The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11, provides a variety of tax and financial relief to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the many initiatives are direct payments that will be made to eligible individuals. And parents under certain income thresholds will also receive additional payments in the coming months through a greatly revised Child Tax Credit.
Here are some answers to questions about these payments.
President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on March 11. While the new law is best known for the provisions providing relief to individuals, there are also several tax breaks and financial benefits for businesses.
Here are some of the tax highlights of the ARPA.
If you’re getting ready to file your 2020 tax return, and your tax bill is higher than you’d like, there might still be an opportunity to lower it. If you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the April 15, 2021 filing date and benefit from the tax savings on your 2020 return.
Who Is Eligible?
You can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if:
- You (and your spouse) aren’t an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or
- You (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer plan, but your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary from year-to-year by filing status.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business decreased by one-and-one-half cents, to 56 cents per mile. As a result, you might claim a lower deduction for vehicle-related expenses for 2021 than you could for 2020 or 2019. This is the second year in a row that the cents-per-mile rate has decreased.
Deducting Actual Expenses vs. Cents-Per-Mile
In general, businesses can deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases, certain limits apply to depreciation write-offs on vehicles that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
Although electric vehicles (or EVs) are a small percentage of the cars on the road today, they’re increasing in popularity all the time. And if you buy one, you may be eligible for a federal tax break.
The tax code provides a credit to purchasers of qualifying plug-in electric drive motor vehicles including passenger vehicles and light trucks. The credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional amount, based on battery capacity, that can’t exceed $5,000. Therefore, the maximum credit allowed for a qualifying EV is $7,500.
A number of tax-related limits that affect businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have increased for 2021. Some stayed the same due to low inflation. And the deduction for business meals has doubled for this year after a new law was enacted at the end of 2020. Here’s a rundown of those that may be important to you and your business.
Social Security Tax
The amount of employees’ earnings that are subject to Social Security tax is capped for 2021 at $142,800 (up from $137,700 for 2020).
Many people are more concerned about their 2020 tax bills right now than they are about their 2021 tax situations. That’s understandable because your 2020 individual tax return is due to be filed in less than three months (unless you file an extension).
However, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with tax amounts that may have changed for 2021. Below are some Q&As about tax amounts for this year.
The IRS announced it is opening the 2020 individual income tax return filing season on February 12. (This is later than in past years because of a new law that was enacted late in December.) Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file for an extension), consider filing earlier this year. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and there may be other benefits, too.
How Is a Person’s Tax Identity Stolen?
In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) reopened the week of January 11. If you’re fortunate to get a PPP loan to help during the COVID-19 crisis (or you received one last year), you may wonder about the tax consequences.
Background on the Loans
In March of 2020, the CARES Act became law. It authorized the SBA to make loans to qualified businesses under certain circumstances. The law established the PPP, which provided up to 24 weeks of cash-flow assistance through 100% federally guaranteed loans to eligible recipients. Taxpayers could apply to have the loans forgiven to the extent their proceeds were used to maintain payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic and to cover certain other expenses.
There’s a new IRS form for business taxpayers that pay or receive certain types of nonemployee compensation and it must be furnished to most recipients by February 1, 2021. After sending the forms to recipients, taxpayers must file the forms with the IRS by March 1 (March 31 if filing electronically).
The requirement begins with forms for tax year 2020. Payers must complete Form 1099-NEC, “Nonemployee Compensation,” to report any payment of $600 or more to a recipient. February 1 is also the deadline for furnishing Form 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to report certain other payments to recipients.
In one recent cybercrime scheme, a mortgage company employee accessed his employer’s records without authorization, then used stolen customer lists to start his own mortgage business. The perpetrator hacked the protected records by sending an email containing malware to a coworker.
This particular dishonest worker was caught. But your company may not be so lucky. One of your employees’ cybercrime schemes could end in financial losses or competitive disadvantages due to corporate espionage.
The COVID-19 relief bill, signed into law on December 27, 2020, provides a further response from the federal government to the pandemic. It also contains numerous tax breaks for businesses. Here are some highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA), which also includes other laws within it.
