Educate yourself about the revised tax benefits for higher educationPosted on January 13th, 2021
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.
Deductions vs. credits
Before the new law, there were tax breaks available for qualified education expenses including the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
Tax credits are generally better than tax deductions. The difference? A tax deduction reduces your taxable income while a tax credit reduces the amount of taxes you owe on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
First, let’s look at the deduction
For 2020, the Tuition and Fees Deduction could be up to $4,000 at lower income levels or up to $2,000 at middle income levels. If your 2020 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) allows you to be eligible, you can claim the deduction whether you itemize or not. Here are the income thresholds:
- For 2020, a taxpayer with a MAGI of up to $65,000 ($130,000 for married filing jointly) could deduct qualified expenses up to $4,000.
- For 2020, a taxpayer with a MAGI between $65,001 and $80,000 ($130,001 and $160,000 for married filing jointly) could deduct up to $2,000.
- For 2020, the allowable 2020 deduction was phased out and was zero if your MAGI was more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married filing jointly).
As you’ll see below, the Tuition and Fees Deduction is not available after the 2020 tax year.
Two credits aligned
Before the new law, an unfavorable income phase-out rule applied to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can be worth up to $2,000 per tax return annually. For 2021 and beyond, the new law aligns the phase-out rule for the Lifetime Learning Credit with the more favorable phase-out rule for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can be worth up to $2,500 per student each year. The CAA also repeals the Tuition and Fees Deduction for 2021 and later years. Basically, the law trades the old-law write-off for the more favorable new-law Lifetime Learning Credit phase-out rule.
Under the CAA, both the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit are phased out for 2021 and beyond between a MAGI of $80,001 and $90,000 for unmarried individuals ($160,001 and $180,000 for married couples filing jointly). Before the new law, the Lifetime Learning Credit was phased out for 2020 between a MAGI of $59,001 and $69,000 for unmarried individuals ($118,001 and $138,000 married couples filing jointly).
Best for you
Talk with us about which of the two remaining education tax credits is the most beneficial in your situation. Each of them has its own requirements. There are also other education tax opportunities you may be able to take advantage of, including a Section 529 tuition plan and a Coverdell Education Savings Account.
Can your business benefit from the enhanced Employee Retention Tax Credit?Posted on January 13th, 2021
COVID-19 has shut down many businesses, causing widespread furloughs and layoffs. Fortunately, employers that keep workers on their payrolls are eligible for a refundable Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which was extended and enhanced in the latest law.
Background on the credit
The CARES Act, enacted in March of 2020, created the ERTC. The credit:
- Equaled 50% of qualified employee wages paid by an eligible employer in an applicable 2020 calendar quarter,
- Was subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee, and
- Was available to eligible large and small employers.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, enacted December 27, 2020, extends and greatly enhances the ERTC. Under the CARES Act rules, the credit only covered wages paid between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020. The new law now extends the covered wage period to include the first two calendar quarters of 2021, ending on June 30, 2021.
In addition, for the first two quarters of 2021 ending on June 30, the new law increases the overall covered wage ceiling to 70% of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus 50% under the CARES Act). And it increases the per-employee covered wage ceiling to $10,000 of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus a $10,000 annual ceiling under the original rules).
Interaction with the PPP
In a change retroactive to March 12, 2020, the new law also stipulates that the employee retention credit can be claimed for qualified wages paid with proceeds from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that aren’t forgiven.
What’s more, the new law liberalizes an eligibility rule. Specifically, it expands eligibility for the credit by reducing the required year-over-year gross receipts decline from 50% to 20% and provides a safe harbor allowing employers to use prior quarter gross receipts to determine eligibility.
We can help
These are just some of the changes made to the ERTC, which rewards employers that can afford to keep workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis. Contact us for more information about this tax saving opportunity.
New law doubles business meal deductions and makes favorable PPP loan changesPosted on January 7th, 2021
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.
As background, ordinary and necessary food and beverage expenses that are incurred while operating your business are generally deductible. However, for 2020 and earlier years, the deduction is limited to 50% of the allowable expenses.
The new legislation adds an exception to the 50% limit for expenses of food or beverages provided by a restaurant. This rule applies to expenses paid or incurred in calendar years 2021 and 2022.
The use of the word “by” (rather than “in”) a restaurant clarifies that the new tax break isn’t limited to meals eaten on a restaurant’s premises. Takeout and delivery meals from a restaurant are also 100% deductible.
