Tax planning while laws are still changing – turn it on its head?

Many of the expected tax law changes have not materialized, but legislation remains in flux.  This means we plan year-end moves while we continue to monitor new legislation.  It is safe to bet that income tax rates will rise over the next several years.  This may mean putting year-end tax planning on its head, where you increase taxable income for 2021.  The goal is to lessen income ultimately taxed in future years.  However, you may not want to delay taking deductions until 2022 (so planning not completely on its head?)  For the standard approach, see our 2020 year-end post.

  • Roth Conversion – One way to increase income now, avoiding future income, is to convert part of an IRA to a Roth IRA, converting from taxable to non-taxable distributions in the future.  Decide on the amount to convert by projecting the impact of the conversion on your marginal tax rate.  Converting to a Roth also saves you from required minimum distributions, RMDs, in future years (but non-spouse beneficiaries still face the 10-year limit from the SECURE Act on IRA distributions). 
  • Back-Door Roth – Along with converting, the “back-door Roth” is still available, at least for 2021, so you can put more retirement funds aside with no tax on future distributions.  That is, for those who cannot contribute to a Roth due to income limits, they can contribute to a non-deductible IRA and then convert that IRA to a Roth IRA. 
  • More income – Other ways to increase income for 2021 include billing more for your S Corp., LLC or partnership in 2021, exercising stock options, and selling ESPP shares. 
  • Capital gains – You probably do not want to accelerate capital gains, as those should still be tax at a lower rate in future years. 

On to other considerations: first, SALT deductions

The limit on state and local taxes, or SALT, may increase from $10,000 to $80,000.  Also, a number of states have created pass-through entity elections so that the S Corp., LLC or partnership pays the tax and deducts against the income of the shareholder/member/partner.  This way, their net federal taxable income is reduced, and they get a credit for the payment on their personal tax returns. 

The SALT changes may affect your itemized deduction strategy if you are bunching.  

Check the details

  • Declare Crypto – If you had any crypto currency transactions during the year, selling, buying or receiving, be sure to declare on your federal 1040 filing.
  • Unemployment tax – Remember, unemployment benefits are fully taxable for 2021, so be sure you withheld taxes or paid estimates. 
  • Charities – If you cannot itemize, you still get up to $300 as an above the line charitable deduction, and up to $600 for a married couple. 
  • Child credits – There are changes in the credits for children and dependent care.  Let us know if you have questions on the benefits and strategies for maximizing.
  • Kiddie tax – The so-called kiddie tax has been restored to pre-TCJA terms, so you may want to review filings for the last two years.  
  • Address change – You will want to file form 8822B to indicate the change of address if your corporation, LLC or partnership moves.  On that form, you can also change the responsible party so that the IRS knows whom to contact – this is quite important if you sell your business!
  • IT PIN – If you are concerned about identity theft, consider obtaining an IT PIN as discussed in our post on IRS scams.  
  • Flex and retirement accounts – Check to see if you have any flex account balances that expire; contribute the maximum to your qualified plans; and setup a new qualified plan if you have a new business. 

Before you finish, check withholdings and estimates paid

Especially if you increase income in 2021, review your total paid to the IRS and state via withholdings and estimates make sure that you meet the safe harbor rules.  If not, you could owe interest for under-withholding.

IRS disaster relief 

Have you received a penalty notice from the IRS?  The Pandemic was declared a federal disaster.  This means it may provide an exemption to the penalties if you can show that you suffered from the Pandemic. 

And remember your estate plan review

While you review your taxes, review your estate plan as well.  The federal gift and estate tax credit  is close to $12 million for 2021, but that may change in 2022.  So, if you have excess wealth, you may want to gift while you can, especially if you want to use certain trusts, like a GRAT or QPRT, that may no longer be permitted in future years.  For more on estate planning updates, see our estate planning checkup post

  • If you do review your estate plan documents, also review beneficiary designations and asset ownership to make sure everything is current and flows correctly. 

Summary

As you review your 2021-2022 tax planning, consider the impact of future tax rate increases: will bring future income into 2021 avoid taxes on future income?  Then follow through on the details. 

Let us know if you have any questions. 

Good luck and best wishes for happy and healthy holidays!

How not to fall for Phishy IRS calls and other Scams

These days, nearly all of us get calls, e-mails and text messages trying to gain access to our finances.  You have probably seen or heard of the call “from Amazon” about a new iPhone order, the call “from Social Security” indicating that your number has been suspended, which requires your immediate action with someone on the phone, the e-mail with a “voicemail message” attached for you to click on to hear, and the e-mail with an “invoice” for you to approve.  There are many more forms and styles, and more keep coming.

This post focuses on the calls purporting to be from the IRS, and the purpose of this post is to help make you more wary so you do not fall victim to any of these scams. 

The IRS recently posted its dirty dozen for 2021, a list of scams that focuses on Pandemic-related scams, like unemployment claims, but also fake charities, urgently seeking donations, and offer in compromise scams, claiming to have ways to reduce your taxes owed.  There are other scams that target elderly or people for whom English is a second language.  And some scams offer to file conservation easements and improper business credit claims for you.   

