Archive for Individual Taxes

The IRS announced it opened the 2023 individual income tax return filing season on January 23. That’s when the agency began accepting and processing 2022 tax year returns. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the mid-April deadline (or you file for an extension), consider filing earlier this year. The reason is you can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft.

Here are some answers to questions taxpayers may have about filing.

How can your tax identity be stolen?

In a typical tax identity theft scam, 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 actual taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is told by the IRS that the return is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. Ultimately, the taxpayer should be able to prove that his or her return is the legitimate one, but tax identity theft can be time consuming and frustrating to straighten out. It can also delay a refund.

Your best defense may be to file early. Why? If you file first, the tax return filed by a potential thief will be rejected.

What are this year’s deadlines?

This year, the filing deadline to submit 2022 returns or file an extension is Tuesday, April 18 for most taxpayers. The due date is April 18, instead of April 15, because the 15th falls on a weekend and the District of Columbia’s Emancipation Day holiday falls on Monday, April 17.

If you’re requesting an extension, you’ll have until October 16, 2023, to file. Keep in mind that an extension of time to file your return doesn’t grant you any extension of time to pay your taxes. You should estimate and pay any taxes owed by the regular deadline to help avoid penalties.

When will your W-2s and 1099s arrive?

To file your tax return, you need all of your Form W-2s and 1099s. January 31 is the deadline for employers to issue 2022 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099s to recipients of any 2022 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors).

If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by February 1, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, ask us how to proceed.

Are there any other advantages to filing early? 

In addition to protecting yourself from tax identity theft, another advantage of early filing is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get it sooner. The IRS expects most refunds to be issued within 21 days. The time may be shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account.

Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen, returned to the IRS as undeliverable or caught in mail delays.

Need assistance?

If you have questions or would like an appointment to prepare your return, please contact us. We can help ensure you file an accurate return and receive all of the tax breaks to which you’re entitled.

© 2023

If you have a child or grandchild in college — congratulations! To help pay for the expenses, many parents and grandparents saved for years in tax-favored accounts, such as 529 plans. But there are also a number of tax breaks that you may be able to claim once your child begins attending college or post-secondary school.

Tuition tax credits 

You can take the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) of up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of college — a 100% credit for the first $2,000 in tuition, fees, and books, and a 25% credit for the second $2,000. You can take a Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) of up to $2,000 per family for every additional year of college or graduate school — a 20% credit for up to $10,000 in tuition and fees.

The AOTC is 40% refundable up to $1,000 (meaning you can get a refund if the credit amount is greater than your tax liability). Both credits are phased out for married couples filing jointly with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) between $160,000 and $180,000, and for singles with MAGI between $80,000 and $90,000.

Only one credit can be claimed per eligible student in any given year. To claim the education tax credits, a taxpayer must receive a Form 1098-T statement from the school. Other rules may apply.

Scholarships 

Scholarships are exempt from income tax if certain conditions are satisfied. The most important is that the scholarship generally can’t be compensation for services, and it must be used for tuition, fees, books and supplies (not for room and board).

However, a tax-free scholarship reduces the amount of expenses that may be taken into account in computing the AOTC and LLC and may reduce or eliminate those credits.

Employer educational assistance

If your employer pays your child’s college expenses, the payment is a fringe benefit, and is taxable to you as compensation, unless it’s part of a scholarship program that’s “outside of the pattern of employment.” Then, the payment will be treated as a scholarship (if the requirements for scholarships are satisfied).

Tuition payments by grandparents and others 

If someone gives you money to pay your child’s college expenses, the person is generally subject to gift tax, to the extent the payments exceed the annual exclusion of $17,000 per recipient for 2023. Married donors who split gifts may exclude gifts of up to $34,000 for 2023.

However, if the person (say, a grandparent) pays your child’s tuition directly to an educational institution, there’s an unlimited exclusion from gift tax for the payment. This unlimited gift tax exclusion applies only to direct tuition costs (not room and board, books, supplies, etc.).

Retirement account withdrawals 

You can take money out of your IRA or Roth IRA any time to pay college costs without incurring the 10% early withdrawal penalty that usually applies to distributions before age 59½. However, the distributions are subject to tax under the usual IRA rules.