Note: Other than lifting the 50% limit for restaurant meals, the legislation doesn’t change the rules for business meal deductions. All the other existing requirements continue to apply when you dine with current or prospective customers, clients, suppliers, employees, partners and professional advisors with whom you deal with (or could engage with) in your business.
Therefore, to be deductible:
- The food and beverages can’t be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances, and
- You or one of your employees must be present when the food or beverages are served.
If food or beverages are provided at an entertainment activity (such as a sporting event or theater performance), either they must be purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost must be stated on a separate bill, invoice or receipt. This is required because the entertainment, unlike the food and beverages, is nondeductible.
The new law authorizes more money towards the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and extends it to March 31, 2021. There are a couple of tax implications for employers that received PPP loans:
- Clarifications of tax consequences of PPP loan forgiveness. The law clarifies that the non-taxable treatment of PPP loan forgiveness that was provided by the 2020 CARES Act also applies to certain other forgiven obligations. Also, the law makes clear that taxpayers, whose PPP loans or other obligations are forgiven, are allowed deductions for otherwise deductible expenses paid with the proceeds. In addition, the tax basis and other attributes of the borrower’s assets won’t be reduced as a result of the forgiveness.
- Waiver of information reporting for PPP loan forgiveness. Under the CAA, the IRS is allowed to waive information reporting requirements for any amount excluded from income under the exclusion-from-income rule for forgiveness of PPP loans or other specified obligations. (The IRS had already waived information returns and payee statements for loans that were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration).
These are just a couple of the provisions in the new law that are favorable to businesses. The CAA also provides extensions and modifications to earlier payroll tax relief, allows changes to employee benefit plans, includes disaster relief and much more. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
The COVID-19 relief law: What’s in it for you?Posted on January 7th, 2021
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.
The credit payment amount is phased out at a rate of $5 per $100 of additional income starting at $150,000 of modified adjusted gross income for marrieds filing jointly and surviving spouses, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for single taxpayers.
Medical expense tax deduction
The law makes permanent the 7.5%-of-adjusted-gross-income threshold on medical expense deductions, which was scheduled to increase to 10% of adjusted gross income in 2021. The lower threshold will make it easier to qualify for the medical expense deduction.
Charitable deduction for non-itemizers
For 2020, individuals who don’t itemize their deductions can take up to a $300 deduction per tax return for cash contributions to qualified charitable organizations. The new law extends this $300 deduction through 2021 for individuals and increases it to $600 for married couples filing jointly. Taxpayers who overstate their contributions when claiming this deduction are subject to a 50% penalty (previously it was 20%).
Allowance of charitable contributions
In response to the pandemic, the limit on cash charitable contributions by an individual in 2020 was increased to 100% of the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI). (The usual limit is 60% of adjusted gross income.) The new law extends this rule through 2021.
Energy tax credit
A credit of up to $500 is available for purchases of qualifying energy improvements made to a taxpayer’s main home. However, the $500 maximum allowance must be reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. The law extends this credit, which was due to expire at the end of 2020, through 2021.
Other energy-efficient provisions
There are a few other energy-related provisions in the new law. For example, the tax credit for a qualified fuel cell motor vehicle and the two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicle were scheduled to expire in 2020 but have been extended through the end of 2021.
There’s also a valuable tax credit for qualifying solar energy equipment expenditures for your home. For equipment placed in service in 2020, the credit rate is 26%. The rate was scheduled to drop to 22% for equipment placed in service in 2021 before being eliminated for 2022 and beyond.
Under the new law, the 26% credit rate is extended to cover equipment placed in service in 2021 and 2022 and the law also extends the 22% rate to cover equipment placed in service in 2023. For 2024 and beyond, the credit is scheduled to vanish.
Maximize tax breaks
These are only a few tax breaks contained in the massive new law. We’ll make sure that you claim all the tax breaks you’re entitled to when we prepare your tax return.
The right entity choice: Should you convert from a C to an S corporation?Posted on December 30th, 2020
The best choice of entity can affect your business in several ways, including the amount of your tax bill. In some cases, businesses decide to switch from one entity type to another. Although S corporations can provide substantial tax benefits over C corporations in some circumstances, there are potentially costly tax issues that you should assess before making the decision to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation.
