Keeping Up With Your IRA: Tax Season Checklist

accountant working in officeIf you’re one of the millions of American households who owns either a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) or a Roth IRA, then the onset of tax season should serve as a reminder to review your retirement savings strategies and make any changes that will enhance your prospects for long-term financial security. It’s also a good time to start an IRA if you don’t already have one. The IRS allows you to contribute to an IRA up to April 15, 2021, for the 2020 tax year.

This checklist will provide you with information to help you make informed decisions and implement a long-term retirement income strategy.

Which Account: Roth IRA or Traditional IRA?

There are two types of IRAs available: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. The primary difference between them is the tax treatment of contributions and distributions (withdrawals). Traditional IRAs may allow a tax deduction based on the amount of a contribution, depending on your income level. Any account earnings compound on a tax-deferred basis, and distributions are taxable at the time of withdrawal at then-current income tax rates. Roth IRAs do not allow a deduction for contributions, but account earnings and qualified withdrawals are tax free.1

In choosing between a traditional and a Roth IRA, you should weigh the immediate tax benefits of a tax deduction this year against the benefits of tax-deferred or tax-free distributions in retirement.

If you need the immediate deduction this year — and if you qualify for it — then you may wish to opt for a traditional IRA. If you don’t qualify for the deduction, then it’s almost certainly a better idea to fund a Roth IRA.

Case in point: Your ability to deduct traditional IRA contributions may be limited not only by income, but by your participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. (See callout box below.) If that’s the case, a Roth IRA is likely to be the better solution.

On the other hand, if you expect your tax bracket to drop significantly after retirement, you may be better off with a traditional IRA if you qualify for the deduction. You could claim an immediate deduction now and pay taxes at the lower rate later. Nonetheless, if your anticipated holding period is long, a Roth IRA might still make more sense. That’s because a prolonged period of tax-free compounded earnings could more than make up for the lack of a deduction.

Traditional IRA Deductible Contribution Phase-Outs

Your ability to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA is affected by whether you are covered by a workplace retirement plan.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, your deduction for contributions to a traditional IRA will be reduced (phased out) if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is:

  • Between $104,000 and $124,000 for a married couple filing a joint return for the 2020 tax year.
  • Between $65,000 and $75,000 for a single individual or head of household for the 2020 tax year.

If you are not covered by a retirement plan at work but your spouse is covered, your 2020 deduction for contributions to a traditional IRA will be reduced if your MAGI is between $196,000 and $206,000.

If your MAGI is higher than the phase-out ceilings listed above for your filing status, you cannot claim the deduction.

Roth IRA Contribution Phase-Outs

Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is affected by your MAGI. Contributions to a Roth IRA will be phased out if your MAGI is:

  • Between $196,000 and $206,000 for a married couple filing a joint return for the 2020 tax year.
  • Between $124,000 and $139,000 for a single individual or head of household for the 2020 tax year.

If your MAGI is higher than the phase-out ceilings listed above for your filing status, you cannot make a contribution.

Should You Convert to Roth?

The IRS allows you to convert — or change the designation of — a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, regardless of your income level. As part of the conversion, you must pay taxes on any investment growth in — and on the amount of any deductible contributions previously made to — the traditional IRA. The withdrawal from your traditional IRA will not affect your eligibility for a Roth IRA or trigger the 10% additional federal tax normally imposed on early withdrawals.

The decision to convert or not ultimately depends on your timing and tax status. If you are near retirement and find yourself in the top income tax bracket this year, now may not be the time to convert. On the other hand, if your income is unusually low and you still have many years to retirement, you may want to convert.

Maximize Contributions

If possible, try to contribute the maximum amount allowed by the IRS: $6,000 per individual, plus an additional $1,000 annually for those age 50 and older for the 2020 tax year. Those limits are per individual, not per IRA.

Of course, not everyone can afford to contribute the maximum to an IRA, especially if they’re also contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. If your workplace retirement plan offers an employer’s matching contribution, that additional money may be more valuable than the amount of your deduction. As a result, it might make sense to maximize plan contributions first and then try to maximize IRA contributions.

Review Distribution Strategies

If you’re ready to start making withdrawals from an IRA, you’ll need to choose the distribution strategy to use: a lump-sum distribution or periodic distributions. If you are at least age 72 and own a traditional IRA, you may need to take required minimum distributions every year, according to IRS rules. This age was increased from 70½, effective January 1, 2020. Account holders who turned 70½ before that date are subject to the old rules.

Don’t forget that your distribution strategy may have significant tax-time implications if you own a traditional IRA, because taxes will be due at the time of withdrawal. As a result, taking a lump-sum distribution will result in a much heftier tax bill this year than taking a minimum distribution.

The April filing deadline is never that far away, so don’t hesitate to use the remaining time to shore up the IRA strategies you’ll rely on to live comfortably in retirement.

1Early withdrawals (before age 59½) from a traditional IRA may be subject to a 10% additional federal tax. Nonqualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA may be subject to ordinary income tax as well as the 10% additional tax.

