Need to Pay Estimated Income Taxes?

The IRS requires taxpayers to pay their income tax liability as their income is earned. States that charge income tax and the District of Columbia have similar rules. Employers withhold and remit income taxes to cover their employees’ tax liability on wages and other compensation. Job done. But taxpayers with non-compensation income like interest, dividends, capital gains, prizes and awards may have to make estimated tax payments to cover the related income tax liability.

Taxpayers with profits from self-employment must regularly assess their need to make estimated income tax payments, as well as other taxes such as the self-employment tax. “Regularly” means at least quarterly. All the necessary details about making payments, when and how much are at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/estimated-taxes

It’s a lot to read, so let’s boil it down to three important things to know:

  1. When are Estimated Taxes Due?

For estimated tax purposes, the year is divided into four quarters. Although some payment due dates changed temporarily due to COVID, estimated tax payments are generally due on April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year. If the payment due date falls on a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday, the payment is due the next business day.

  1. How Much Do You Need to Pay?

Estimated tax payments are based on estimated income and resulting tax liability. An estimated tax payment is due if the liability is at least $1,000, after subtracting withholding and refundable credits. Withholdings or estimated payments must equal or exceed the smaller of 90% of your 2021 tax liability, or 100% of your 2020 tax liability. Calculate your 2021 tax liability at this link https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-1040-es

  1. What if You Don’t Pay Enough?

Interest is due on any unpaid balance, accrued daily from the time the tax liability was created (i.e., by receiving income) until the tax is paid. Interest accrues daily, which can really add to your tax bill. Clearly, the IRS is serious about getting paid on time. Figure your 2021 federal income tax bill by using the IRS Withholding Estimator at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator.

Taxpayers who paid a lot when filing their 2020 income tax return and those who receive income with no tax withholdings should look at whether 2021 estimated income tax payments are needed. The IRS has all the tools to figure it out at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/estimated-taxes.

Tax Balance Payment Options

Believe it or not, the IRS is still opening mail and processing tax returns that stacked up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another IRS task that backed up over the last year is sending notices to taxpayers who have outstanding tax balances. If an IRS notice arrives in your mailbox, don’t panic. Open it right away, read it carefully, and verify the contents with your tax records. 

Even if the notice is due to an IRS mistake, you need to respond to get your tax records corrected. But what if the notice is accurate and you do owe taxes to the IRS? How can you pay?

The IRS offers several payment options, depending on your situation:

  1. Pay Now – Paying the full balance online is free if you can have the balance due debited from the bank account of your choice. Paying by credit card is an option but the fees are high, so make sure that you read the fine print first before making your decision. https://www.irs.gov/payments/online-payment-agreement-application
  1. Short Term Payment Plan – If you can pay the amount due in 120 days or less and the total amount due is less than $100,000, this could be the best option for you. No set-up fee is charged, and you can pay via direct debit from the bank account of your choice. https://www.irs.gov/payments/online-payment-agreement-application 
  1. Installment Agreement – If you need more than 120 days to pay, this option requires a set-up fee of between $31 and $225. Installment Agreements may require some financial information from you, depending on the amount due. https://www.irs.gov/payments/payment-plans-installment-agreements#costs
  1. Offer in Compromise – The IRS wants to collect all taxes due but does not want to create a financial burden on taxpayers. An Offer in Compromise allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount owed if paying your full tax liability would create a financial hardship. See if you qualify at https://www.irs.gov/payments/offer-in-compromise.
Other considerations to keep in mind are:
  • Payment plan applications are generally easier to get approved for lower tax liabilities due than for large balances. 
  • The application process differs based on the tax liability outstanding. For example, applications for $10,000 or less are automatically approved as a guaranteed Installment Agreement. Amounts over $50,000 require a more thorough review to determine if assets can be liquidated to pay the taxes due.

The IRS has been catching up with its pandemic backlog, including sending out notices to taxpayers who have outstanding tax balances. If an IRS notice arrives in your mailbox, check it against your records. Really owe what it says? Remember that the IRS offers several payment options, depending on your situation.

Advanced Child Tax Credit Starts July 15th

The Advance Child Tax Credit, part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, starts on July 15th .
Eligible families will receive monthly payments of up to $300 per qualifying child from July
through the end of 2021 to help them bridge the financial gap caused by the COVID-19
pandemic. Advance Child Tax Credit payments are based on tax credits that would ordinarily be
received next year when income tax returns are filed for 2021.

