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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.

Medicare premiums are medical expenses

You can combine premiums for Medicare health insurance with other qualifying medical expenses for purposes of claiming an itemized deduction for medical expenses on your tax return. This includes amounts for “Medigap” insurance and Medicare Advantage plans. Some people buy Medigap policies because Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover all their health care expenses. Coverage gaps include co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles and other costs. Medigap is private supplemental insurance that’s intended to cover some or all gaps.

Itemizing versus the standard deduction

Qualifying for a medical expense deduction is hard for many people for a couple of reasons. 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 AGI.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction amounts for 2018 through 2025. As a result, fewer individuals are claiming itemized deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amounts are $12,550 for single filers, $25,100 for married couples filing jointly and $18,800 for heads of household. (For 2020, these amounts were $12,400, $24,800 and $18,650, respectively.)

However, if you have significant medical expenses, including Medicare health insurance premiums, you may itemize and collect some tax savings.

Note: Self-employed people and shareholder-employees of S corporations can generally claim an above-the-line deduction for their health insurance premiums, including Medicare premiums. So, they don’t need to itemize to get the tax savings from their premiums.

Medical expense deduction basics

In addition to Medicare premiums, you can deduct various medical expenses, including those for dental treatment, ambulance services, dentures, eyeglasses and contacts, hospital services, lab tests, qualified long-term care services, prescription medicines and others.

There are also many items that Medicare doesn’t cover that can be deducted for tax purposes, if you qualify. In addition, you can deduct transportation expenses to get to medical appointments. If you go by car, you can deduct a flat 16-cents-per-mile rate for 2021 (down from 17 cents for 2020), or you can keep track of your actual out-of-pocket expenses for gas, oil and repairs.

Claim all eligible deductions

Contact us if you have additional questions about claiming medical expense deductions on your tax return.

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Tax-Favored Ways To Build Up A College Fund

If you’re a parent with a college-bound child, you may be concerned about being able to fund future tuition and other higher education costs. You want to take maximum advantage of tax benefits to minimize your expenses. Here are some possible options.

Savings bonds

Series EE U.S. savings bonds offer two tax-saving opportunities for eligible families when used to finance college:

  • You don’t have to report the interest on the 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 for college use, you must purchase the bonds in your name (not the child’s) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees and certain other expenses — not room and board. If only part of the proceeds is used for qualified expenses, only that part of the interest is exempt.

The exemption is phased out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain amounts.

529 plans

A qualified tuition program (also known as a 529 plan) allows you to buy tuition credits for a child or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child’s future higher education expenses. Qualified tuition programs are established by state governments or private education institutions.

Contributions aren’t deductible. The contributions are treated as taxable gifts to the child, but they’re eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2021). A donor who contributes more than the annual exclusion limit for the year can elect to treat the gift as if it were spread out over a five-year period.

The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until college costs are paid from the funds. Distributions from 529 plans are tax-free to the extent the funds are used to pay “qualified higher education expenses.” Distributions of earnings that aren’t used for qualified expenses will be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty tax.

Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)

You can establish a Coverdell ESA and make contributions of up to $2,000 annually for each child under age 18.

The right to make contributions begins to phase out once your AGI is over a certain amount. If the income limitation is a problem, a child can contribute to his or her own account.

Although the contributions aren’t deductible, income in the account isn’t taxed, and distributions are tax-free if used on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn’t attend college, the money must be withdrawn when he or she turns 30, and any earnings will be subject to tax and penalty. But unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the child’s family who hasn’t reached age 30. (Some ESA requirements don’t apply to individuals with special needs.)

Plan ahead

These are just some of the tax-favored ways to build up a college fund for your children. Once your child is in college, you may qualify for tax breaks such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of the options.

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Retiring Soon? 4 Tax Issues You May Face

If you’re getting ready to retire, you’ll soon experience changes in your lifestyle and income sources that may have numerous tax implications.

Here’s a brief rundown of four tax and financial issues you may deal with when you retire:

Taking required minimum distributions. This is the minimum amount you must withdraw from your retirement accounts. You generally must start taking withdrawals from your IRA, SEP, SIMPLE and other retirement plan accounts when you reach age 72 (70½ before January 1, 2020). Roth IRAs don’t require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.

