Tax Tip

Collecting unemployment? Here’s How It Will Impact Your Taxes

morning-brew-EWyE-0hYsJo-unsplash

Are you collecting unemployment? As of June 2020, the unemployment rate in America was at an estimated 13.3%. That’s down from 16% and those numbers don’t even reflect the scale of how many have had their income cut or lost their job due to the COVID-19 virus.

We’ve just passed the July 15 extended tax filing deadline. With that behind us, it’s time to focus on the 2020 tax season. Being already July, that means that the tax season is half over already. Time flies when you’re fighting a pandemic.

One of the biggest issues in the 2020 tax season will be the massive number of people that were on unemployment for several months during 2020. The number of people on unemployment broke records this year.

For many, that means that they’ll have to pay taxes off their unemployment income. We’ll break down how, why, who, and what you’ll need to know about paying taxes on unemployment so you aren’t surprised come April 2021.

What options do I have to avoid a large federal tax bill next year?

You have a couple different options to avoid a large tax bill for the 2020 fiscal year. We’ll break them down for you.

Automatically Withheld  

This is the easiest option for many. When you sign up for unemployment benefits, you’ll likely have the option to get taxes withheld.

If not, you can fill out a Form W-4V, which will ensure you’re being properly taxed on your unemployment benefits.

Estimated Quarterly Payments  

Freelancers and sole proprietors always have the option to pay taxes quarterly so they aren’t hit with a massive tax bill come April. You can do the same thing with unemployment benefits.

The catch is, you need to estimate how much you owe on your own using a IRS Form 1040-ES. If you underpay these quarterly taxes, you may be penalized. While a massive tax bill in April may seem daunting, consider if you need the money you would pay on quarterly taxes would be better used for rent, food, etc. It’s not worth not being able to afford housing, utilities, etc just to ease your tax burden next year.

Who doesn’t have to pay state taxes on unemployment?

There are a handful of states where unemployment income is not considered income. Here are the states that directly wave unemployment for state taxes:

  • California

  • Montana

  • New Jersey

  • Pennsylvania

  • Virginia

Then, there are nine states without a broad income tax that don’t tax jobless benefits. They are:

  • Alaska

  • Florida

  • Nevada

  • New Hampshire

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

  • Washington

  • Wyoming

If you are in one of these states, it’s likely you won’t have to pay state taxes on your unemployment. Be sure to check with a tax professional to make sure.

3 Tax Benefits for New York Veterans

Current and former members of the military are eligible for certain tax exemptions.

“These exemptions and credits are one small way we can show our gratitude to the brave and dedicated individuals who currently serve or have served in our military,” said Acting Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Nonie Manion in a 2017 press release.

Photo by Benjamin Faust on Unsplash

Photo by Benjamin Faust on Unsplash

In today’s post, we’ll examine a handful of the exemptions available for New York veterans.

Property Tax 

As many as half a million New York veterans benefit from property tax exemptions, many of which are offered by local governments.

Depending on the circumstance, the property tax burden of a wartime veteran could be up to 15% or even as high as 25% if the veteran serves in a combat zone.  Cold War veterans (between 1945 and 1991) could see up to 15% in exemptions.

If the veteran was disabled in the line of duty, they could see up to 50% off in exemptions.

How do these property tax exemptions work?

In September 2017, Gov. Cuomo signed a bill that allowed the 679 school districts the option to allow exemptions for Cold War veterans for the entirety of the time the veteran owns the property. Prior, it was 10 years.

To find out which of these exemptions applies to you, you’ll need to contact your local assessor’s office. Visit NYS’s Municipal Profiles website to get the contact information you need.

Military Pay  

If your permanent home was in NYS before you entered the military, you don’t have to pay income tax on your active-duty pay. But it isn’t quite that simple.

You have to meet ALL three of the following conditions:

  • Didn’t have a permanent home in NY

  • Maintained a permanent abode outside of NY (this excludes military quarters like barracks, BOQ, etc.)

  • Spent less than 30 days in New York during the year

Basically, you need have not lived in New York almost at all for the entirety of the year to be eligible for this perk. You also had to be living somewhere off-base/ship to not owe income taxes.

Hire a Veteran Credit 

There are two types of hire a veteran credit. They are:

  • Corporations subject to franchise tax

  • Individuals, estates and trusts under personal income tax laws

This credit applies if you or your business:

  • Hires a qualified veteran before January 1, 2020

  • Employees the qualified veteran for 35 hours

If the veteran is disabled, the credit is 15% of the total wages paid during the first full year of employment. That amount can’t exceed $15,000 per veteran.

If the veteran isn’t disabled, the credit is10%  of the total wages paid during the first full year of employment. For nondisabled veterans, the credit is capped at $5,000.

