Highlights of the Latest COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Bill

On December 27, 2020, the President signed into law the House Amendments to the Senate Amendments to bill HR 133. The original HR 133 was a US-Mexico trade pact, but after months of political tinkering, amendments in both chambers, and having numerous other bills stuffed into it, became a 5,593 page monster of a bill. Tucked within it are the complete federal spending appropriations for Fiscal Year 2021, the latest COVID-19 economic stimulus effort, and numerous additional items.

Here are some of the highlights from this massive piece of legislation:

  • Federal unemployment benefits will be extended, with an extra $300 per week bonus benefit added on.
  • Individuals may be eligible for a direct payment of up to $600 per person, subject to income limitations.
  • A second round of PPP loans have been authorized for businesses that experienced a 25% or greater decline in any quarter of 2020 over the same quarter in 2019.
  • PPP loans under $150,000 will effectively be given rubber-stamp forgiveness via a 1-page application and self-certification of forgiveness eligibility.
  • Recipients of EIDL grants no longer need to subtract the grant amount from their PPP forgiveness amount.
  • Business expenses paid with PPP funds and EIDL grants are fully tax deductible, and forgiven PPP loans amounts and EIDL grants are not included as income.

There are many additional provisions in this lengthy bill, of course, but these highlights should give hope to many struggling individuals and small businesses. … Read the rest

Six Financial Best Practices for Year-End 2020

By any measure, 2020 has been an interesting year. Tens of millions of Americans have faced unemployment, and millions of small businesses have had to scale back operations, or even worse, close permanently. And right when things start to feel like they’ll return to normal, something else happens.

Thankfully, with multiple COVID-19 vaccines in the works, there’s hope the load will lighten in the new year, which is fast approaching. While we prepare for a fresh start, here are six financial best practices for year-end 2020 and beyond, none of which require any heavy lifting.

  1. Give as you’re able, get a little back. What the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) took from charitable giving, this year’s CARES Act partially gave back – at least for 2020.
  • A $300 “Gift”: Under the TCJA, it became much harder to realize itemized tax deductions beyond what the increased standard deductions already allow. But this year, the CARES Act lets you donate up to $300 to a qualified charity, and deduct it “above the line.” In other words, even if you’re taking a standard deduction, you can give a little extra, and receive an extra tax break back, without having to itemize your deductions.
  • Giving Large: If you are itemizing deductions, the CARES Act also temporarily suspends the usual “60% of your AGI” limit on qualified cash contributions. The exception does NOT apply to Donor Advised Fund contributions, and has a few
Read the rest

Understanding tax breaks for higher education

If you’ve been effected by the economic downturn and decided to return to school to further your own education, or you support a dependent that is a college student, there are three education tax breaks that you should be aware of.

Each of the three is unique, and only one of them can be claimed for any particular student in a given tax year. But, you can claim one type of education credit for a child, for example, and another type of credit for yourself.

The three most common tax breaks for higher education are:

  1. American Opportunity Credit (AOC)
  2. Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC)
  3. Tuition and fees deduction

All three of these tax benefits can be claimed regardless of whether you itemize or claim the standard deduction. The AOC and LLC are claimed using Form 8863, and while the IRS didn’t start processing tax returns filed with this form until late in the current tax return filing season, they are now doing so. The tuition and fees deduction is claimed using form 8917.

A few legislative notes:

  1. The “fiscal cliff” bill passed Jan 2, 2013 by Congress extended the AOC through tax year 2017.
  2. The same law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction through tax year 2013, since it actually had expired at the end of 2011.
  3. The LLC is a permanent part of the tax code (at least for now – that could change tomorrow, of course).

It … Read the rest

Cheapest Tax States To Reside In

Choosing to reside in a state with low tax rates can be an effective way to reduce your cost of living, often by a double digit percentage. State taxes come in a variety of forms, including income, sales, real estate, and personal property taxes. All states charge at least one of these taxes, and most charge all four to varying degrees. Your lifestyle will often dictate which type of tax is most critical for consideration when evaluating where to live. In this article, I’m going to present four states that offer different tax benefits for residents.