Our team of tax planning and income tax preparation professionals can help you save on taxes. Contact us to request a consultation, or give us a call today at 775-332-4201 and ask for Mark Bailey for more information.

Are Opportunity Zones an Opportunity for You?

Two Businesswomen Meeting In OfficeCreated by the TCJA in 2017, opportunity zones are designed to help economically distressed areas by encouraging investments. This article contains an introduction to the complex details of how these zones work.

The IRS describes an opportunity zone as “an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.” How does a community become an opportunity zone? Localities qualify as opportunity zones when they’ve been nominated by their states. Then, the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury certifies the nomination. The Treasury Secretary delegates authority to the IRS.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act added opportunity zones to the tax code. The IRS says opportunity zones are new, although there have been other provisions in the past to help communities in need with tax incentives to spur business.

The new wrinkle is how opportunity zones are designed to stimulate economic development via tax benefits for investors.

  • A Qualified Opportunity Fund is an investment vehicle set up as a partnership or corporation for investing in eligible property located in a qualified opportunity zone. A limited liability company that chooses to be treated either as a partnership or corporation for federal tax purposes can organize as a QOF.
  • Investors can defer taxes on any prior gains invested in a QOF until whichever is earlier: the date the QOF investment is sold or exchanged or Dec. 31, 2026.
  • If the QOF investment is held longer than five years, there is a 10 percent exclusion of the deferred gain.
  • If the QOF investment is held for more than seven years, there is a 15 percent exclusion of the deferred gain.
  • If the QOF investment is held for at least 10 years, the investor is eligible for an increase in basis on the investment equal to its fair market value on the date that the QOF investment is sold or exchanged.
  • You don’t have to live, work or have a business in an opportunity zone to get the tax benefits. But you do need to invest a recognized gain in a QOF and elect to defer the tax on that gain.
  • To become a QOF, an eligible corporation or partnership self-certifies by filing Form 8996, Qualified Opportunity Fund, with its federal income tax return.

The first set of opportunity zones covers parts of 18 states and was designated on April 9, 2018. Since then, there have been opportunity zones added to parts of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. More details are available on the U.S. Treasury website. Or see the IRS website for more information.

Our team of tax planning and income tax preparation professionals can help you save on taxes. Contact us to request a consultation, or give us a call today at 775-332-4201 and ask for Mark Bailey for more information.

“Extender” Legislation Impacts Individuals and Small Businesses

Woman Working From Home Using Laptop On Dining TableThe federal spending package that was enacted in the waning days of 2019 contains numerous provisions that will impact both businesses and individuals. In addition to repealing three health care taxes and making changes to retirement plan rules, the legislation extends several expired tax provisions. Here is an overview of several of the more important provisions in the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2019.

Deduction for Mortgage Insurance Premiums

Before the Act, mortgage insurance premiums paid or accrued before January 1, 2018, were potentially deductible as qualified residence interest, subject to a phase-out based on the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). The Act retroactively extends this treatment through 2020.

Reduction in Medical Expense Deduction Floor

For 2017 and 2018, taxpayers were able to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses to the extent that such expenses were greater than 7.5% of AGI. The AGI threshold was scheduled to increase to 10% of AGI for 2019 and later tax years. Under the Act, the 7.5% of AGI threshold is extended through 2020.

Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses Deduction

The above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education, which expired at the end of 2017, has been extended through 2020. The deduction is capped at $4,000 for a taxpayer whose modified AGI does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for those filing jointly) or $2,000 for a taxpayer whose modified AGI is not greater than $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers). The deduction is not allowed with modified AGI of more than $80,000 ($160,000 if you are a joint filer).

Credit for Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

The 10% credit for certain qualified energy improvements (windows, doors, roofs, skylights) to a principal residence has been extended through 2020, as have the credits for purchases of energy efficient property (furnaces, boilers, biomass stoves, heat pumps, water heaters, central air conditions, and circulating fans), subject to a lifetime cap of $500.

Empowerment Zone Tax Incentives

Businesses and individual residents within economically depressed areas that are designated as “Empowerment Zones” are eligible for special tax incentives. Empowerment Zone designations, which expired on December 31, 2017, have been extended through December 31, 2020, under the new tax law.

Employer Tax Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave

A provision in the tax code permits eligible employers to claim an elective general business credit based on eligible wages paid to qualifying employees with respect to family and medical leave. This credit has been extended through 2020.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit

Employers who hire individuals who belong to one or more of 10 targeted groups can receive an elective general business credit under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program. The recent tax law extends this credit through 2020.

For details about these and other tax breaks included in the recent law, please consult your tax advisor.

Our audit and assurance team can assist you with audits, reviews and compilations. Contact us to request a consultation, or give us a call today at 775-360-2017 and ask for Christy Horgan for more information.

Social Security: Note the Key Changes for 2020

Excelsis Accounting GroupThe Social Security Administration has released new numbers for those paying Social Security and those collecting it. Check out the new maximum taxable earnings amount as well as COLA and other key adjustments.

Every year, the Social Security Administration takes a fresh look at its numbers and typically makes adjustments. Here are the basics for 2020 — what has changed, and what hasn’t.

