File Taxes Early to Help Safeguard Your Data

File-taxes-early-to-help-safeguard-your-data

The IRS opened the 2021 individual income tax return filing season on January 24. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April deadline (or you file for an extension until October), consider filing earlier this year. Why? You can potentially safeguard your data from tax identity theft — and there may be other benefits, too.

Thwart tax identity thieves

In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a bogus tax return early in the filing season and claim a fraudulent refund.

The actual taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is told by the IRS that it is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can be a hassle to straighten out and significantly delay a refund.

Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

Gather your forms

To file your tax return, you need all your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 was the deadline for employers to issue 2021 W-2 forms to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099s to recipients for any 2021 interest, dividend, or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors).

If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.

Other benefits of early filing

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. However, the IRS has been experiencing delays during the pandemic in processing some returns. Keep in mind that the time to receive a refund is typically 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.

If you were eligible for an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) or Advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments, and you didn’t receive them or you didn’t receive the full amount due, filing early will help you to receive the money sooner. In 2021, the third round of EIPs were paid by the federal government to eligible individuals to help mitigate the financial effects of COVID-19. Advance CTC payments were made monthly in 2021 to eligible families from July through December. EIP and CTC payments due that weren’t made to eligible taxpayers can be claimed on your 2021 return.

We can help

Among other benefits, filing your taxes early helps to safeguard your data. Contact us If you have questions or would like an appointment to prepare your tax return. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all the breaks available to you.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

How are Court Awards and Out-Of-Court Settlements Taxed?

How are court awards and out-of-court settlements taxed?

Awards and settlements are routinely provided for a variety of reasons. For example, a person could receive compensatory and punitive damage payments for personal injury, discrimination, or harassment. Some of this money is taxed by the federal government, and perhaps state governments. Hopefully, you’ll never need to know how payments for personal injuries are taxed. But here are the basic rules, just in case you or a loved one does need to understand them.

Under tax law, individuals are permitted to exclude from gross income damages that are received on account of a personal physical injury or a physical sickness. It doesn’t matter if the compensation is from a court-ordered award or an out-of-court settlement, and it makes no difference if it’s paid in a lump sum or installments.

Emotional distress

For purposes of this exclusion, emotional distress is not considered a physical injury or physical sickness. So, for example, an award under state law that’s meant to compensate for emotional distress caused by age discrimination or harassment would have to be included in gross income. However, if you require medical care for treatment of the consequences of emotional distress, then the amount of damages not exceeding those expenses would be excludable from gross income.

Punitive damages for any personal injury claim, whether or not physical, aren’t excludable from gross income unless awarded under certain state wrongful death statutes that provide for only punitive damages.

The law doesn’t consider back pay and liquidated damages received under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to be paid in compensation for personal injuries. Thus, an award for back pay and liquidated damages under the ADEA must be included in gross income.

Attorney’s fees

You can’t deduct attorney’s fees incurred to collect a tax-free award or settlement for physical injury or sickness. However, to a limited extent, attorney’s fees (whether contingent or non-contingent) or court costs paid by, or on behalf of, a taxpayer in connection with an action involving a claim under the ADEA, are deductible from gross income to determine adjusted gross income. Specifically, the amount of this above-the-line deduction is limited to the amount includible in your gross income for the tax year on account of a judgment or settlement resulting from the ADEA claim, whether by suit or agreement, and whether as lump sum or periodic payments.

Best possible tax result

Keep in mind that while you want the best tax result possible from any settlement, lawsuit, or discrimination action you’re considering, non-tax legal factors together with the tax factors will determine the amount of your after-tax recovery. Consult with your attorney as to the best way to proceed, and we can provide any tax guidance that you may need.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Selling a Home: Will You Owe Tax on the Profit?

Selling-your-home

Many homeowners across the country have seen their home values increase recently. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of homes sold in July of 2021 rose 17.8% over July of 2020. The median home price was $411,200 in the Northeast, $275,300 in the Midwest, $305,200 in the South and $508,300 in the West.

Be aware of the tax implications if you’re selling your home or you sold one in 2021. You may owe capital gains tax and net investment income tax (NIIT).

Gain exclusion

If you’re selling your principal residence, and meet certain requirements, you can exclude from tax up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain.

To qualify for the exclusion, you must meet these tests:

  • You must have owned the property for at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date.
  • You must have used the property as a principal residence for at least two years during the five-year period. (Periods of ownership and use don’t need to overlap.)

In addition, you can’t use the exclusion more than once every two years.

Gain above the exclusion amount

What if you have more than $250,000/$500,000 of profit? Any gain that doesn’t qualify for the exclusion generally will be taxed at your long-term capital gains rate, provided you owned the home for at least a year. If you didn’t, the gain will be considered short term and subject to your ordinary-income rate, which could be more than double your long-term rate.

If you’re selling a second home (such as a vacation home), it isn’t eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 like-kind exchange. In addition, you may be able to deduct a loss.

The NIIT

How does the 3.8% NIIT apply to home sales? If you sell your main home, and you qualify to exclude up to $250,000/$500,000 of gain, the excluded gain isn’t subject to the NIIT.

However, gain that exceeds the exclusion limit is subject to the tax if your adjusted gross income is over a certain amount. Gain from the sale of a vacation home or other second residence, which doesn’t qualify for the exclusion, is also subject to the NIIT.

