If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities may be appearing in your mailbox acknowledging your 2020 donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim a deduction for the gift on your 2020 income tax return? It depends.
What is required
To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation and the value of any such goods or services.
“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of:
- The date you file your tax return, or
- The extended due date of your return.
So if you made a donation in 2020 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2020 return. Contact the charity and request a written acknowledgment.
Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is sufficient. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value — and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.
New deduction for non-itemizers
In general, taxpayers who don’t itemize their deductions (and instead claim the standard deduction) can’t claim a charitable deduction. Under the CARES Act, individuals who don’t itemize deductions can claim a federal income tax write-off for up to $300 of cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2020 tax year. The same $300 limit applies to both unmarried taxpayers and married joint-filing couples.
Even better, this tax break was extended to cover $300 of cash contributions made in 2021 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The new law doubles the deduction limit to $600 for married joint-filing couples for cash contributions made in 2021.
2020 and 2021 deductions
Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2020 income tax return — and guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2021 return.
© 2021 Covenant CPA
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, students are going back to school this fall, either remotely, in-person or under a hybrid schedule. In any event, parents may be eligible for certain tax breaks to help defray the cost of education.
Here is a summary of some of the tax breaks available for education.
1. Higher education tax credits. Generally, you may be able to claim either one of two tax credits for higher education expenses — but not both.
- With the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), you can save a maximum of $2,500 from your tax bill for each full-time college or grad school student. This applies to qualified expenses including tuition, room and board, books and computer equipment and other supplies. But the credit is phased out for moderate-to-upper income taxpayers. No credit is allowed if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is over $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers).
- The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is similar to the AOTC, but there are a few important distinctions. In this case, the maximum credit is $2,000 instead of $2,500. Furthermore, this is the overall credit allowed to a taxpayer regardless of the number of students in the family. However, the LLC is also phased out under income ranges even lower than the AOTC. You can’t claim the credit if your MAGI is $68,000 or more ($136,000 or more if you file a joint return).
For these reasons, the AOTC is generally preferable to the LLC. But parents have still another option.
2. Tuition-and-fees deduction. As an alternative to either of the credits above, parents may claim an above-the-line deduction for tuition and related fees. This deduction is either $4,000 or $2,000, depending on the taxpayer’s MAGI, before it is phased out. No deduction is allowed for MAGI above $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers.
The tuition-and-fees deduction, which has been extended numerous times, is currently scheduled to expire after 2020. However, it’s likely to be revived again by Congress.
In addition to these tax breaks, there are other ways to save and pay for college on a tax advantaged basis. These include using Section 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. There are limits on contributions to these saving vehicles.
Note: Thanks to a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a 529 plan can now be used to pay for up to $10,000 annually for a child’s tuition at a private or religious elementary or secondary school.
Typically, parents are able to take advantage of one or more of these tax breaks, even though some benefits are phased out above certain income levels. Contact us to maximize the tax breaks for your children’s education.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
The economic impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is unprecedented and many taxpayers with student loans have been hard hit.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act contains some assistance to borrowers with federal student loans. Notably, federal loans were automatically placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows borrowers to temporarily stop making monthly payments. This payment suspension is scheduled to last until September 30, 2020.
Tax deduction rules
Despite the suspension, borrowers can still make payments if they choose. And borrowers in good standing made payments earlier in the year and will likely make them later in 2020. So can you deduct the student loan interest on your tax return?
The answer is yes, depending on your income and subject to certain limits. The maximum amount of student loan interest you can deduct each year is $2,500. The deduction is phased out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain levels.
For 2020, the deduction is phased out for taxpayers who are married filing jointly with AGI between $140,000 and $170,000 ($70,000 and $85,000 for single filers). The deduction is unavailable for taxpayers with AGI of $170,000 ($85,000 for single filers) or more. Married taxpayers must file jointly to claim the deduction.
The interest must be for a “qualified education loan,” which means debt incurred to pay tuition, room and board, and related expenses to attend a post-high school educational institution. Certain vocational schools and post-graduate programs also may qualify.
The interest must be on funds borrowed to cover qualified education costs of the taxpayer, his or her spouse or a dependent. The student must be a degree candidate carrying at least half the normal full-time workload. Also, the education expenses must be paid or incurred within a reasonable time before or after the loan is taken out.