First, the basic percentages have not changed:

  • Employees and employers continue to pay 7.65% each, with the self-employed paying both halves.
  • The Medicare portion remains 1.45% on all earnings, with high earners continuing to pay an additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes.
  • The Social Security portion (OASDI) remains 6.20% on earnings up to the applicable taxable maximum amount — and that’s what’s changing:

Starting in 2020, the maximum taxable amount is $137,700, up from the 2019 maximum of $132,900. This actually affects relatively few workers; the Society for Human Resource Management notes in an article that only about 6% of employees earn more than the current taxable maximum.

Also changing is the retirement earnings test exempt amount. Those who have not yet reached normal retirement age but are collecting benefits will find the SSA withholding $1 in benefits for every $2 in earnings above a certain limit. That limit is $17,640 per year for 2019 and will be $18,240 for 2020. (See the SSA for additional information on how this works.)

Cost-of-living adjustments

Those collecting Social Security will see a slight increase in their checks: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will receive a 1.6% COLA for 2020. This is based on the increase in the consumer price index from the third quarter of 2018 through the third quarter of 2019, according to the SSA.

A detailed fact sheet about the changes is available on the SSA site.

Do You Have to File an Information Return?

accountant working in officeIf you made or received a payment in a calendar year as a small business or self-employed individual, you most likely are required to file an information return to the IRS. Click through to learn what this means.

If you engaged in certain financial transactions during the calendar year as a small business or self-employed (individual), you are most likely required to file an information return to the IRS. Below are some of the transactions that you have to report.

  • Services performed by independent contractors — those not employed by your business.
  • Prizes and awards, as well as certain other payments — termed other income.
  • Rent.
  • Royalties.
  • Backup withholding or federal income tax withheld.
  • Payments to physicians, physicians’ corporation or other suppliers of health and medical services.
  • Substitute dividends or tax-exempt interest payments, and you are a broker.
  • Crop insurance proceeds.
  • Gross proceeds of $600 or more paid to an attorney.
  • Interest on a business debt to someone (excluding interest on an obligation issued by an individual.
  • Dividends and other distributions to a company shareholder.
  • Distribution from a retirement or profit plan, or from an IRA or insurance contract.
  • Payments to merchants or other entities in settlement of reportable payable transactions — any payment card or third-party network transaction.

Being in receipt of a payment may also require you to file an information return. Some examples include:

  • Payment of mortgage interest (including points) or reimbursements of overpaid interest from individuals.
  • Sale or exchange of real estate.
  • You are a broker and you sold a covered security belonging to your customer.
  • You are an issuer of a security taking a specified corporate action that affects the cost basis of the securities held by others.
  • You released someone from paying a debt secured by property, or someone abandoned property that was subject to the debt or otherwise forgave their debt to you (1099-C).
  • You made direct sales of at least $5,000 of consumer products to a buyer for resale anywhere other than in a permanent retail establishment.

Keep in mind that information is for businesses. You will not have to file an information return if you are not engaged in a trade or business. You also will not have to file an information return if you are engaged in a trade or business and 1) the payment was made to another business that’s incorporated, but wasn’t for medical or legal services or 2) the sum of all payments made to the person or unincorporated business was less than $600 in one tax year.

This is just an introduction to a complicated topic, and the mechanics of filing such a return are filled with essential details. If you’re running a business, even a small one, be sure to discuss the details with a qualified professional.

Our team of tax planning and income tax preparation professionals can help you save on taxes. Contact us to request a consultation, or give us a call today at 775-332-4201 and ask for Mark Bailey for more information.

Payroll Taxes: Who’s Responsible?

binder with payrollAny business with employees must withhold money from its employees’ paychecks for income and employment taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes (known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, or FICA), and forward that money to the government. A business that knowingly or unknowingly fails to remit these withheld taxes in a timely manner will find itself in trouble with the IRS.

The IRS may levy a penalty, known as the trust fund recovery penalty, on individuals classified as “responsible persons.” The penalty is equal to 100% of the unpaid federal income and FICA taxes withheld from employees’ pay.

Who’s a Responsible Person?

Any person who is responsible for collecting, accounting for, and paying over withheld taxes and who willfully fails to remit those taxes to the IRS is a responsible person who can be liable for the trust fund recovery penalty. A company’s officers and employees in charge of accounting functions could fall into this category. However, the IRS will take the facts and circumstances of each individual case into consideration.

The IRS states that a responsible person may be:

  • An officer or an employee of a corporation
  • A member or employee of a partnership
  • A corporate director or shareholder
  • Another person with authority and control over funds to direct their disbursement
  • Another corporation or third-party payer
  • Payroll service providers
  • The IRS will target any person who has significant influence over whether certain bills or creditors should be paid or is responsible for day-to-day financial management.

Working With the IRS

If your responsibilities make you a “responsible person,” then you must make certain that all payroll taxes are being correctly withheld and remitted in a timely manner.

Our team of tax planning and income tax preparation professionals can help you save on taxes. Contact us to request a consultation, or give us a call today at 775-332-4201 and ask for Mark Bailey for more information.