These are just a handful of the tax benefits, credits, and exemptions that veterans can take advantage of. Reach out to one of our tax professionals and we’ll ensure you’re getting the most tax benefits from your service.

 

6 FAQs About 529 College Savings Plans

College is a large expense and one worth planning for, especially if you want your future college graduate to start their lives with minimal debt. One common way to prepare for such an expense is to open a 529 college savings plan.

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

What is a 529 plan?

College savings 529 plans are state-sponsored savings accounts that offer both tax and financial aid benefits.

What states run a 529 program?  

Almost every state has a 529 program, each with different perks and benefits. You can pick based on perks and you don’t need to live in the state you opened the account in.

You can look at 529 plan options using this tool from SavingforCollege.com.

What are the two types of college 529 plans?

There are two types of 529 plans, they are:

  • College savings plans – This plan is similar to a Roth 401k or Roth IRA by allowing you to contribute after-tax income in the form of mutual funds and other types of investments. There are a number of investment options to choose from and the 529 account will go up and down and value according to those investment choices. The money is this account is available for tuition, books, and often housing.

  • College prepaid tuition-  This plan can be used to pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education. Sometimes, they can be converted for use at private or out-of-state colleges.

What are the perks of using a 529 savings plan?

Each state provides slightly different incentives for its 529 programs. But some of the overall benefits include:

  • Large income tax breaks (for federal and often state taxes)

  • The donor stays in control of the account until its use

  • They’re low maintenance

When can you start them?

You can start one of these savings plans at any time. Most 529 programs are “set it and forget it” meaning the investments come straight out of your paycheck or bank account.

Where can I learn more about college 529 plans?

There are a lot of online resources for comparing and ranking different 529 programs. You can reference one of these, or reach out to your friendly neighborhood tax professionals. We can help you select the best option for you.

*Contact us here*

How The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) Affects Fantasy Sports

Fantasy sports is becoming increasingly popular, with 59.3 million people playing in the United States and Canada, creating a $7 billion industry. With this though, comes tax implications for winners.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides tax opportunities and drawbacks that fantasy players should understand.

9.3.19 blog picture

There is currently an ongoing debate how winnings should be classified and where they should be reported. Are the winnings considered gambling income or hobby income? The TCJA does not clarify the definition of gambling and to date the IRS has not weighed in as to whether fantasy sports winnings are hobby or gambling income. If fantasy sports are not considered gambling, then the hobby loss rules would apply. In this case, the TCJA eliminates the taxpayers’ ability to deduct any fantasy expenses even if there is fantasy income. Prior to the TCJA, hobby losses were deductible as miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% adjusted gross income (AGI) floor.

Many have argued that fantasy sports are ‘wagering transactions’ thereby allowing fantasy sports losses to be deductible to the extent of their winnings. Previously, gambling losses were assumed to be the cost of placing the wager, but TCJA suggests that other expenses that are ordinary and necessary to execute wagering transactions are deductible. For traditional gamblers, this includes the ability to deduct expenses related to travel, lodging, etc., to the extent of winnings – but fantasy players may have different ‘ordinary and necessary’ expenses. Potentially deductible fantasy sports expenses under TCJA include: fantasy-related online subscriptions and magazines; cost of any office equipment/space exclusively dedicated to fantasy sports; 50% of food costs at fantasy sports draft parties; and cost of any punishments for losing in a fantasy sports league. Losses from other gambling activities, like traditional casinos, could also be used to offset fantasy sports winnings.

For casual fantasy players, the increase in the standard deduction under the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers that itemize, thereby eliminating any potential benefit of fantasy-related expenses, since the deductions allowed are classified as “other itemized deductions” on the schedule A.

For the serious fantasy player, treating gambling as a trade or business may be useful. It is important to remember that taxpayers who recognize profits on their schedule C will be subject to both income and self-employment taxes, so it may not always be beneficial to consider yourself a professional. In the case of the serious professional fantasy player, income and expenses will be reported on schedule C, negating the need to itemize in order to take advantage of the deductions.  The TCJA does have one downfall for professional gamblers; prior to the new tax law, gambling expenses such as travel and lodging were not considered gambling losses, which meant they were not limited to gambling winnings. This allowed professional gamblers to have a net loss on gambling activities. Under the TCJA, these expenses are defined as wagering losses, therefore are limited to the extent of gambling winnings. Those who identify themselves as professionals have the burden to prove their activity is regularly pursued full-time, and to produce a livable income. Taxpayers should expect to hear from the IRS when claiming to be a professional.