Alaska
Alaska has the lowest overall tax burden per resident of any state in the Union. Alaska is one of only two states that has neither a state income tax nor a state sales tax. Local municipalities in Alaska are allowed to levy their own local sales taxes, which can be as high as 7.5 percent, although many towns do not levy a sales tax. Alaskan property taxes are on par with the national average. Because of oil revenues to the state, Alaska is the only state that actually pays residents for living there. Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends vary each year, and were $878 per eligible resident in 2012.

New Hampshire
New Hampshire is the other state with no state sales tax and no state tax on ordinary income. The state does levy a tax on dividends and capital gains, so individuals who earn … Read the rest

The Tax Shelter Over Your Head Is Still a Good Idea For 2013

Home prices, which had been on a tear, have leveled out and even fallen in places. The housing “bubble” definitely appears to be over. So, the question becomes: Is real estate still a good place for your money?

Despite uncertain real estate prices, buying a house is still a smart choice for most families. Buying, rather than renting, replaces nondeductible rent with deductible mortgage interest. You can borrow tax-free against your home’s growing equity. And you can still sell your home for up to $500,000 profit, tax-free. This particular capital gains tax break isn’t likely to disappear in 2013, despite all the rhetoric about classic tax breaks disappearing.

Mortgage Interest

Tax-deductible mortgage interest is a cornerstone of tax planning for many families. You can deduct interest on up to $1 million of “acquisition indebtedness” you use to buy or substantially improve your primary residence and one additional home. You can deduct interest on up to $1 million of construction loans for 24 months from the start of construction. (Interest before and after this period is nondeductible.) Plus, points you pay to buy or improve your primary residence are generally deductible the year you buy the home if paying points is an established practice in your area. This deduction, while discussed as one that could get the axe by Congress, is too politically sensitive to actually be taken away from American voters in 2013.

Home Equity Interest

You can deduct interest … Read the rest

2013 Tax Numbers Announced, Plus 2013 Tax Planning Advice

A variety of numbers that are important for 2013 tax planning were recently released by the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration.

First, let’s talk retirement accounts. In 2013, maximum 401(k) contributions from your own paycheck will be capped at $17,500 for the year, an increase of $500 over 2012. For folks 50 and older, the “catch-up” limit remains the same, at $5,500. Personal IRA contributions will be limited to $5,500 for those under 50, and $6,500 for those age 50 and older. For SIMPLE accounts, the maximum contribution increases to $12,000, with a $2,500 catch-up limit for those 50 and over.

While elimination of the Social Security taxable wage limit is one of the proposals on the table in Washington, D.C., the inflation adjusted cap for 2013 is currently slated to be $113,700, up from $110,100 for 2012. This is the maximum salary level per year per person on which Social Security taxes are charged. Your wages above that amount are not subject to that particular tax. Expect this to be a hotly debated item during the next Congressional session.

Also on the Social Security front, retirees that have not yet reached full retirement age for their birthdate can earn up to $15,120 in 2013 from employment without losing any Social Security benefits.

If you provide cash gifts to others, you’re in luck in 2013: The annual gift tax exclusion has increased to $14,000 for 2013. Do note, … Read the rest

5 Simple Steps To Achieving Mitt Romney’s Tax Rate

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been getting blasted for months about the fact this effective tax rate is so incredibly low. As an Enrolled Agent, I find the discussion surrounding Romney’s tax situation to be particularly interesting, because there isn’t a single taxpayer on the face of the Earth that personally wants to pay more taxes than they have to. If such a strange person does exist, there is no government that won’t happily cash your check (in fact, the U.S. government happily accepts credit cards for donations).