Taxpayers who filed a tax return for 2019 or 2020 should receive their first Advance Child Tax
Credit payment on or around July 15th . Taxpayers who provided bank information with their filed
federal income tax return should see the payment direct deposited into their bank account. If the
IRS does not have bank information on file, the taxpayer will receive the payment in a check mailed to the address it has on file.

What about people whose income for 2019 and 2020 wasn’t high enough to have to file an income tax return? The IRS established an online Non-filer Sign-up tool to help them register for the monthly Advance Child Tax Credit payments by providing required information about
themselves, their qualifying children aged 18 and under, and their bank information so the IRS
can deposit the payments into their checking or savings account.
Eligible families need to know these facts about the Advance Child Tax Credit:

  1. The Child Tax Credit increase and Advance Payments are in effect for 2021 only, unless
    extended by new law.
  2. The Child Tax Credit is increased from $2,000 to $3,000 per eligible child, for children
    who are age 6 and older, and to $3,600 per eligible child for children under the age of 6.
  3. The age for qualifying children is increased from children under age 17 to children under
    age 18, thereby increasing the number of eligible children.
  4. The Child Tax Credit is fully refundable, meaning that eligible taxpayers could receive a
    tax refund that exceeds her or his tax federal withholding.
  5. Income limitations for the Child Tax Credit remain at $200,000 for single taxpayers and
    $400,000 for married filing joint. The Additional Child Tax Credit is phased out by $50
    for every $1,000 of modified adjusted gross income above the threshold.
  6. Any eligible Child Tax Credit not paid in advance from July to December 2021 will be
    received after the taxpayer files her or his 2021 federal income tax return.
    The Advance Child Tax Credit gives eligible families up to $300 a month per qualifying
    child through the end of 2021 to help them bridge the financial gap caused by COVID-19.
    Want to know more? The IRS recently posted FAQs at https://www.irs.gov/credits-
    deductions/2021-child-tax-credit-and-advance-child-tax-credit-payments-topic-d-calculation-
    of-advance-child-tax-credit-payments.

Are Social Security Benefits Taxable?

Most workers have heard about Social Security their entire lives and laughed, “Ha! I’ll never see those benefits!” Then, suddenly, those workers are approaching retirement age and thinking about when that “free money” is going to start. But is it free money? Sure, it’s free, in the sense that you don’t need to work to get it. However, a portion of those Social Security benefits could cost you because they are taxable.

If Social Security is going to be your only income in 2021, your benefits will probably not be taxable. If you receive income other than Social Security, such as wages, interest, dividends, capital gains, or net business income, you must do a few calculations to determine whether any of your Social Security benefits are subject to federal tax.

Here’s a quick way to find out if a portion of your Social Security benefits are taxable:

  1. Determine the total Social Security benefits that you will receive in 2021.
  1. Multiply the total benefits by 50%.
  1. Add the 50% of your Social Security benefits received during 2021to all your other income received in 2021, including tax-exempt interest. 
  1. If you’re married and file a joint return, you and your spouse must combine your incomes and Social Security benefits when figuring the taxable portion of your benefits, even if your spouse didn’t receive any Social Security benefits.
  1. Compare the total from #3 to the Base Amount for your tax filing status:
  • $25,000 – For single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married filing separately and lived apart from their spouse for all of 2021
  • $32,000 – For married filing jointly
  • $0 – For couples married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during 2021
  1. If the total from #3 is higher than the Base Amount, a portion of the Social Security benefits above the Base Amount is taxable, up to 85% of the benefits. The higher your income, the higher the percentage of Social Security benefits subject to federal tax.

If you are approaching retirement age and thinking about your “free money” from Social Security, you need to check on whether it really is free. A portion of those Social Security benefits could be subject to federal tax, depending on your other income and your Base Amount.

Have questions? The IRS has answers for you at https://www.irs.gov/faqs/social-security-income.

Act Now and Reduce Tax Stress Later

Rejoice! The 2020 tax filing season is finally over! That is, unless you needed more time to file and requested an extension after reading my May 5th blog post (https://buff.ly/3t0X73l). Between all the changes from the COVID-19 relief packages and deadline delays, this tax filing season was another wild ride for taxpayers and their preparers. 