You also may be able to borrow against your employer retirement plan or take withdrawals from it to pay for college. But before you do so, make sure you understand the tax implications, including any penalties that you may incur.

Plan ahead

Not all of the above breaks may be used in the same year, and some of them reduce the amounts that qualify for other breaks. So it takes planning to determine which should be used in any given situation. Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of the above options, or other alternatives.

© 2023

Tax-wise ways to save for college

If you’re a parent or grandparent with college-bound children, you may want to save to fund future education costs. Here are several approaches to take maximum advantage of the tax-favored ways to save that may be available to you.

Savings bonds 

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

  1. You don’t have to report the interest on the bonds for federal tax purposes until the bonds are cashed in, and
  2. Interest on “qualified” Series EE (and Series I) bonds may be exempt from federal tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified college expenses.

To qualify for the college tax exemption, you must purchase the bonds in your own name (not the child’s) or jointly with your spouse. The proceeds must be used for tuition, fees, etc. — not room and board. If only some proceeds are used for qualified expenses, only that part of the interest is exempt.

If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds certain amounts, the exemption is phased out. For bonds cashed in 2023, the exemption begins to phase out when joint MAGI hits $137,800 for married joint filers ($91,850 for other returns) and is completely phased out if MAGI is $167,800 or more for joint filers ($106,850 or more for others).

Qualified tuition programs or 529 plans 

Typically known as a “529 plans,” these programs allow you to buy tuition credits or make contributions to an account set up to meet a child’s future higher education expenses. 529 plans are established by state governments or private institutions.

Contributions aren’t deductible and are treated as taxable gifts to the child. But they’re eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($17,000 in 2023). 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.

Earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free until the 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,” which can include up to $10,000 in tuition for an elementary or secondary school. Distributions of earnings that aren’t used for “qualified higher education expenses” are generally subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty.

Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)

You can establish a Coverdell ESA and make contributions of up to $2,000 for each child under age 18. This age limitation doesn’t apply to beneficiaries with special needs.

The right to make contributions begins to phase out once AGI is over $190,000 on a joint return ($95,000 for single taxpayers). If the income limit is an issue, the child can make a contribution to his or her own account.

Although contributions aren’t deductible, income in the account isn’t taxed, and distributions are tax-free if spent on qualified education expenses. If the child doesn’t attend college, the money must be withdrawn when the child turns 30 and any earnings will be subject to tax plus a penalty. However, unused funds can be transferred tax-free to a Coverdell ESA of another member of the family who hasn’t reached age 30. The age 30 requirement doesn’t apply to individuals with special needs.

We can help

These are just some of the tax-favored ways to save a college fund for your children. In a future article, we’ll discuss possible tax breaks once your child is already in college. Contact us if you wish to discuss these issues.

© 2023

SECURE 2.0 law may make you more secure in retirement

A new law was recently signed that will help Americans save more for retirement, although many of the provisions don’t kick in for a few years. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement 2.0 Act (SECURE 2.0) was signed into law on December 29, 2022.

SECURE 2.0 is meant to build on the original SECURE Act of 2019, which made major changes to the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules and other retirement provisions.

Here are some of the significant retirement plan changes and when they’ll become effective:

  • The age for beginning RMDs is going up. Employer-sponsored qualified retirement plans, traditional IRAs and individual retirement annuities are subject to RMD rules. They require that benefits start being distributed by the required beginning date. Under the new law, the age distributions must begin increases from age 72 to age 73 starting on January 1, 2023. It will then increase to age 75 starting on January 1, 2033.
  • There will be higher “catch-up” contributions for 401(k) participants ages 60 through 63. Currently, participants in certain retirement plans can make additional catch-up contributions if they’re age 50 or older. The limit on catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans is $7,500 for 2023. SECURE 2.0 will increase the 401(k) plan catch-up contribution limits for individuals ages 60 through 63 to the greater of $10,000 or 150% of the regular catch-up amount. The increased amounts will be indexed for inflation after 2025. This provision will take effect for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2024. (There will also be increased catch-up amounts for SIMPLE plans.)
  • Tax-free rollovers will be allowed from 529 accounts to Roth IRAs. SECURE 2.0 will permit beneficiaries of 529 college savings accounts to make direct trustee-to-trustee rollovers from a 529 accounts in their names to their Roth IRAs without tax or penalty. Several rules apply. This provision is effective for distributions after December 31, 2023.
  • “Matching” contributions will be permitted for employees with student loan debt. The new law will allow an employer to make matching contributions to 401(k) and certain other retirement plans with respect to “qualified student loan payments.” The result of this provision is that employees who can’t afford to save money for retirement because they’re repaying student loan debt can still receive matching contributions from their employers into retirement plans. This will take effect beginning after December 31, 2023.