It doesn’t matter when the loan was taken out or whether interest payments made in earlier years on the loan were deductible or not. And no deduction is allowed to a taxpayer who can be claimed as a dependent on another taxpayer’s return.
The deduction is taken “above the line.” In other words, it’s subtracted from gross income to determine AGI. Thus, it’s available even to taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions.
Taxpayers should keep records to verify eligible expenses. Documenting tuition isn’t likely to pose a problem. However, take care to document other qualifying expenditures for items such as books, equipment, fees, and transportation. Documenting room and board expenses should be simple if a student lives in a dormitory. Student who live off campus should maintain records of room and board expenses, especially when there are complicating factors such as roommates.
Contact us if you have questions about deducting student loan interest or for information on other tax breaks related to paying for college.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
Do you own a business but haven’t gotten around to setting up a tax-advantaged retirement plan? Fortunately, it’s not too late to establish one and reduce your 2019 tax bill. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) can still be set up for 2019, and you can make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2019 income tax return. Even better, SEPs keep administrative costs low.
Deadlines for contributions
A SEP can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the SEP first applies. That means you can establish a SEP for 2019 in 2020 as long as you do it before your 2019 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2019 contributions and still claim a potentially substantial deduction on your 2019 return.
Generally, most other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2019, in order for 2019 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2019 contributions to be made in 2020).
Contributions are optional
With a SEP, you can decide how much to contribute each year. You aren’t required to make any certain minimum contributions annually.
However, if your business has employees other than you:
- Contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for yourself, and
- Employee accounts must be immediately 100% vested.
The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee. As the employer, you’ll get a current income tax deduction for contributions you make on behalf of your employees. Your employees won’t be taxed when the contributions are made, but at a later date when distributions are made — usually in retirement.
For 2019, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction), subject to a contribution cap of $56,000. (The 2020 cap is $57,000.)
How to proceed
To set up a SEP, you complete and sign the simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). You don’t need to file Form 5305-SEP with the IRS, but you should keep it as part of your permanent tax records. A copy of Form 5305-SEP must be given to each employee covered by the SEP, along with a disclosure statement.
Although there are rules and limits that apply to SEPs beyond what we’ve discussed here, SEPs generally are much simpler to administer than other retirement plans. Contact us with any questions you have about SEPs and to discuss whether it makes sense for you to set one up for 2019 (or 2020).
© 2020 Covenant CPA
As teachers head back for a new school year, they often pay for various expenses for which they don’t receive reimbursement. Fortunately, they may be able to deduct them on their tax returns. However, there are limits on this special deduction, and some expenses can’t be written off.
For 2019, qualifying educators can deduct some of their unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom costs under the educator expense deduction. This is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means you don’t have to itemize your deductions in order to claim it.
Here are some details about the educator expense deduction:
- For 2019, educators can deduct up to $250 of trade or business expenses that weren’t reimbursed. (The deduction is $500 if both taxpayers are eligible educators who file a joint tax return, but these taxpayers can’t deduct more than $250 each.)
- Qualified expenses are amounts educators paid themselves during the tax year.
- Examples of expenses that educators can deduct include books, supplies, computer equipment (including software), other materials used in the classroom, and professional development courses.
- To be eligible, taxpayers must be kindergarten through grade 12 teachers, instructors, counselors, principals or aides. They must also work at least 900 hours a school year in a school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under state law.
Educators should keep receipts when they make eligible expenses and note the date, amount and purpose of each purchase.
Teachers or professors may see advertisements for job-related courses in out-of-town or exotic locations. You may have wondered whether traveling to these courses is tax-deductible on teachers’ tax returns. The bad news is that, for tax years 2018–2025, it isn’t, because the outlays are employee business expenses.
Prior to 2018, employee business expenses could be claimed as miscellaneous itemized deductions. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, miscellaneous itemized deductions aren’t deductible by individuals for tax years 2018–2025.
© 2019 Covenant CPA
If you run your business from your home or perform certain functions at home that are related to your business, you might be able to claim a home office deduction against your business income on your 2018 income tax return. There are now two methods for claiming this deduction: the actual expenses method and the simplified method.