You can withdraw more than the minimum required amount. Your withdrawals will be included in your taxable income except for any part that was taxed before or that can be received tax-free (such as qualified distributions from Roth accounts).

Selling your principal residence. Many retirees want to downsize to smaller homes. If you’re one of them and you have a gain from the sale of your principal residence, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income. If you file a joint return, you may be able to exclude up to $500,000.

To claim the exclusion, you must meet certain requirements. During a five-year period ending on the date of the sale, you must have owned the home and lived in it as your main home for at least two years.

If you’re thinking of selling your home, make sure you’ve identified all items that should be included in its basis, which can save you tax.

Engaging in new work activities. After retirement, many people continue to work as consultants or start new businesses. Here are some tax-related questions to ask:

  • Should the business be a sole proprietorship, S corporation, C corporation, partnership or limited liability company?
  • Are you familiar with how to elect to amortize start-up expenditures and make payroll tax deposits?
  • What expenses can you deduct and can you claim home office deductions?
  • How should you finance the business?

Taking Social Security benefits. If you continue to work, it may have an impact on your Social Security benefits. If you retire before reaching full Social Security retirement age (65 years of age for people born before 1938, rising to 67 years of age for people born after 1959) and the sum of your wages plus self-employment income is over the Social Security annual exempt amount ($18,960 for 2021), you must give back $1 of Social Security benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.

If you reach full retirement age this year, your benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 you earn over a different annual limit ($50,520 in 2021) until the month you reach full retirement age. Then, your earnings will no longer affect the amount of your monthly benefits, no matter how much you earn.

Speaking of Social Security, you may have to pay federal (and possibly state) tax on your benefits. Depending on how much income you have from other sources, you may have to report up to 85% of your benefits as income on your tax return and pay the resulting federal income tax.

Many decisions

As you can see, tax planning is still important after you retire. We can help maximize the tax breaks you’re entitled to so you can keep more of your hard-earned money.

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Hiring Your Minor Children This Summer? Reap Tax and Nontax Benefits

If you’re a business owner and you hire your children this summer, you can obtain tax breaks and other nontax benefits. The kids can gain on-the-job experience, spend time with you, save for college and learn how to manage money. And you may be able to:

  • Shift your high-taxed income into tax-free or low-taxed income,
  • Realize payroll tax savings (depending on the child’s age and how your business is organized), and
  • Enable retirement plan contributions for the children.

A legitimate job

If you hire your child, you get a business tax deduction for employee wage expenses. In turn, the deduction reduces your federal income tax bill, your self-employment tax bill (if applicable), and your state income tax bill (if applicable). However, in order for your business to deduct the wages as a business expense, the work performed by the child must be legitimate and the child’s salary must be reasonable.

For example, let’s say you operate as a sole proprietor and you’re in the 37% tax bracket. You hire your 16-year-old daughter to help with office work on a full-time basis during the summer and part-time into the fall. Your daughter earns $10,000 during 2021 and doesn’t have any other earnings.

You save $3,700 (37% of $10,000) in income taxes at no tax cost to your daughter, who can use her 2021 $12,550 standard deduction to completely shelter her earnings.

Your family’s taxes are cut even if your daughter’s earnings exceed her standard deduction. Why? The unsheltered earnings will be taxed to the daughter beginning at a rate of 10%, instead of being taxed at your higher rate.

How payroll taxes might be saved

If your business isn’t incorporated, your child’s wages are exempt from Social Security, Medicare and FUTA taxes if certain conditions are met. Your child must be under age 18 for this to apply (or under age 21 in the case of the FUTA tax exemption). Contact us for how this works.

Be aware that there’s no FICA or FUTA exemption for employing a child if your business is incorporated or a partnership that includes nonparent partners. And payments for the services of your child are subject to income tax withholding, regardless of age, no matter what type of entity you operate.

Begin saving for retirement

Your business also may be able to provide your child with retirement benefits, depending on the type of plan you have and how it defines qualifying employees. And because your child has earnings from his or her job, he can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA and begin to build a nest egg. For the 2021 tax year, a working child can contribute the lesser of his or her earned income, or $6,000, to an IRA or a Roth.