Non-retirement plan provision

There are also some parts of the law that aren’t related to retirement plans, including a change to Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts. Tax-exempt ABLE programs are established by states to assist individuals with disabilities. Currently, in order to be the beneficiary of an ABLE account, an individual’s disability or blindness must have occurred before age 26. SECURE 2.0 increases this age limit to 46, which will make more people eligible to benefit from an ABLE account. This provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2025.

Just the beginning

These are only some of the many provisions in SECURE 2.0. Contact us if you have any questions about your situation.

© 2023

Renting to a relative? Watch out for tax traps

If you own a home and rent it to a relative, you may be surprised to find out there could be tax consequences.

Quick rundown of the rules

Renting out a home or apartment that you own may result in a tax loss for you, even if the rental income is more than your operating costs. You’ll be entitled to a depreciation deduction for your cost of the house or apartment (except for the portion allocated to the land). However, if your tenant is related to you, special rules and limitations may apply. For this purpose, “related” means a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent or sibling.

No limitations apply if:

  • You rent a home to a relative who uses it as his or her principal residence (that is, not just as a second or vacation home) for the year, and
  • The home is rented at a fair market rent amount (not at a discount).

In these cases, you can deduct all the normal rental expenses, even if they result in a rental loss for the year. (If you have a loss, however, it’s a “passive” loss, which may be subject to a different set of limitations.)

Below fair market rent

Problems arise if you set the rent below the fair market rental value. The reason is this then becomes a rental property that you’re treated as using personally. So you’d have to allocate the expenses between the personal and rental portions of the year. Even more seriously, however, since all of the rental days (at a bargain rate to a relative) are treated as personal days, the rental portion would be zero. Thus, you’d have to report all of the rent you receive in income, but none of your expenses for the home would be deductible. (You’d still be able to deduct the mortgage interest, assuming it otherwise qualifies as deductible, and property taxes. These items are deductible even for nonrental homes.)

Given the above problems, it’s important to set the rent at a fair rate. Factors to look at include comparable rentals in the area and whether you made any “side” gifts to your relative (to help pay the rent) that could reasonably be interpreted to be a bargain element.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these matters in more detail.

© 2022

Save for retirement by getting the most out of your 401(k) plan

Socking away money in a tax-advantaged retirement plan can help you reduce taxes and help secure a comfortable retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or Roth 401(k), contributing to the plan is a smart way to build a substantial nest egg.

If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions can have a major impact on the amount of money you’ll have in 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 amounts are indexed for inflation each year and not surprisingly, they’re going up quite a bit. The contribution limit in 2023 is $22,500 (up from $20,500 in 2022). Employees age 50 or older by year end are also permitted to make additional “catch-up” contributions of $7,500 in 2023 (up from $6,500 in 2022). This means those 50 and older can save a total of $30,000 in 2023 (up from $27,000 in 2022).

Contributing 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. In 2023, you may want to try and increase your contribution rate to get as close to the $22,500 limit (with an extra $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older) as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by the amount of the contribution only, because the contributions are pretax — so, income tax isn’t withheld.

Contributing 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 amounts 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. That’s because your ability to make a Roth IRA contribution is reduced or eliminated if your adjusted gross income exceeds certain amounts.

Looking ahead

Contact us if you have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth 401(k) contributions. We can also discuss other tax and retirement-saving strategies in your situation.

© 2022