As we approach the holidays and the end of the year, many people may want to make gifts of cash or stock to their loved ones. By properly using the annual exclusion, gifts to family members and loved ones can reduce the size of your taxable estate, within generous limits, without triggering any estate or gift tax. The exclusion amount for 2021 is $15,000.
The exclusion covers gifts you make to each recipient each year. Therefore, a taxpayer with three children can transfer $45,000 to the children every year free of federal gift taxes. If the only gifts made during a year are excluded in this fashion, there’s no need to file a federal gift tax return. If annual gifts exceed $15,000, the exclusion covers the first $15,000 per recipient, and only the excess is taxable. In addition, even taxable gifts may result in no gift tax liability thanks to the unified credit (discussed below).
Note: This discussion isn’t relevant to gifts made to a spouse because these gifts are free of gift tax under separate marital deduction rules.
Gift-splitting by married taxpayers
If you’re married, a gift made during a year can be treated as split between you and your spouse, even if the cash or gift property is actually given by only one of you. Thus, by gift-splitting, up to $30,000 a year can be transferred to each recipient by a married couple because of their two annual exclusions. For example, a married couple with three married children can transfer a total of $180,000 each year to their children and to the children’s spouses ($30,000 for each of six recipients).
If gift-splitting is involved, both spouses must consent to it. Consent should be indicated on the gift tax return (or returns) that the spouses file. The IRS prefers that both spouses indicate their consent on each return filed. Because more than $15,000 is being transferred by a spouse, a gift tax return (or returns) will have to be filed, even if the $30,000 exclusion covers total gifts. We can prepare a gift tax return (or returns) for you, if more than $15,000 is being given to a single individual in any year.)
“Unified” credit for taxable gifts
Even gifts that aren’t covered by the exclusion, and that are thus taxable, may not result in a tax liability. This is because a tax credit wipes out the federal gift tax liability on the first taxable gifts that you make in your lifetime, up to $11.7 million for 2021. However, to the extent you use this credit against a gift tax liability, it reduces (or eliminates) the credit available for use against the federal estate tax at your death.
Be aware that gifts made directly to a financial institution to pay for tuition or to a health care provider to pay for medical expenses on behalf of someone else do not count towards the exclusion. For example, you can pay $20,000 to your grandson’s college for his tuition this year, plus still give him up to $15,000 as a gift.
Annual gifts help reduce the taxable value of your estate. There have been proposals in Washington to reduce the estate and gift tax exemption amount, as well as make other changes to the estate tax laws. Making large tax-free gifts may be one way to recognize and address this potential threat. It could help insulate you against any later reduction in the unified federal estate and gift tax exemption.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
In recent weeks, some Americans have been victimized by hurricanes, severe storms, flooding, wildfires and other disasters. No matter where you live, unexpected disasters may cause damage to your home or personal property. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), eligible casualty loss victims could claim a deduction on their tax returns. But there are now restrictions that make these deductions harder to take.
What’s considered a casualty for tax purposes? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, fire, act of vandalism or a terrorist attack.
More difficult to qualify
For losses incurred through 2025, the TCJA generally eliminates deductions for personal casualty losses, except for losses due to federally declared disasters. For example, during the summer of 2021, there have been presidential declarations of major disasters in parts of Tennessee, New York state, Florida and California after severe storms, flooding and wildfires. So victims in affected areas would be eligible for casualty loss deductions.
Note: There’s an exception to the general rule of allowing casualty loss deductions only in federally declared disaster areas. If you have personal casualty gains because your insurance proceeds exceed the tax basis of the damaged or destroyed property, you can deduct personal casualty losses that aren’t due to a federally declared disaster up to the amount of your personal casualty gains.
Special election to claim a refund
If your casualty loss is due to a federally declared disaster, a special election allows you to deduct the loss on your tax return for the preceding year and claim a refund. If you’ve already filed your return for the preceding year, you can file an amended return to make the election and claim the deduction in the earlier year. This can potentially help you get extra cash when you need it.