Keep accurate records 

As you can see, hiring your child can be a tax-smart idea. Be sure to keep the same records as you would for other employees to substantiate the hours worked and duties performed (such as timesheets and job descriptions). Issue your child a Form W-2. Contact us if you have questions about how these rules apply to your situation.

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Many Parents Will Receive Advance Tax Credit Payments Beginning July 15

Eligible parents will soon begin receiving payments from the federal government. The IRS announced that the 2021 advance child tax credit (CTC) payments, which were created in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), will begin being made on July 15, 2021.

How have child tax credits changed?

The ARPA temporarily expanded and made CTCs refundable for 2021. The law increased the maximum CTC — for 2021 only — to $3,600 for each qualifying child under age 6 and to $3,000 per child for children ages 6 to 17, provided their parents’ income is below a certain threshold.

Advance payments will receive 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 the following thresholds:

  • $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and qualifying widows and widowers;
  • $112,500 for heads of household; and
  • $75,000 for other taxpayers.

Under prior law, the maximum annual CTC for 2018 through 2025 was $2,000 per qualifying child but the income thresholds were higher and some of the qualification rules were different.

Important: If your income is too high to receive the increased advance CTC payments, you may still qualify to claim the $2,000 CTC on your tax return for 2021.

What is a qualifying child?

For 2021, a “qualifying child” with respect to a taxpayer is defined as one who is under age 18 and who the taxpayer can claim as a dependent. That means a child related to the taxpayer who, generally, lived with the taxpayer for at least six months during the year. The child also must be a U.S. citizen or national or a U.S. resident.

How and when will advance payments be sent out?

Under the ARPA, the IRS is required to establish a program to make periodic advance payments which in total equal 50% of IRS’s estimate of the eligible taxpayer’s 2021 CTCs, during the period July 2021 through December 2021. The payments will begin on July 15, 2021. After that, they’ll be made on the 15th of each month unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday. Parents will receive the monthly payments through direct deposit, paper check or debit card.

Who will benefit from these payments and do they have to do anything to receive them? 

According to the IRS, about 39 million households covering 88% of children in the U.S. “are slated to begin receiving monthly payments without any further action required.” Contact us if you have questions about the child tax credit.

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Still Have Questions After You File Your Tax Return?

Even after your 2020 tax return has been successfully filed with the IRS, you may still have some questions about the return. Here are brief answers to three questions that we’re frequently asked at this time of year.

Are you wondering when you will receive your refund?

The IRS has an online tool that can tell you the status of your refund. Go to irs.gov and click on “Get Your Refund Status.” You’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.

Which tax records can you throw away now? 

At a minimum, keep tax records related to your return for as long as the IRS can audit your return or assess additional taxes. In general, the statute of limitations is three years after you file your return. So you can generally get rid of most records related to tax returns for 2017 and earlier years. (If you filed an extension for your 2017 return, hold on to your records until at least three years from when you filed the extended return.)

However, the statute of limitations extends to six years for taxpayers who understate their gross income by more than 25%.

You should hang on to certain tax-related records longer. For example, keep the actual tax returns indefinitely, so you can prove to the IRS that you filed legitimate returns. (There’s no statute of limitations for an audit if you didn’t file a return or you filed a fraudulent one.)

When it comes to retirement accounts, keep records associated with them until you’ve depleted the account and reported the last withdrawal on your tax return, plus three (or six) years. And retain records related to real estate or investments for as long as you own the asset, plus at least three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return. (You can keep these records for six years if you want to be extra safe.)

If you overlooked claiming a tax break, can you still collect a refund for it?

In general, you can file an amended tax return and claim a refund within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

However, there are a few opportunities when you have longer to file an amended return. For example, the statute of limitations for bad debts is longer than the usual three-year time limit for most items on your tax return. In general, you can amend your tax return to claim a bad debt for seven years from the due date of the tax return for the year that the debt became worthless.

Year-round tax help

Contact us if you have questions about retaining tax records, receiving your refund or filing an amended return. We’re not just here at tax filing time. We’re available all year long.

