, CPA at paul@launchconsultinginc.com