Basics of the deduction
In general, you’ll qualify for a home office deduction if part of your home is used “regularly and exclusively” as your principal place of business.
If your home isn’t your principal place of business, you may still be able to deduct home office expenses if 1) you physically meet with patients, clients or customers on your premises, or 2) you use a storage area in your home (or a separate free-standing structure, such as a garage) exclusively and regularly for your business.
Traditionally, taxpayers have deducted actual expenses when they claim a home office deduction. Deductible home office expenses may include:
- Direct expenses, such as the cost of painting and carpeting a room used exclusively for business,
- A proportionate share of indirect expenses, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, repairs and insurance, and
- A depreciation allowance.
But keeping track of actual expenses can be time consuming.
The simplified method
Fortunately, there’s a simplified method that’s been available since 2013: You can deduct $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum total of $1,500.
For example, if you’ve converted a 300-square-foot bedroom to an office you use exclusively and regularly for business, you can write off $1,500 under the simplified method (300 square feet x $5). However, if your business is located in a 600-square-foot finished basement, the deduction will still be only $1,500 because of the cap on the deduction under this method.
As you can see, the cap can make the simplified method less beneficial for larger home office spaces. But even for spaces of 300 square feet or less, taxpayers may qualify for a bigger deduction using the actual expense method. So, tracking your actual expenses can be worth the extra hassle.
Flexibility in filing
When claiming the home office deduction, you’re not locked into a particular method. For instance, you might choose the actual expense method on your 2018 return, use the simplified method when you file your 2019 return next year and then switch back to the actual expense method thereafter. The choice is yours.
Unsure whether you qualify for the home office deduction? Or wondering whether you should deduct actual expenses or use the simplified method? Contact us at 205-345-9898. We can help you determine what’s right for your specific situation.
© 2019 Covenant CPA
When you file your 2018 income tax return, you’ll likely find that some big tax law changes affect you — besides the much-discussed tax rate cuts and reduced itemized deductions. For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes significant changes to personal exemptions, standard deductions and the child credit. The degree to which these changes will affect you depends on whether you have dependents and, if so, how many. It also depends on whether you typically itemize deductions.
1. No more personal exemptions
For 2017, taxpayers could claim a personal exemption of $4,050 each for themselves, their spouses and any dependents. For families with children and/or other dependents, such as elderly parents, these exemptions could really add up.
For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA suspends personal exemptions. This will substantially increase taxable income for large families. However, enhancements to the standard deduction and child credit, combined with lower tax rates and other changes, might mitigate this increase.
2. Nearly doubled standard deduction
Taxpayers can choose to itemize certain deductions or take the standard deduction based on their filing status. Itemizing deductions when the total will be larger than the standard deduction saves tax, but it makes filing more complicated.
For 2017, the standard deductions were $6,350 for singles and separate filers, $9,350 for head of household filers, and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.
The TCJA nearly doubles the standard deductions for 2018 to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. For 2019, they’re $12,200, $18,350 and $24,400, respectively. (These amounts will continue to be adjusted for inflation annually through 2025.)
For some taxpayers, the increased standard deduction could compensate for the elimination of the exemptions, and perhaps provide some additional tax savings. But for those with many dependents or who itemize deductions, these changes might result in a higher tax bill — depending in part on the extent to which they can benefit from enhancements to the child credit.
3. Enhanced child credit
Credits can be more powerful than exemptions and deductions because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar, rather than just reducing the amount of income subject to tax. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA doubles the child credit to $2,000 per child under age 17.
The TCJA also makes the child credit available to more families. For 2018 through 2025, the credit doesn’t begin to phase out until adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 for joint filers or $200,000 for all other filers, compared with the 2017 phaseout thresholds of $110,000 and $75,000, respectively.
The TCJA also includes, for 2018 through 2025, a $500 credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children.
Maximize your tax savings
These are just some of the TCJA changes that may affect you when you file your 2018 tax return and for the next several years. We can help ensure you claim all of the breaks available to you on your 2018 return and implement TCJA-smart tax-saving strategies for 2019. Call us at 205-345-9898 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2019 Covenant CPA
While most provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) went into effect in 2018 and either apply through 2025 or are permanent, there are two major changes under the act for 2019. Here’s a closer look.