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Working in the Gig Economy Results in Tax Obligations

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people engaged in the “gig” or sharing economy had been growing, according to several reports. And reductions in working hours during the pandemic have caused even more people to turn to gig work to make up lost income. There are tax consequences for the people who perform these jobs, which include providing car rides, delivering food, walking dogs and providing other services.

Bottom line: If you receive income from freelancing or from one of the online platforms offering goods and services, it’s generally taxable. That’s true even if the income comes from a side job and even if you don’t receive an income statement reporting the amount of money you made.

Basics for gig workers

The IRS considers gig workers as those who are independent contractors and conduct their jobs through online platforms. Examples include Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and DoorDash.

Unlike traditional employees, independent contractors don’t receive benefits associated with employment or employer-sponsored health insurance. They also aren’t covered by the minimum wage or other protections of federal laws and they aren’t part of states’ unemployment insurance systems. In addition, they’re on their own when it comes to retirement savings and taxes.

Pay taxes throughout the year

If you’re part of the gig or sharing economy, here are some tax considerations.

  • You may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments because your income isn’t subject to withholding. These payments are generally due on April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. (If a due date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the due date becomes the next business day.)
  • You should receive a Form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation, a Form 1099-K or other income statement from the online platform.
  • Some or all of your business expenses may be deductible on your tax return, subject to the normal tax limitations and rules. For example, if you provide rides with your own car, you may be able to deduct depreciation for wear and tear and deterioration of the vehicle. Be aware that if you rent a room in your main home or vacation home, the rules for deducting expenses can be complex.

Keeping records

It’s important to keep good records tracking income and expenses in case you are audited by the IRS or state tax authorities. Contact us if you have questions about your tax obligations as a gig worker or the deductions you can claim. You don’t want to get an unwanted surprise when you file your tax return.

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Unemployed Last Year? Buying Health Insurance This Year? You May Benefit From Favorable New Changes

In recent months, there have been a number of tax changes that may affect your individual tax bill. Many of these changes were enacted to help mitigate the financial damage caused by COVID-19.

Here are two changes that may result in tax savings for you on your 2020 or 2021 tax returns. The 2020 return is due on May 17, 2021 (because the IRS extended many due dates from the usual April 15 this year). If you can’t file by that date, you can request an extra five months to file your 2020 tax return by October 15, 2021. Your 2021 return will be due in April of 2022.

1.Some unemployment compensation from last year is tax free.

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. That means if both spouses lost their jobs and collected unemployment last year, they’re eligible for up to a $20,400 exclusion.

However, keep in mind that some states tax unemployment compensation that is exempt from federal income tax under the ARPA.

The IRS has announced that taxpayers who already filed their 2020 individual tax returns without taking advantage of the 2020 unemployment benefit exclusion, don’t need to file an amended return to take advantage of it. Any resulting overpayment of tax will be either refunded or applied to other outstanding taxes owed.

The IRS will take steps in the spring and summer to make the appropriate change to the returns, which may result in a refund. The first refunds are expected to be made in May and will continue into the summer.

2.More taxpayers may qualify for a tax credit for buying health insurance.

The premium tax credit (PTC) is a refundable credit that assists individuals and families in paying for health insurance obtained through a Marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act. The ARPA made several significant enhancements to this credit.

For example, under pre-ARPA law, individuals with household income above 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL) weren’t eligible for the PTC. But under the new law, for 2021 and 2022, the premium tax credit is available to taxpayers with household incomes that exceed 400% of the FPL. This change increases the number of people who are eligible for the credit.

Let’s say a 45-year-old unmarried man has income of $58,000 (450% of FPL) in 2021. He wouldn’t have been eligible for the PTC before ARPA was enacted. But under the ARPA, he’s eligible for a premium tax credit of about $1,250.

Other favorable changes were also made to the premium tax credit.

Many more changes

The 2020 unemployment benefit exclusion and the enhanced premium tax credit are just two of the many recent tax changes that may be beneficial to you. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.

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Home Sales: How to Determine Your “Basis”

The housing market in many parts of the country is strong this spring. If you’re buying or selling a home, you should know how to determine your “basis.”