Here are four issues to consider:
1. LIFO inventories. C corporations that use last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventories must pay tax on the benefits they derived by using LIFO if they convert to S corporations. The tax can be spread over four years. This cost must be weighed against the potential tax gains from converting to S status.
2. Built-in gains tax. Although S corporations generally aren’t subject to tax, those that were formerly C corporations are taxed on built-in gains (such as appreciated property) that the C corporation has when the S election becomes effective, if those gains are recognized within five years after the conversion. This is generally unfavorable, although there are situations where the S election still can produce a better tax result despite the built-in gains tax.
3. Passive income. S corporations that were formerly C corporations are subject to a special tax. It kicks in if their passive investment income (including dividends, interest, rents, royalties, and stock sale gains) exceeds 25% of their gross receipts, and the S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits carried over from its C corporation years. If that tax is owed for three consecutive years, the corporation’s election to be an S corporation terminates. You can avoid the tax by distributing the accumulated earnings and profits, which would be taxable to shareholders. Or you might want to avoid the tax by limiting the amount of passive income.
4. Unused losses. If your C corporation has unused net operating losses, they can’t be used to offset its income as an S corporation and can’t be passed through to shareholders. If the losses can’t be carried back to an earlier C corporation year, it will be necessary to weigh the cost of giving up the losses against the tax savings expected to be generated by the switch to S status.
When a business switches from C to S status, these are only some of the factors to consider. For example, shareholder-employees of S corporations can’t get all of the tax-free fringe benefits that are available with a C corporation. And there may be issues for shareholders who have outstanding loans from their qualified plans. These factors have to be taken into account in order to understand the implications of converting from C to S status.
If you’re interested in an entity conversion, contact us. We can explain what your options are, how they’ll affect your tax bill and some possible strategies you can use to minimize taxes.
Your taxpayer filing status: You may be eligible to use more than onePosted on December 30th, 2020
When it comes to taxes, December 31 is more than just New Year’s Eve. That date will affect the filing status box that will be checked on your 2020 tax return. When filing a return, you do so with one of five tax filing statuses. In part, they depend on whether you’re married or unmarried on December 31.
More than one filing status may apply, and you can use the one that saves the most tax. It’s also possible that your status could change during the year.
Here are the filing statuses and who can claim them:
- Single. This is generally used if you’re unmarried, divorced or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree governed by state law.
- Married filing jointly. If you’re married, you can file a joint tax return with your spouse. If your spouse passes away, you can generally file a joint return for that year.
- Married filing separately. As an alternative to filing jointly, married couples can choose to file separate tax returns. In some cases, this may result in less tax owed.
- Head of household. Certain unmarried taxpayers may qualify to use this status and potentially pay less tax. Special requirements are described below.
- Qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child. This may be used if your spouse died during one of the previous two years and you have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.
How to qualify as “head of household”
In general, head of household status is more favorable than filing as a single taxpayer. To qualify, you must “maintain a household” that, for more than half the year, is the principal home of a “qualifying child” or other relative that you can claim as your dependent.
A “qualifying child” is defined as one who:
- Lives in your home for more than half the year,
- Is your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, stepsibling or a descendant of any of these,
- Is under 19 years old or under age 24 if enrolled as a student, and
- Doesn’t provide over half of his or her own support for the year.
If a child’s parents are divorced, different rules may apply. Also, a child isn’t eligible to be a “qualifying child” if he or she is married and files a joint tax return or isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident.
There are other head of household requirements. You’re considered to maintain a household if you live in it for the tax year and pay more than half the cost. This includes property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, property insurance, repairs, upkeep, and food consumed in the home. Don’t include medical care, clothing, education, life insurance or transportation.
Under a special rule, you can qualify as head of household if you maintain a home for a parent even if you don’t live with him or her. To qualify, you must claim the parent as your dependent.
Determining marital status
You must generally be unmarried to claim head of household status. If you’re married, you must generally file as either married filing jointly or married filing separately — not as head of household. However, if you’ve lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year, a qualifying child lives with you and you “maintain” the household, you’re treated as unmarried. In this case, you may qualify as head of household.
Contact us if you have questions about your filing status. Or ask us when we prepare your return.
2021 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employersPosted on December 23rd, 2020
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2021. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
- Pay the final installment of 2020 estimated tax.
- Farmers and fishermen: Pay estimated tax for 2020.