1. Medical expense deduction threshold
With rising health care costs, claiming whatever tax breaks related to health care that you can is more important than ever. But there’s a threshold for deducting medical expenses that was already difficult for many taxpayers to meet, and it may be even harder to meet this year.
The TCJA temporarily reduced the threshold from 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5% of AGI. Unfortunately, the reduction applies only to 2017 and 2018. So for 2019, the threshold returns to 10% — unless legislation is signed into law extending the 7.5% threshold. Only qualified, unreimbursed expenses exceeding the threshold can be deducted.
Also, keep in mind that you have to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing saves tax only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. And with the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 through 2025, many taxpayers who’ve typically itemized may no longer benefit from itemizing.
2. Tax treatment of alimony
Alimony has generally been deductible by the ex-spouse paying it and included in the taxable income of the ex-spouse receiving it. Child support, on the other hand, hasn’t been deductible by the payer or taxable income to the recipient.
Under the TCJA, for divorce agreements executed (or, in some cases, modified) after December 31, 2018, alimony payments won’t be deductible — and will be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. So, essentially, alimony will be treated the same way as child support.
Because the recipient ex-spouse would typically pay income taxes at a rate lower than that of the paying ex-spouse, the overall tax bite will likely be larger under this new tax treatment. This change is permanent.
TCJA impact on 2018 and 2019
Most TCJA changes went into effect in 2018, but not all. Contact us at 205-345-9898 if you have questions about the medical expense deduction or the tax treatment of alimony — or any other changes that might affect you in 2019. We can also help you assess the impact of the TCJA when you file your 2018 tax return.
© 2019 Covenant CPA
Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, and many have gone up for 2019, giving you opportunities to increase your retirement savings:
- Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $19,000 (up from $18,500)
- Contributions to defined contribution plans: $56,000 (up from $55,000)
- Contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,000 (up from $12,500)
- Contributions to IRAs: $6,000 (up from $5,500)
One exception is catch-up contributions for taxpayers age 50 or older, which remain at the same levels as for 2018:
- Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans: $6,000
- Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000
- Catch-up contributions to IRAs: $1,000
Keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions.
For more on how to make the most of your tax-advantaged retirement-saving opportunities in 2019, please contact us at 205-345-9898.
© 2018 Covenant CPA
Tax planning is a year-round activity, but there are still some year-end strategies you can use to lower your 2018 tax bill. Here are six last-minute tax moves business owners should consider:
- Postpone invoices. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, and it would benefit from deferring income to next year, wait until early 2019 to send invoices. Accrual-basis businesses can defer recognition of certain advance payments for products to be delivered or services to be provided next year.
- Prepay expenses. A cash-basis business may be able to reduce its 2018 taxes by prepaying certain expenses — such as lease payments, insurance premiums, utility bills, office supplies and taxes — before the end of the year. Many expenses can be deducted up to 12 months in advance.
- Buy equipment. Take advantage of 100% bonus depreciation and Section 179 expensing to deduct the full cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, bonus depreciation, like Sec. 179 expensing, is now available for both new and used assets. Keep in mind that, to deduct the expense on your 2018 return, the assets must be placed in service — not just purchased — by the end of the year.
- Use credit cards. What if you’d like to prepay expenses or buy equipment before the end of the year, but you don’t have the cash? Consider using your business credit card. Generally, expenses paid by credit card are deductible when charged, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until next year.
- Contribute to retirement plans. If you’re self-employed or own a pass-through business — such as a partnership, limited liability company or S corporation — one of the best ways to reduce your 2018 tax bill is to increase deductible contributions to retirement plans. Usually, these contributions must be made by year-end. But certain plans — such as SEP IRAs — allow your business to make 2018 contributions up until its tax return due date (including extensions).
- Qualify for the pass-through deduction. If your business is a sole proprietorship or pass-through entity, you may qualify for the new pass-through deduction of up to 20% of qualified business income. But if your taxable income exceeds $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), certain limitations kick in that can reduce or even eliminate the deduction. One way to avoid these limitations is to reduce your income below the threshold — for example, by having your business increase its retirement plan contributions.
Most of these strategies are subject to various limitations and restrictions beyond what we’ve covered here, so please consult us before you implement them. We can also offer more ideas for reducing your taxes this year and next. Call us at 205-345-9898.
© 2018 Covenant CPA