I’d really like to get on the phone with all these reporters and news anchors blasting Romney for his tax reduction strategies. I’d bet $100 that you can’t find one that would, themselves, personally agree to pay more taxes than they need to. Yet, they will happily ridicule somebody else for doing so.

Actually, I need to back up, because there is actually one person I know of that voluntarily pays more taxes than he’s required to. Guess who that is? Mitt Romney.

That’s right. In order to keep a campaign promise earlier this year stating that he has paid at least 13% in taxes each of the past 10 years, Mitt Romney voluntarily failed to claim $1.75 million in charitable contributions on his 2011 Form 1040. In other words, he only deducted $2.25 million of the total $4 million he actually donated to non-profits. If he had claimed … Read the rest

Where did your tax debt come from?

For the vast of taxpayers, both individuals and businesses alike, their very first tax bill stems from a series of events.

For individuals, it can be that you simply don’t pay attention to your tax situation throughout the year (hint: you should!). You think of your taxes as a once a year affair, rather than taking a proactive approach to regular tax planning. Perhaps you got a bonus, a raise, or a gambling win at some point in the year that boosted your overall income for the year into a higher tax bracket, and didn’t adjust your withholding at that time to compensate. Or perhaps you had a large debt forgiven or took money out of an IRA early, and didn’t plan for the tax consequences. Failing to take into consideration a significant life change, such as no longer being a homeowner or losing an exemption and tax credits because of a child growing too old to claim, can also have a major impact on your tax situation.

For businesses, it can start with a rough month, and simply not having the cash laying around on the 15th to make the payroll tax deposit for last month’s payroll. Essentially, it becomes a matter of convenience to skip that Federal Tax Deposit one time. Well, in my experience, that one time becomes an expedience for the entire quarter, then two quarters, with no warning or anything from the IRS. Then, suddenly … Read the rest

Tips for Avoiding a 2012 Tax Bill

With the summer of 2012 coming to a close, it’s a good time to look at your tax payments you’ve made this year and see if you’re likely to accrue a tax liability for this year or not.

You should act soon to adjust yor tax withholding to bring the taxes you must pay closer to what you actually owe. If you’re ahead of schedule in terms of payments for the year, then you can reduce your withholding and actually keep more of your paycheck for the rest of the year.

Most people have taxes withheld from each paycheck or pay taxes on a quarterly basis through estimated tax payments. Each year millions of American workers have far more taxes withheld from their pay than is required. Many people anxiously wait for their tax refunds to make major purchases or pay their financial obligations. It is best, however, to not tie major financial decisions to your anticipated refund — especially if you owe back taxes for previous years, because the IRS is simply going to keep that refund, even if you filed an Offer in Compromise this year.

Here is some information to help bring the taxes you pay during the year closer to what you will actually owe when you file your tax return.

Employees

New Job? When you start a new job your employer will ask you to complete Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer … Read the rest

Overseas assets, FBARs, and FATCA

Last month while I was in Switzerland, I had the “opportunity” of visiting the US Embassy in Bern so that I could obtain a replacement for my stolen U.S. passport.

While I was there, I met several interesting people. One was attempting to obtain a U.S. Social Security Number so that she could file the U.S. income tax returns that the IRS was demanding that she file, since she was born in America, although technically German and Swiss. She had never been to the U.S. since she was 5 years old, and was now in her 50’s and the IRS wanted her returns.

Another lady was there to renounce her U.S. citizenship, under very similar circumstances. She had also been born on U.S. soil, technically making her a U.S. citizen. She had no family or other ties to the U.S., and not visited the U.S. since her teens, but had dutifully filed a U.S. tax return for the past dozen years. She was in her mid-30’s, had no intention of ever living in the U.S., and was very happily Swiss. She was renouncing her U.S. citizenship and turning in her U.S. passport for no other reason than to get away from the hassle of filing a U.S. tax return.

For those two individuals, it made absolutely no sense for them to being filing an American tax return.

But what if you do live in America, or intend to keep your … Read the rest