This election must be made by no later than six months after the due date (without considering extensions) for filing your tax return for the year in which the disaster occurs. However, the election itself must be made on an original or amended return for the preceding year.
How to calculate the deduction
You must take the following three steps to calculate the casualty loss deduction for personal-use property in an area declared a federal disaster:
- Subtract any insurance proceeds.
- Subtract $100 per casualty event.
- Combine the results from the first two steps and then subtract 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year you claim the loss deduction.
Important: Another factor that now makes it harder to claim a casualty loss than it used to be years ago is that you must itemize deductions to claim one. Through 2025, fewer people will itemize, because the TCJA significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. For 2021, they’re $12,550 for single filers, $18,800 for heads of households, and $25,100 for married joint-filing couples.
So even if you qualify for a casualty deduction, you might not get any tax benefit, because you don’t have enough itemized deductions.
These are the rules for personal property. Keep in mind that the rules for business or income-producing property are different. (It’s easier to get a deduction for business property casualty losses.) If you are a victim of a disaster, we can help you understand the complex rules.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
There may be a tax-advantaged way for people to save for the needs of family members with disabilities — without having them lose eligibility for government benefits to which they’re entitled. It can be done though an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses.
Who is eligible?
ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians for the benefit of the individuals for whom they’re responsible. Anyone can contribute to an ABLE account. While contributions aren’t tax-deductible, the funds in the account are invested and grow free of tax.
Eligible individuals must be blind or disabled — and must have become so before turning age 26. They also must be entitled to benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. Alternatively, an individual can become eligible if a disability certificate is filed with the IRS for him or her.
Distributions from an ABLE account are tax-free if used to pay for expenses that maintain or improve the beneficiary’s health, independence or quality of life. These expenses include education, housing, transportation, employment support, health and wellness costs, assistive technology, personal support services, and other IRS-approved expenses.
If distributions are used for nonqualified expenses, the portion of the distribution that represents earnings on the account is subject to income tax — plus a 10% penalty.
Here are some other key factors:
- An eligible individual can have only one ABLE account. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount, currently $15,000, may be made to an ABLE account each year for the benefit of an eligible person. If the beneficiary works, the beneficiary can also contribute part, or all, of their income to their account. (This additional contribution is limited to the poverty-line amount for a one-person household.)
- There’s also a limit on the total account balance. This limit, which varies from state to state, is equal to the limit imposed by that state on qualified tuition (Section 529) plans.
- ABLE accounts have no impact on an individual’s Medicaid eligibility. However, ABLE account balances in excess of $100,000 are counted toward the SSI program’s $2,000 individual resource limit. Therefore, an individual’s SSI benefits are suspended, but not terminated, when his or her ABLE account balance exceeds $102,000 (assuming the individual has no other assets). In addition, distributions from an ABLE account to pay housing expenses count toward the SSI income limit.
- For contributions made before 2026, the designated beneficiary can claim the saver’s credit for contributions made to his or her ABLE account.
States establish programs
There are many choices. ABLE accounts are established under state programs. An account may be opened under any state’s program (if the state allows out-of-state participants). The funds in an account can be invested in a variety of options and the account’s investment directions can be changed up to twice a year. Contact us if you’d like more details about setting up or maintaining an ABLE account.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
If you have a parent entering a nursing home, you may not be thinking about taxes. But there are a number of possible tax implications. Here are five.
1. Long-term medical care
The costs of qualified long-term care, including nursing home care, are deductible as medical expenses to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
Qualified long-term care services are necessary diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic, curing, treating, mitigating and rehabilitative services, and maintenance or personal-care services required by a chronically ill individual that is provided under care administered by a licensed healthcare practitioner.
To qualify as chronically ill, a physician or other licensed healthcare practitioner must certify an individual as unable to perform at least two activities of daily living (eating, toileting, transferring, bathing, dressing, and continence) for at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity or severe cognitive impairment.