The NIIT applies only if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds: $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately; and $200,000 for unmarried taxpayers and heads of household.

Two other tax considerations

  1. Keep track of your basis. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain complete records, including information about your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed for business use.
  2. You can’t deduct a loss. If you sell your principal residence at a loss, it generally isn’t deductible. But if a portion of your home is rented out or used exclusively for business, the loss attributable to that part may be deductible.

As you can see, depending on your home sale profit and your income, some or all of the gain may be tax-free. But for higher-income people with pricey homes, there may be a tax bill. We can help you plan ahead to minimize taxes and answer any questions you have about home sales.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

The Tax Score of Winning

tax score of winning

Studies have found that more people are engaging in online gambling and sports betting since the pandemic began. And there are still more traditional ways to gamble and play the lottery. If you’re lucky enough to win, be aware that tax consequences go along with your good fortune.

Review the tax rules

Whether you win online or at a casino, a bingo hall, a fantasy sports event, or elsewhere, you must report 100% of your winnings as taxable income. They’re reported on the “Other income” line of your 1040 tax return. To measure your winnings on a particular wager, use the net gain. For example, if a $30 bet at the racetrack turns into a $110 win, you’ve won $80, not $110.

You must separately keep track of losses. They’re deductible, but only as itemized deductions. Therefore, if you don’t itemize and take the standard deduction, you can’t deduct gambling losses. In addition, gambling losses are only deductible up to the amount of gambling winnings. Therefore, you can use losses to “wipe out” gambling income but you can’t show a gambling tax loss.

Maintain good records of your losses during the year. Keep a diary in which you indicate the date, place, amount, and type of loss, as well as the names of anyone who was with you. Save all documentation, such as checks or credit slips.

Hitting a lottery jackpot

The odds of winning the lottery are slim. But if you don’t follow the tax rules after winning, the chances of hearing from the IRS are much higher.

Lottery winnings are taxable. This is the case for cash prizes and for the fair market value of any noncash prizes, such as a car or vacation. Depending on your other income and the amount of your winnings, your federal tax rate may be as high as 37%. You may also be subject to state income tax.

You report lottery winnings as income in the year, or years, you actually receive them. In the case of noncash prizes, this would be the year the prize is received. With cash, if you take the winnings in annual installments, you only report each year’s installment as income for that year.

If you win more than $5,000 in the lottery or certain types of gambling, 24 % must be withheld for federal tax purposes. You’ll receive a Form W-2G from the payer showing the amount paid to you and the federal tax withheld. (The payer also sends this information to the IRS.) If state tax withholding is withheld, that amount may also be shown on Form W-2G.

Since the federal tax rate can currently be up to 37%, which is well above the 24% withheld, the withholding may not be enough to cover your federal tax bill. Therefore, you may have to make estimated tax payments — and you may be assessed a penalty if you fail to do so. In addition, you may be required to make state and local estimated tax payments.

Talk with us

If you’re fortunate enough to win a sizable amount of money, there are other issues to consider, including estate planning. This article only covers the basic tax rules. Different rules apply to people who qualify as professional gamblers. Contact us with questions. We can help you minimize taxes and stay in compliance with all requirements.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

The Ins and Outs of Group Term Life Insurance

group term life insurance

Employer-provided life insurance is a coveted fringe benefit. However, if group term life insurance is part of your benefit package, and the coverage is higher than $50,000, there may be undesirable income tax implications.

Tax on Income You Don’t Receive

The first $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage that your employer provides is excluded from taxable income and doesn’t add anything to your income tax bill. But the employer-paid cost of group term coverage in excess of $50,000 is taxable income to you. It’s included in the taxable wages reported on your Form W-2 — even though you never actually receive it. In other words, it’s “phantom income.”

What’s worse, the cost of group term insurance must be determined under a table prepared by the IRS even if the employer’s actual cost is less than the cost figured under the table. With these determinations, the amount of taxable phantom income attributed to an older employee is often higher than the premium the employee would pay for comparable coverage under an individual term policy. This tax trap gets worse as an employee gets older and as the amount of his or her compensation increases.

Your W-2 Has Answers

What should you do if you think the tax cost of employer-provided group term life insurance is higher than you’d like? First, you should establish if this is actually the case. If a specific dollar amount appears in Box 12 of your Form W-2 (with code “C”), that dollar amount represents your employer’s cost of providing you with group term life insurance coverage in excess of $50,000, less any amount you paid for the coverage. You’re responsible for federal, state, and local taxes on the amount that appears in Box 12 and for the associated Social Security and Medicare taxes as well.

But keep in mind that the amount in Box 12 is already included as part of your total “Wages, tips and other compensation” in Box 1 of the W-2, and it’s the Box 1 amount that’s reported on your tax return.

Possible Options

If you decide that the tax cost is too high for the benefit you’re getting in return, find out whether your employer has a “carve-out” plan (a plan that carves out selected employees from group term coverage) or, if not, whether it would be willing to create one. There are different types of carve-out plans that employers can offer to their employees.

For example, the employer can continue to provide $50,000 of group term insurance (since there’s no tax cost for the first $50,000 of coverage). Then, the employer can either provide the employee with an individual policy for the balance of the coverage or give the employee the amount the employer would have spent for the excess coverage as a cash bonus that the employee can use to pay the premiums on an individual policy.

Contact us if you have questions about group term life insurance coverage or whether it’s adding to your tax bill.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.