Business Meal Deduction Increased
The new law includes a provision that removes the 50% limit on deducting business meals provided by restaurants and makes those meals fully deductible.
The new COVID-19 relief law that was signed on December 27, 2020, contains a multitude of provisions that may affect you. Here are some of the highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which also contains two other laws: the COVID-related Tax Relief Act (COVIDTRA) and the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act (TCDTR).
The law provides for direct payments (which it calls recovery rebates) of $600 per eligible individual ($1,200 for a married couple filing a joint tax return), plus $600 per qualifying child. The U.S. Treasury Department has already started making these payments via direct bank deposits or checks in the mail and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.
Attending college is one of the biggest investments that parents and students ever make. If you or your child (or grandchild) attends (or plans to attend) an institution of higher learning, you may be eligible for tax breaks to help foot the bill.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was enacted recently, made some changes to the tax breaks. Here’s a rundown of what has changed.
If you’re self-employed and don’t have withholding from paychecks, you probably have to make estimated tax payments. These payments must be sent to the IRS on a quarterly basis. The fourth 2020 estimated tax payment deadline for individuals is Friday, January 15, 2021. Even if you do have some withholding from paychecks or payments you receive, you may still have to make estimated payments if you receive other types of income such as Social Security, prizes, rent, interest, and dividends.
You must make sufficient federal income tax payments long before the April filing deadline through withholding, estimated tax payments, or a combination of the two. If you fail to make the required payments, you may be subject to an underpayment penalty, as well as interest.
S corporations can provide tax advantages over C corporations in the right circumstances. This is true if you expect that the business will incur losses in its early years because shareholders in a C corporation generally get no tax benefit from such losses. Conversely, as an S corporation shareholder, you can deduct your percentage share of these losses on your personal tax return to the extent of your basis in the stock and any loans you personally make to the entity.
Losses that can’t be deducted because they exceed your basis are carried forward and can be deducted by you when there’s sufficient basis.
Are you considering replacing a car that you’re using in your business? There are several tax implications to keep in mind.
A Cap on Deductions
Cars are subject to more restrictive tax depreciation rules than those that apply to other depreciable assets. Under so-called “luxury auto” rules, depreciation deductions are artificially “capped.” So is the alternative Section 179 deduction that you can claim if you elect to expense (write-off in the year placed in service) all or part of the cost of a business car under the tax provision that for some assets allows expensing instead of depreciation.
You may be able to deduct some of your medical expenses, including prescription drugs, on your federal tax return. However, the rules make it hard for many people to qualify. But with proper planning, you may be able to time discretionary medical expenses to your advantage for tax purposes.
Itemizers Must Meet a Threshold
For 2020, the medical expense deduction can only be claimed to the extent your unreimbursed costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This threshold amount is scheduled to increase to 10% of AGI for 2021. You also must itemize deductions on your return in order to claim a deduction.
If you own a business, you may wonder if you’re eligible to take the qualified business income (QBI) deduction. Sometimes this is referred to as the pass-through deduction or the Section 199A deduction.
The QBI deduction:
- Is available to owners of sole proprietorships, single member limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and S corporations, as well as trusts and estates.
- Is intended to reduce the tax rate on QBI to a rate that’s closer to the corporate tax rate.
- Is taken “below the line.” In other words, it reduces your taxable income but not your adjusted gross income.
- Is available regardless of whether you itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.
Many Americans receive disability income. You may wonder if — and how — it’s taxed. As is often the case with tax questions, the answer is … it depends.
The key factor is who paid for the benefit. If the income is paid directly to you by your employer, it’s taxable to you as ordinary salary would be. (Taxable benefits are also subject to federal income tax withholding, although depending on the employer’s disability plan, in some cases aren’t subject to the Social Security tax.)