February 1 (The usual deadline of January 31 is a Sunday)
- File 2020 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
- Provide copies of 2020 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
- File 2020 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
- File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2020. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
- File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2020. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944, “Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
- File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2020 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
March 1 (The usual deadline of February 28 is a Sunday)
- File 2020 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if: 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is March 31.)
- If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2020 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2020 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
The next estimated tax deadline is January 15 if you have to make a paymentPosted on December 23rd, 2020
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.
In general, you must make estimated tax payments for 2020 if both of these statements apply:
- You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding and credits, and
- You expect withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90% of your tax for 2020 or 100% of the tax on your 2019 return — 110% if your 2019 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 for married couples filing separately).
If you’re a sole proprietor, partner or S corporation shareholder, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when you file your return.
Quarterly due dates
Estimated tax payments are spread out through the year. The due dates are April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year. However, if the date falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is the next business day.
Estimated tax is calculated by factoring in expected gross income, taxable income, deductions and credits for the year. The easiest way to pay estimated tax is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay estimated tax by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher or by credit or debit card.
Most individuals make estimated tax payments in four installments. In other words, you can determine the required annual payment, divide the number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates. But you may be able to make smaller payments under an “annualized income method.” This can be useful to people whose income isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because of a seasonal business. You may also want to use the annualized income method if a large portion of your income comes from capital gains on the sale of securities that you sell at various times during the year.
Determining the correct amount
Contact us if you think you may be eligible to determine your estimated tax payments under the annualized income method, or you have any other questions about how the estimated tax rules apply to you.
The QBI deduction basics and a year-end tax tip that might help you qualifyPosted on December 9th, 2020
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.
Taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their QBI. For 2020, if taxable income exceeds $163,300 for single taxpayers, or $326,600 for a married couple filing jointly, the QBI deduction may be limited based on different scenarios. These include whether the taxpayer is engaged in a service-type of trade or business (such as law, accounting, health, or consulting), the amount of W-2 wages paid by the trade or business, and/or the unadjusted basis of qualified property (such as machinery and equipment) held by the trade or business.
The limitations are phased in. For example, the phase-in for 2020 applies to single filers with taxable income between $163,300 and $213,300 and joint filers with taxable income between $326,600 and $426,600.
For tax years beginning in 2021, the inflation-adjusted threshold amounts will be $164,900 for single taxpayers, and $329,800 for married couples filing jointly.
Year-end planning tip
Some taxpayers may be able to achieve significant savings with respect to this deduction, by deferring income or accelerating deductions at year end so that they come under the dollar thresholds (or be subject to a smaller phaseout of the deduction) for 2020. Depending on your business model, you also may be able to increase the deduction by increasing W-2 wages before year end. The rules are quite complex, so contact us with questions and consult with us before taking steps.
Maximize your 401(k) plan to save for retirementPosted on December 9th, 2020
Contributing to a tax-advantaged retirement plan can help you reduce taxes and save for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or Roth 401(k) plan, contributing to it is a smart way to build a substantial sum of money.
If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions can have a major impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.
With a 401(k), an employee makes an election 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 2020 is $19,500. Employees age 50 or older by year end are also permitted to make additional “catch-up” contributions of $6,500, for a total limit of $26,000 in 2020.
The IRS recently announced that the 401(k) contribution limits for 2021 will remain the same as for 2020.
If you contribute to a traditional 401(k)
A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits, including:
- Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
- Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
- Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.
If you already have a 401(k) plan, take a look at your contributions. Try to increase your contribution rate to get as close to the $19,500 limit (with an extra $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older) as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pretax — so, income tax isn’t withheld.
If you contribute to a Roth 401(k)
Employers may also include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your employer offers this, you can designate some or all of your contributions as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.
Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. Your ability to make a Roth IRA contribution for 2021 will be reduced if your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2021 exceeds:
- $198,000 (up from $196,000 for 2020) for married joint-filing couples, or
- $125,000 (up from $124,000 for 2020) for single taxpayers.
Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA in 2021 will be eliminated entirely if you’re a married joint filer and your 2021 AGI equals or exceeds $208,000 (up from $206,000 for 2020). The 2021 cutoff for single filers is $140,000 or more (up from $139,000 for 2020).
The best mix
Contact us if you have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth 401(k) contributions. We can discuss the tax and retirement-saving strategies in your situation.