2. Long-term care insurance
Premiums paid for a qualified long-term care insurance contract are deductible as medical expenses (subject to limitations explained below) to the extent they, along with other medical expenses, exceed the percentage-of-AGI threshold. A qualified long-term care insurance contract covers only qualified long-term care services, doesn’t pay costs covered by Medicare, is guaranteed renewable and doesn’t have a cash surrender value.
Qualified long-term care premiums are includible as medical expenses up to certain amounts. For individuals over 60 but not over 70 years old, the 2021 limit on deductible long-term care insurance premiums is $4,520, and for those over 70, the 2021 limit is $5,640.
3. Nursing home payments
Amounts paid to a nursing home are deductible as a medical expense if a person is staying at the facility principally for medical, rather than custodial care. If a person isn’t in the nursing home principally to receive medical care, only the portion of the fee that’s allocable to actual medical care qualifies as a deductible expense. But if the individual is chronically ill, all qualified long-term care services, including maintenance or personal care services, are deductible.
If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you can include any medical expenses you incur for your parent along with your own when determining your medical deduction.
4. Head-of-household filing status
If you aren’t married and you meet certain dependency tests for your parent, you may qualify for head-of-household filing status, which has a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates than single filing status. You may be eligible to file as head of household even if the parent for whom you claim an exemption doesn’t live with you.
5. The sale of your parent’s home.
If your parent sells his or her home, up to $250,000 of the gain from the sale may be tax-free. In order to qualify for the $250,000 exclusion, the seller must generally have owned the home for at least two years out of the five years before the sale, and used the home as a principal residence for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. However, there’s an exception to the two-out-of-five-year use test if the seller becomes physically or mentally unable to care for him or herself during the five-year period.
These are only some of the tax issues you may deal with when your parent moves into a nursing home. Contact us if you need more information or assistance.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up soon. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules.
Failure to pay
Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty is 1/2% for each month (or partial month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due May 17 and is made June 22, the penalty is 1% (1/2% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.
The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid through withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.
For example, if your payment is two months late and your return shows that you owe $5,000, the penalty is 1%, which equals $50. If you’re audited and your tax bill increases by another $1,000, the failure-to-pay penalty isn’t increased because it’s based on the amount shown on the return as due.
Failure to file
The failure-to-file penalty runs at a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until October 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.
If the 1/2% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the total combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. After that, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 1/2% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties could reach 47.5% over time.
The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. So if no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual tax liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure to file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply for an additional $135 in penalties.
A minimum failure to file penalty will also apply if you file your return more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or the tax amount required to be shown on the return.
Both penalties may be excused by IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause.” Typical qualifying excuses include death or serious illness in the immediate family and postal irregularities.
As you can see, filing and paying late can get expensive. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can reach 15% per month, with a 75% maximum. Contact us if you have questions or need an appointment to prepare your return.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
When you file your tax return, you must check one of the following filing statuses: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualifying widow(er). Who qualifies to file a return as a head of household, which is more favorable than single?
To qualify, you must maintain a household, which for more than half the year, is the principal home of a “qualifying child” or other relative of yours whom you can claim as a dependent (unless you only qualify due to the multiple support rules).
A qualifying child?
A child is considered qualifying if he or she:
- Lives in your home for more than half the year,
- Is your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, sibling stepsibling (or a descendant of any of these),
- Is under age 19 (or a student under 24), and
- Doesn’t provide over half of his or her own support for the year.
If a child’s parents are divorced, the child will qualify if he meets these tests for the custodial parent — even if that parent released his or her right to a dependency exemption for the child to the noncustodial parent.
A person isn’t a “qualifying child” if he or she is married and can’t be claimed by you as a dependent because he or she filed jointly or isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident. Special “tie-breaking” rules apply if the individual can be a qualifying child of (and is claimed as such by) more than one taxpayer.
Maintaining a household
You’re considered to “maintain a household” if you live in the home for the tax year and pay over half the cost of running it. In measuring the cost, include house-related expenses incurred for the mutual benefit of household members, including property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance on the property, repairs and upkeep, and food consumed in the home. Don’t include items such as medical care, clothing, education, life insurance or transportation.