Calls “from the IRS”

The call insisting that you owe the IRS and need to pay is a scan that has been around for some time.  The IRS website, and the recorded message when you are on hold contacting the IRS, says:

  • The IRS won’t initiate contact by phone, email, text or social media asking for Social Security numbers or other personal or financial information. 
  • The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes.
  • The IRS may attempt to reach individuals by telephone but will not insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order or wire transfer.
  • The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text or social media.

Furthermore, the IRS will ask you to confirm your identity before discussing any tax matters with you. 

Protect your tax filings

To help insure that no one can file under your social security number, the IRS suggests obtaining an ID PIN for filing your tax returns.  The PIN is now available to all taxpayers; you include it when you file your tax returns so that the IRS can verify that it is you filing.  This prevents others from filing bogus refund claims under your social security number. 

You can also include your driver’s license when filing, so the IRS and state revenue departments can verify that it is you filing, not an imposter. 

Be Vigilant

To protect your finances, you need to be vigilant.  Before you answer the phone, what does the caller ID say?  Is it a legit company or “unknown”?  Before you respond to an e-mail, does the address look like a real customer service company site or something random?  Is the grammar or content in the call or message off?  If it seems off, it probably is. 

Usually, you can find safe and easy ways to confirm the information in question by placing your own call or logging onto the related website online, rather than responding directly. 

The IRS recommends setting up multi-factor identification to access your financial information.   The IRS suggests more steps here:

  • Using anti-virus software and set it for automatic updates. Anti-virus software scans existing files and drives on computers – and mobile phones – to protect from malware.
  • Using a firewall to shield digital devices from external attacks.
  • Using backup software/services to protect data. Making a copy of files can be crucial, especially if the user becomes a victim of a ransomware attack.
  • Using drive encryption to secure computer locations where sensitive files are stored.  Encryption makes data on the files unreadable to unauthorized users.
  • Creating and securing Virtual Private Networks. A VPN provides a secure, encrypted tunnel to transmit data between a remote user via the Internet and the company network. Search for “Best VPNs” to find a legitimate vendor; major technology sites often provide lists of top services.

Conclusion

If something smells “phishy,” it probably is.  So be cautious, even suspicious of interaction asking for personal and financial information.  Set up two-factor verification and an IRS PIN.  And let me know if you have questions or concerns.  I will try to help.

Estate planning checkup: why you don’t, why you should

Why you don’t:

We have written previously stressing the need to have an estate plan, so you do not leave a mess, and why you may need life insurance to protect others.  Few people will disagree with the need to have a current plan and to provide for survivors, but not everyone acts.  

So, why is it that people fail to take action?  Rick Kahler wrote recently about Overcoming Client Procrastination with Financial Planning.  In his post, he lists factors that cause people to put off action that agree is important to address: 

  1. Avoidance.  Feelings of self-doubt, fear of pain or anxiety around the task, depression, fear of asking for help, lack of trust.
  2. Perfectionism.  Fear of failure, fear of being criticized (both externally by others and – often more powerfully – internally by parts of yourself).
  3. Ambiguity.  Lack of clarity about the task, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty prioritizing in the absence of a crises, being focused on immediate tasks.
  4. Narcissism.  Over-confidence in getting it done at the last minute. Needing chaos or pressure to provide adrenaline, the ability to focus to the exclusion of everything else, and a feeling of being fully alive.
  5. Physical Issues.  Fatigue, illness.
  6. Lack of knowledge.  Not knowing what you don’t know, unsure how to get needed help and information.
  7. Financial.  Not having the funds to take the necessary action.   

Do any of these apply to you?  If so, we can help so please contact us. 

Why you should:

One reason to review your estate plan is that the Biden administration may seek changes to the estate and income tax laws; you want to make sure your documents have the flexibility to address these changes.  The current federal gift and estate tax credit is close to $12 million.  However, it is scheduled to drop to between $5.5 and $6 million in 2025 and the administration may push for a lower credit to be imposed sooner.  Also, the administration may try to eliminate the step-up in basis at death.  We will continue to monitor any proposed law changes and post updates. 

There are other tax law changes to address, such as the elimination of the “stretch IRA.”  You may need to revise your beneficiaries.  Also, you will want your executor or personal representative to elect portability of your federal credit to minimize taxes and may want your documents to address the generation skipping transfer tax credit.

Another reason to act is to provide for your digital assets, something old documents may not address.  For example, you can give your attorney-in-fact under your durable power of attorney access to your digital assets and you can assign your digital assets to your revocable trust so your trustee has access.  Digital assets include e-mail and text messages, photographs, videos and other files on your computer, on-line accounts such as your investments and social media, or even intellectual property and patent rights.  You may also have collectibles that need to be addressed,

Another reason to act is to ensure that someone knows how to access all your passwords if something happens to you.  Create your own “Rosetta Stone,” a document telling them how to access your digital life, with IDs and passwords, and then make sure an immediate family member or close friend knows where to find it.  This way, they can locate all your important documents, find assets and insurance, and handle your social media if something happens.  You may also want to provide a memorandum to your personal representatives and trustees detailing your wishes, including thoughts on when to distribute to children, protecting from creditors, and even burial or cremation.