How it works

You can claim an itemized deduction on your tax return for real estate taxes and home mortgage interest. Most other home ownership costs can’t be deducted currently. However, these costs may increase your home’s “basis” (your cost for tax purposes). And a higher basis can save taxes when you sell.

The law allows an exclusion from income for all or part of the gain realized on the sale of your home. The general exclusion limit is $250,000 ($500,000 for married taxpayers). You may feel the exclusion amount makes keeping track of the basis relatively unimportant. Many homes today sell for less than $500,000. However, that reasoning doesn’t take into account what may happen in the future. If history is any indication, a home that’s owned for 20 or 30 years appreciates greatly. Thus, you want your basis to be as high as possible in order to avoid or reduce the tax that may result when you eventually sell.

Good recordkeeping

To prove the amount of your basis, keep accurate records of your purchase price, closing costs, and other expenses that increase your basis. Save receipts and other records for improvements and additions you make to the home. When you eventually sell, your basis will establish the amount of your gain. Keep the supporting documentation for at least three years after you file your return for the sale year.

Start with the purchase price

The main element in your home’s basis is the purchase price. This includes your down payment and any debt, such as a mortgage. It also includes certain settlement or closing costs. If you had your house built on land you own, your basis is the cost of the land plus certain costs to complete the house.

You add to the cost of your home expenses that you paid in connection with the purchase, including attorney’s fees, abstract fees, owner’s title insurance, recording fees and transfer taxes. The basis of your home is affected by expenses after a casualty to restore damaged property and depreciation if you used your home for business or rental purposes,

Over time, you may make additions and improvements to your home. Add the cost of these improvements to your basis. Improvements that add to your home’s basis include:

• A room addition,
• Finishing the basement,
• A fence,
• Storm windows or doors,
• A new heating or central air conditioning system,
• Flooring,
• A new roof, and
• Driveway paving.

Home expenses that don’t add much to the value or the property’s life are considered repairs, not improvements. Therefore, you can’t add them to the property’s basis. Repairs include painting, fixing gutters, repairing leaks and replacing broken windows. However, an entire job is considered an improvement if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of extensive remodeling.

The cost of appliances purchased for your home generally don’t add to your basis unless they are considered attached to the house. Thus, the cost of a built-in oven or range would increase basis. But an appliance that can be easily removed wouldn’t.

Plan for best results

Other rules and requirements may apply. We can help you plan for the best tax results involving your home’s basis.

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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 a return 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).

A qualifying child?

A child is considered qualifying if he or she:

• Lives in your home for more than half the year,
• Is your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, sibling stepsibling (or a descendant of any of these),
• Is under age 19 (or a student under 24), and
• Doesn’t provide over half of his or her own support for the year.

If a child’s parents are divorced, the child will qualify if he meets these tests for the custodial parent — even if that parent released his or her right to a dependency exemption for the child to the noncustodial parent.

A person isn’t a “qualifying child” if he or she is married and can’t be claimed by you as a dependent because he or she filed jointly or isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident. Special “tie-breaking” rules apply if the individual can be a qualifying child of (and is claimed as such by) more than one taxpayer.

Maintaining a household

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. In measuring the cost, include house-related expenses incurred for the mutual benefit of household members, including property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance on the property, repairs and upkeep, and food consumed in the home. Don’t include items such as medical care, clothing, education, life insurance or transportation.

Special rule for parents

Under a special rule, you can qualify as head of household if you maintain a home for a parent of yours even if you don’t live with the parent. To qualify under this rule, you must be able to claim the parent as your dependent.

Marital status

You must be unmarried to claim head of household status. If you’re unmarried because you’re widowed, you can use the married filing jointly rates as a “surviving spouse” for two years after the year of your spouse’s death if your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you “maintain” the household. The joint rates are more favorable than the head of household rates.

If you’re married, you must file either as married filing jointly or separately, not as head of household. However, if you’ve lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year and your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you “maintain” the household, you’re treated as unmarried. If this is the case, you can qualify as head of household.

We can answer questions if you’d like to discuss a particular situation or would like additional information about whether someone qualifies as your dependent.

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