Special rule for parents
Under a special rule, you can qualify as head of household if you maintain a home for a parent of yours even if you don’t live with the parent. To qualify under this rule, you must be able to claim the parent as your dependent.
You must be unmarried to claim head of household status. If you’re unmarried because you’re widowed, you can use the married filing jointly rates as a “surviving spouse” for two years after the year of your spouse’s death if your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you “maintain” the household. The joint rates are more favorable than the head of household rates.
If you’re married, you must file either as married filing jointly or separately, not as head of household. However, if you’ve lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year and your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you “maintain” the household, you’re treated as unmarried. If this is the case, you can qualify as head of household.
We can answer questions if you’d like to discuss a particular situation or would like additional information about whether someone qualifies as your dependent.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11, provides a variety of tax and financial relief to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the many initiatives are direct payments that will be made to eligible individuals. And parents under certain income thresholds will also receive additional payments in the coming months through a greatly revised Child Tax Credit.
Here are some answers to questions about these payments.
What are the two types of payments?
Under the new law, eligible individuals will receive advance direct payments of a tax credit. The law calls these payments “recovery rebates.” The law also includes advance Child Tax Credit payments to eligible parents later this year.
How much are the recovery rebates?
An eligible individual is allowed a 2021 income tax credit, which will generally be paid in advance through direct bank deposit or a paper check. The full amount is $1,400 ($2,800 for eligible married joint filers) plus $1,400 for each dependent.
Who is eligible?
There are several requirements but the most important is income on your most recently filed tax return. Full payments are available to those with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of less than $75,000 ($150,000 for married joint filers and $112,500 for heads of households). Your AGI can be found on page 1 of Form 1040.
The credit phases out and is no longer available to taxpayers with AGIs of more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married joint filers and $120,000 for heads of households).
Who isn’t eligible?
Among those who aren’t eligible are nonresident aliens, individuals who are the dependents of other taxpayers, estates and trusts.
How has the Child Tax Credit changed?
Before the new law, the Child Tax Credit was $2,000 per “qualifying child.” Under the new law, the credit is increased to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under age 6 as of the end of the year). But the increased 2021 credit amounts are phased out at modified AGIs of over $75,000 for singles ($150,000 for joint filers and $112,500 for heads of households).
A qualifying child before the new law was defined as an under-age-17 child, whom the taxpayer could claim as a dependent. The $2,000 Child Tax Credit was phased out for taxpayers with modified AGIs of over $400,000 for joint filers, and $200,000 for other filers.
Under the new law, for 2021, the definition of a qualifying child for purposes of the Child Tax Credit includes one who hasn’t turned 18 by the end of this year. So 17-year-olds qualify for the credit for 2021 only.
How are parents going to receive direct payments of the Child Tax Credit this year?
Unlike in the past, you don’t have to wait to file your tax return to fully benefit from the credit. The new law directs the IRS to establish a program to make monthly advance payments equal to 50% of eligible taxpayers’ 2021 Child Tax Credits. These payments will be made from July through December 2021.
What if my income is above the amounts listed above?
Taxpayers who aren’t eligible to claim an increased Child Tax Credit, because their incomes are too high, may be able to claim a regular credit of up to $2,000 on their 2021 tax returns, subject to the existing phaseout rules.
There are other rules and requirements involving these payments. This article only describes the basics. Stay tuned for additional details about other tax breaks in the new law.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
April 15 is not only the deadline for filing your 2020 tax return, it’s also the deadline for the first quarterly estimated tax payment for 2021, if you’re required to make one.
You may have to make estimated tax payments if you receive interest, dividends, alimony, self-employment income, capital gains, prize money or other income. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year through withholding and estimated payments, you may be liable for a tax penalty on top of the tax that’s ultimately due.
Four due dates
Individuals must pay 25% of their “required annual payment” by April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year, to avoid an underpayment penalty. If one of those dates falls on a weekend or holiday, the payment is due on the next business day.