If you to take the time now to review and update your plan, be sure:

  • that you have documents that are in order,
  • that the documents are correctly executed,
  • that you provided adequate resources for survivors, including life insurance, and
  • that your beneficiary designations and asset ownership all coordinate with your documents.

When you do, you will have improved matters for you and your family! 

Contact our office if you have any questions or comments. And be well!

Some relief in the Pandemic

News from the IRS on deducting PPE in the Pandemic:

Face masks and other personal protective equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are tax deductible

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service issued Announcement 2021-7 today clarifying that the purchase of personal protective equipment, such as masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, for the primary purpose of preventing the spread of coronavirus are deductible medical expenses.

The amounts paid for personal protective equipment are also eligible to be paid or reimbursed under health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs), Archer medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), or health savings accounts (HSAs).

For more information on determining what is deductible, see Can I Deduct My Medical and Dental Expenses? and Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses.

Some IRS suggestions on 2020 tax filings

Here is a good news release from the IRS site worth reviewing

Important reminders before filing 2020 tax returns

WASHINGTON — Following an unpredictable year with many changes and challenges, the Internal Revenue Service today shared important reminders for taxpayers who are about to file their 2020 federal tax returns.

Choose direct deposit
The safest, most accurate and fastest way to get a refund is to electronically file and choose direct deposit. Direct deposit means any tax refund is electronically deposited for free into a taxpayer’s financial account.

Eight out of 10 taxpayers get their refunds by using direct deposit. It is simple, safe and secure. This is the same electronic transfer system used to deposit nearly 98% of all Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits into millions of accounts.

Earned Income Tax Credit 
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) can give qualifying workers with low-to-moderate income a substantial financial boost. EITC not only reduces the amount of tax someone owes but may give them a refund even if they don’t owe any taxes or aren’t required to file a return.

People must meet certain requirements and file a federal tax return in order to receive this credit. The EITC assistant on IRS.gov can help people determine if they qualify.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that they may elect to use their 2019 earned income to figure the EITC if their 2019 earned income is more than their 2020 earned income. For details, see Publication 596, Earned Income Credit. Taxpayers also have the option of using their 2019 income to figure the Additional Child Tax Credit for 2020.

Taxable unemployment compensation
Millions of Americans received unemployment compensation in 2020, many of them for the first time. This compensation is taxable and must be included as gross income on their tax return.

Taxpayers can elect to have federal taxes withheld from their unemployment benefits or make estimated tax payments, but many do not take these options. In that case, taxes on those benefits will be paid when the 2020 tax return is filed. Taxes can be paid throughout the year. For safe and secure ways to pay taxes electronically go to IRS.gov/payments.
 
Taxpayers can find more details on taxable unemployment compensation in Tax Topic 418, Unemployment Compensation, or in Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, on IRS.gov.

Interest is taxable income
Many individual taxpayers who received a refund on their 2019 tax returns also received interest from the IRS. The interest payments were largely the result of the postponed filing deadline of July 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 refund interest payments are taxable, and taxpayers must report the interest on their 2020 federal income tax return.

The IRS will send a Form 1099-INT to anyone who receives interest totaling at least $10. The average refund interest amount is $18, but the amount for each taxpayer varies based on the tax refund that the taxpayer received. Form 1099-INT will be issued no later than Feb. 1, 2021.

Home office deduction 
The home office deduction is available to qualifying self-employed taxpayers, independent contractors and those working in the gig economy.

However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the business-use-of-home deduction from 2018 through 2025 for employees. Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home. IRS Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, provides more on the home office deduction.

Workers moving into the gig economy
Many people found different employment in 2020, including jobs in the gig economy. Taxpayers must report income earned in the gig economy on their tax return. However, gig-economy workers generally do not have taxes withheld from their pay as salaried workers normally do. The IRS encourages people earning income in the gig economy to consider making quarterly estimated tax payments to stay current with their federal tax obligations.

Charitable donation deduction for people who don’t itemize
Individuals who take the standard deduction generally cannot claim a deduction for their charitable contributions. However, the CARES Act permits these individuals to claim a limited deduction on their 2020 federal income tax returns for cash contributions made to certain qualifying charitable organizations and still claim the standard deduction. Nearly nine in 10 taxpayers now take the standard deduction and could potentially qualify.

Before making a donation, the IRS reminds people they can check the special Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) tool on IRS.gov to make sure the organization is eligible for tax-deductible donations.

Under this change, individuals can claim a deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made to qualifying charities during 2020. This deduction does not apply to donated property. The maximum deduction is $150 for married individuals filing separate returns. More information is available in Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, on IRS.gov.

Disasters such as wildfires, flooding or hurricanes 
Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. Some 2020 tax deadlines in certain counties have been extended into 2021 due to recent wildfires, hurricanes or flooding.