Whether a taxpayer is a professional or a casual player, it is very important to keep all records as the burden of proof is on the taxpayer. While gambling is reported on W-2G, fantasy sports sites typically issue 1099-Misc to players winning more than $600. The IRS suggested that the net method of reporting (reports winnings from contests less the entry fees for any contest won) was the appropriate way to calculate winnings, but not all fantasy sports sites comply. It is important for a taxpayer to know how the site they are using reports winnings.

In summary, under the TCJA, fantasy players may benefit by treating their fantasy sports as gambling and claiming fantasy-related expenses that were not previously deductible.

3 Essential Tips for Financial Planning When You Have a Disability

Having a disability is not quite as rare as many people think. In fact, about 14 percent of adults around the world have a disability of some kind. This includes people who have a physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory limitation at a mild, severe, or moderate level. Also, these disabilities could have happened at birth, in old age, or anywhere in between.

ss-young-woman-in-wheelchair-working-with-a-male-colleague-81311647_630x460

One thing that remains consistent across all forms of disability, however, is that life generally costs more money for those who have them. Normal expenses such as medical care and food, as well as additional costs such as modified housing and assistive devices and technology, can put a major burden on those with disabilities. That’s why it’s essential to have a financial plan in place. If you have a disability, these three tips will help you prepare and form the financial skills it takes to live your best life, both now and in the future.

Consider Life Insurance

One of the first things you should do when planning your finances is to look into life insurance. If you get a policy that benefits your current situation, it could provide significantly for your family if you were to pass away unexpectedly. And life insurance can help cover things like medical expenses, funeral expenses, and lost income. Moreover, shopping for life insurance is fairly straightforward nowadays, as you can easily purchase it online and use online calculators to figure out the coverage you need.

Set a Budget

Much of your financial planning comes down to making a budget. Not only will your budget serve as a guideline for your spending and saving, the process of making a budget will teach you a lot about your financial situation and the steps you can take to grow. If you’re on a fixed income, start with how much you bring in each month. If you are able to work or already have a job, where does that put your monthly income?

Once you factor in your income, write down all of your expenses; include everything you can think of. This might include normal monthly expenses such as your mortgage payment, home and auto insurance, utilities, food, entertainment, gas, etc. Also, consider your medical expenses: How much do you spend on medical care, assistive devices, or any other medical-related expenses? Furthermore, include any credit card debt you want to pay off.

Once you get these basic costs on paper, see where you stand concerning your income and expenses. Then you can determine what you can cut (entertainment, miscellaneous items, etc,) if necessary. Also, be sure to research all your options when it comes to financial assistance.

Build an Emergency Fund

As it is with anyone, saving money is important when you have a disability. Once you figure out your budget, determine how much you can put away in savings. Building an emergency fund will create a safety net in the event that something unexpected happens — whether it’s a medical incident, major home or car repair, or any other kind of sudden expense. Decide on a set amount to put into a cash jar or savings account, and stick to it as close as you can.

There may be many expenses that come with a disability, but that doesn’t mean you can’t navigate them and make a plan that meets your needs and sets you up to be cared for later in life. Work through your finances and set a budget to guide you through your spending and saving. Find the best life insurance plan for you and your family, and start building an emergency fund today. Being financially prepared will help you overcome a lot of challenges and put you in a better position to live a fulfilling life.

 Written by Ed Carter

4 Ways to Pay Less Taxes on Your Investments

If you’re considering jumping into investing (or have already started), you need to know the tactics to avoid paying massive amounts of taxes on them. We’ve compiled a list of tax tips for investors. Check them out.

by Austin Distel

Hold investments for longer than a year

Whenever you make money off your investments (aka capital gains) you are taxed on that income. However, the length of time you held the investment dictates the rate you’ll be taxed at.

These taxes, called capital gains taxes, change at the year mark. If you hold your investments for a year or less, you’ll be taxed at the short term capital gains rate, which is the same rate as income tax.

But if you hold your investments for a year and a day, you’ll get taxed at a more manageable long-term capital gains rate.

This rate can get as high as 20% for big earners, but it’s more likely you’ll pay somewhere between 0 and 15%.

Buy Municipal Bonds  

Buying bonds means you get to collect interest on those bonds, which is a great source of passive income if you buy enough.

But unless you buy municipal bonds, the IRS is entitled to a share of that interest. When you buy either city, state, or county bonds, you are exempt from paying federal income tax on those bonds. If you buy municipal bonds in your home state, you’ll be exempt from state and local taxes as well.

One thing to note is that if you sell your municipal bonds for a profit, you’ll have to pay taxes on the gain.

Sell Losing Investments   

If you’re losing money on a particular investment, you might want to consider selling it off.  Investment losses offset capital gains, so if you make $2,000 and lose the same amount, you won’t have to pay on the amount you’ve lost.