Although planning is needed to help build the biggest possible nest egg in your traditional IRA (including a SEP-IRA and SIMPLE-IRA), it’s even more critical that you plan for withdrawals from these tax-deferred retirement vehicles. There are three areas where knowing the fine points of the IRA distribution rules can make a big difference in how much you and your family will keep after taxes:
Early distributions. What if you need to take money out of a traditional IRA before age 59½? For example, you may need money to pay your child’s education expenses, make a down payment on a new home or meet necessary living expenses if you retire early. In these cases, any distribution to you will be fully taxable (unless nondeductible contributions were made, in which case part of each payout will be tax-free). In addition, distributions before age 59½ may also be subject to a 10% penalty tax. However, there are several ways that the penalty tax (but not the regular income tax) can be avoided, including a method that’s tailor-made for individuals who retire early and need to draw cash from their traditional IRAs to supplement other income.
Small business owners are well aware of the increasing cost of employee health care benefits. As a result, your business may be interested in providing some of these benefits through an employer-sponsored Health Savings Account (HSA). Or perhaps you already have an HSA. It’s a good time to review how these accounts work since the IRS recently announced the relevant inflation-adjusted amounts for 2021.
The Basics of HSAs
For eligible individuals, HSAs offer a tax-advantaged way to set aside funds (or have their employers do so) to meet future medical needs.
Owners of closely held corporations are often interested in easily withdrawing money from their businesses at the lowest possible tax cost. The simplest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient, since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” And it’s not deductible by the corporation.
Many people have Series EE savings bonds that were purchased many years ago. Perhaps they were given to your children as gifts or maybe you bought them yourself and put them away in a file cabinet or safe deposit box. You may wonder: How is the interest you earn on EE bonds taxed? And if they reach final maturity, what action do you need to take to ensure there’s no loss of interest or unanticipated tax consequences?
Fixed or Variable Interest
Series EE Bonds dated May 2005, and after, earn a fixed rate of interest. Bonds purchased between May 1997 and April 30, 2005, earn a variable market-based rate of return.
If you invest in mutual funds, be aware of some potential pitfalls involved in buying and selling shares.
You may already have made taxable “sales” of part of your mutual fund investment without knowing it.
When a couple is going through a divorce, taxes are probably not foremost in their minds. But without proper planning and advice, some people find divorce to be an even more taxing experience. 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. Here are four issues to understand if you’re in the midst of a divorce.
Issue 1: Alimony or Support Payments. For alimony under divorce or separation agreements that are executed after 2018, there’s no deduction for alimony and separation support payments for the spouse making them. And the alimony payments aren’t included in the gross income of the spouse receiving them. (The rules are different for divorce or separation agreements executed before 2019.)
If you recently launched a business, you may want to set up a tax-favored retirement plan for yourself and your employees. There are several types of qualified plans that are eligible for these tax advantages:
- A current deduction from income to the employer for contributions to the plan,
- Tax-free buildup of the value of plan investments, and
- The deferral of income (augmented by investment earnings) to employees until funds are distributed
There are two basic types of plans.
If you file a joint tax return with your spouse, you should be aware of your individual liability. And if you’re getting divorced, you should know that there may be relief available if the IRS comes after you for certain past-due taxes.
What’s “Joint and Several” Liability?
When a married couple files a joint tax return, each spouse is “jointly and severally” liable for the full tax amount on the couple’s combined income. That means the IRS can come after either spouse to collect the entire tax — not just the part that’s attributed to one spouse or the other. Liability includes any tax deficiency that the IRS assesses after an audit, as well as penalties and interest. (However, the civil fraud penalty can be imposed only on spouses who’ve actually committed fraud.)
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that existing home sales and prices are up nationwide, compared with last year. One of the reasons is the pandemic: “With the sizable shift in remote work, current homeowners are looking for larger homes…” according to NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.
If you’re buying a home, or you just bought one, you may wonder if you can deduct mortgage points paid on your behalf by the seller. Yes, you can, subject to some important limitations described below.
The business use of websites is widespread. But surprisingly, the IRS hasn’t yet issued formal guidance on when Internet website costs can be deducted.
Fortunately, established rules that generally apply to the deductibility of business costs, and IRS guidance that applies to software costs, provide business taxpayers launching a website with some guidance as to the proper treatment of the costs.