The required annual payment for most individuals is the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year. However, if the adjusted gross income on your previous year’s return was more than $150,000 (more than $75,000 if you’re married filing separately), you must pay the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 110% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year.
Most people who receive the bulk of their income in the form of wages satisfy these payment requirements through the tax withheld by their employers from their paychecks. Those who make estimated tax payments generally do so in four installments. After determining the required annual payment, they divide that number by four and make four equal payments by the due dates.
The annualized method
But you may be able to use the annualized income method to make smaller payments. This method is useful to people whose income flow isn’t uniform over the year, perhaps because they’re involved in a seasonal business.
If you fail to make the required payments, you may be subject to a penalty. However, the underpayment penalty doesn’t apply to you:
- If the total tax shown on your return is less than $1,000 after subtracting withholding tax paid;
- If you had no tax liability for the preceding year, you were a U.S. citizen or resident for that entire year, and that year was 12 months;
- For the fourth (Jan. 15) installment, if you file your return by that January 31 and pay your tax in full; or
- If you’re a farmer or fisherman and pay your entire estimated tax by January 15, or pay your entire estimated tax and file your tax return by March 1
In addition, the IRS may waive the penalty if the failure was due to casualty, disaster, or other unusual circumstances and it would be inequitable to impose it. The penalty may also be waived for reasonable cause during the first two years after you retire (after reaching age 62) or become disabled.
Stay on track
Contact us if you have questions about how to calculate estimated tax payments. We can help you stay on track so you aren’t liable for underpayment penalties.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
If you’re approaching retirement, you probably want to ensure the money you’ve saved in retirement plans lasts as long as possible. If so, be aware that a law was recently enacted that makes significant changes to retirement accounts. The SECURE Act, which was signed into law in late 2019, made a number of changes of interest to those nearing retirement.
You can keep making traditional IRA contributions if you’re still working
Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions weren’t allowed once you reached age 70½. But now, an individual of any age can make contributions to a traditional IRA, as long as he or she has compensation, which generally means earned income from wages or self-employment. So if you work part time after retiring, or do some work as an independent contractor, you may be able to continue saving in your IRA if you’re otherwise eligible.
The required minimum distribution (RMD) age was raised from 70½ to 72.
Before 2020, retirement plan participants and IRA owners were generally required to begin taking RMDs from their plans by April 1 of the year following the year they reached age 70½. The age 70½ requirement was first applied in the early 1960s and, until recently, hadn’t been adjusted to account for increased life expectancies.
For distributions required to be made after December 31, 2019, for individuals who attain age 70½ after that date, the age at which individuals must begin taking distributions from their retirement plans or IRAs is increased from 70½ to 72.
“Stretch IRAs” have been partially eliminated
If a plan participant or IRA owner died before 2020, their beneficiaries (spouses and non-spouses) were generally allowed to stretch out the tax-deferral advantages of the plan or IRA by taking distributions over the life or life expectancy of the beneficiaries. This was sometimes called a “stretch IRA.”
However, for deaths of plan participants or IRA owners beginning in 2020 (later for some participants in collectively bargained plans and governmental plans), distributions to most non-spouse beneficiaries are generally required to be distributed within 10 years following a plan participant’s or IRA owner’s death. Therefore, the “stretch” strategy is no longer allowed for those beneficiaries.
There are some exceptions to the 10-year rule. For example, it’s still allowed for: the surviving spouse of a plan participant or IRA owner; a child of a plan participant or IRA owner who hasn’t reached the age of majority; a chronically ill individual; and any other individual who isn’t more than 10 years younger than a plan participant or IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may generally still take their distributions over their life expectancies.
More changes may be ahead
These are only some of the changes included in the SECURE Act. In addition, there’s bipartisan support in Congress to make even more changes to promote retirement saving. Last year, a law dubbed the SECURE Act 2.0 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. At this time, it’s unclear if or when it could be enacted. We’ll let you know about any new opportunities. In the meantime, if you have questions about your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.
© 2021 Covenant CPA