In addition, if your investment losses exceed your gains, you can use them to offset up to $3,000 in taxable income.

Put Your Money in Tax Sheltered Accounts  

Putting your investment money into tax-sheltered accounts is a great way to defer paying taxes on various investments.

Accounts like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and certain IRA plans aren’t tax-free, but you won’t have to worry about paying taxes until you start making withdrawals. By the time you do that (barring some emergency), you’ll likely be in a lower tax bracket anyway.

 

Have more questions about investments and taxes? Shoot us an email or give us a call.

1099, W2, W4, W9 – what’s the difference?

income-tax-4097292_1920

Fill out this 1099 form. Did you get your W2 from your employer? Fill out this W4 form.

Keeping all the tax forms straight is a challenge. In today’s post, we go through the difference between the most commonly filled out tax forms. That way, you know what you’re signing and why.

Form W4

This is the form that you fill out at the beginning of most conventional employment. The purpose of this paper is to let your employer know how much tax money they should withhold from your paycheck. You can also use this form to adjust your withholdings throughout the year.

Form W2

This is the magical form most of us are waiting on to get started with our taxes. It shows your yearly income and how much was withheld – critical information for both you and your accountant.

Form 1099  

This is a form you receive in any non-conventional payment situation. Basically, if you make money as an independent contractor or self-employed taxpayer, you will receive a version of this form.

If you are working as a contractor, business, or have received money from the government, bank, etc, you will likely get one of these. There are a lot of versions of this form, including:

  • MISC, Miscellaneous Income

  • G, Certain Government Payments

  • K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions

  • R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc.

  • DIV, Dividends and Distributions

  • INT, Interest Income

Form 1098

There are a few versions of this form from income or payments to institutions like universities and banks. The most common forms of these are:

  • 1098-E, Student Loan Interest Statement

  • 1098-T,  Tuition Statement

  • Mortgage Interest Statement

Schedule K-1

This form reports any income, deductions, or other tax items you might receive as part of a business partnership. You will usually have to wait until later in the tax season to receive this form.

Have a form that’s not covered here? Reach out to us.

How Moonlighters Can Get Enough Tax Money Withheld

refunds

If you were left surprised (and maybe a little hurt) from your latest tax return and you work as both a W2 employee and have 1099 side gigs, this article is for you.

The Current State of the Side Hustle

The side hustle is a common part of our society today. The latest figures say that nearly 40 percent of Americans have a side job that brings in $8,200 or more each year.

People who work a side job are more likely to be millennials, apparently working more than one job is something that is less common as you age.

And while the extra money is nice, these side hustles make it that much more complicated to do your yearly taxes. If you make more than $600 at any job, that money is taxable.

That’s why its good to get a head start by adjusting your W2 withholdings to help cover the income from your side hustles. Otherwise, you’ll undoubtedly owe

How Do You Do This?

The recent tax law changes impacted many taxpayers, so the IRS created a withholding calculator.

It’s an easy-to-use tool, you just need to come prepared with the proper paperwork.

That includes:

  • Any and all recent pay stubs and invoices(make sure it includes the amount of federal taxes withheld for this year so far
  • A completed copy of your 2018 and 2017 returns

Then open the calculator and answer all the questions. You may not be happy with the amount of taxes you have taken out, but you’ll happier come tax time, so you won’t owe for all your hard work in 2019.

When an Elderly Parent Might Qualify as Your Dependent

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

It’s not uncommon for adult children to help support their aging parents. If you’re in this position, you might qualify for an adult-dependent exemption to deduct up to $4,050 for each person claimed on your 2017 return.

Basic qualifications

For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Social Security is generally excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.

In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with one or more siblings and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption in this situation.

Important factors

Although Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.

Also, if your parent lives with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence. If the parent lives elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contribute to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.

Easing the burden

An adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ on your 2017 tax return to ease the burden of caring for an elderly parent. Contact us for more information on qualifying for this break or others.

Help Prevent Tax Identity Theft By Filing Early

 

identify theft

If you’re like many Americans, you might not start thinking about filing your tax return until close to this year’s April 17 deadline. You might even want to file for an extension so you don’t have to send your return to the IRS until October 15.

But there’s another date you should keep in mind: the day the IRS begins accepting 2017 returns (usually in late January). Filing as close to this date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.

Why it helps

In an increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.

A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.

Tax identity theft can cause major complications to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

What to look for

Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments. So be sure to keep an eye on your mailbox or your employer’s internal website.

Additional bonus

An additional bonus: If you’ll be getting a refund, filing early will generally enable you to receive and enjoy that money sooner. (Bear in mind, however, that a law requires the IRS to hold until mid-February refunds on returns claiming the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.) Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early.

 

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.