Well, how did it go for you? Stressful? Expensive surprises? Not knowing what to expect makes an already stressful situation – doing your taxes – even worse.  Here are a few actions to take now that will reduce your tax stress later:

  • Do a “Paycheck Checkup” 

Did you owe a lot when you filed for 2020, or did you get a big refund, aka an interest-free loan to the government? An IRS Paycheck Checkup can help to make sure you don’t get an expensive surprise when you file your 2021. Use this online tool to see if you need to change your withholdings https://www.irs.gov/paycheck-checkup. Have investment other non-wage income? Check on whether you need to make quarterly estimated tax payments here https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/estimated-taxes

  • Make Tax Payments Electronically

Using any of the IRS electronic payment options puts you in control of paying your tax bill. You determine the payment date and receive an immediate confirmation from the IRS. It’s easy, secure, and much quicker than mailing in a check or money order. Go to IRS.gov/payments to see all the free electronic payment options: online, by phone or from a mobile device using the latest encryption technology. Check with your state for online payment options.

  • Contribution Deduction for Nonitemizers

Even if you don’t itemize and take the standard deduction, you may be eligible to take a charitable deduction for cash contributions up to $300 made to qualifying charities in 2021. Eligible contributions must be made via cash, check or credit card. Use the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant tool – Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions? – for answers about cash donations.

  • Tax Credit Eligibility

You could qualify for credits like the Child Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit. You might be able to claim the Credit for Other Dependents if a dependent is not your child. If you pay qualifying higher education costs for yourself, your spouse, or a dependent, you may be eligible for education tax credits or deductions. Taxpayers earning $57,414 or less can check if they qualify with the EITC Assistant, available in both English and Spanish.

Now, immediately after filing your 2020 tax returns, is the perfect time to act and reduce tax stress next filing season. Whether you prepare your own taxes or use a tax preparer, the more you know in advance, the less stressful that your tax return filing experience will be for 2021.

Not Ready to File by May 17?

For the second year in a row, the income tax filing deadline is delayed. This year, the filing due date for the IRS and most states is May 17th instead of the “normal” April 15th. Despite the delay, the tax deadline can sneak up on you. If you’re in a panic because you haven’t started gathering your tax documents, you can probably relax. 

You can request a tax filing extension to postpone from May 17th to October 15th. You don’t need to provide a reason for needing the extension, but it does take a little time to get it done right and avoid possible underpayment penalties.

Three tips for getting an income tax filing extension:

  1. You Must Apply

Individuals can request a tax filing extension by filing IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, online at the IRS website, via approved tax software, or in paper form. It must be sent or postmarked no later than midnight on the original due date. The extension is automatically approved if a refund is expected or if the estimated amount due is paid with the extension request.

  1. Pay Amounts Due

Use the IRS Form 4868 instructions at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf to estimate your 2020 income tax liability. Compare your estimated taxes to your tax withholding or quarterly estimated payments and enter the numbers on the extension request. If you owe more in taxes than you’ve paid in, the balance due must be paid with the extension request. Failure to pay the amount due results in an underpayment penalty and interest accrued daily on the unpaid balance.

  1. Check Your State

Each state has its own set of rules and processes for its residents to request an income tax filing extension. As mentioned above, most states followed the IRS and delayed their 2020 tax filing deadline, but some did not match the IRS’ May 17th deadline. Check your state’s tax department website for deadline updates and links to information about requesting an extension of time to file for 2020.

Rushing at the last minute is stressful and causes mistakes, especially with an already stressful activity like filing your income tax returns. Get more time to file your 2020 federal income tax return by requesting a tax filing extension. Go to the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/extension-of-time-to-file-your-tax-return for details and help estimating any taxes you owe with the extension request.

About the Home Office Deduction

Tax clients ask me all the time about taking a home office deduction. That topic has come up even more often since COVID-19 has so many people working at home. However, everyone with an office at home isn’t eligible for a home office deduction, even if she or he owns a business. Lots of rules apply. It can be pretty confusing. 

So, let’s “un-confuse” the topic:

  1. Who is eligible for a home office deduction?

Only individuals who own a business are eligible for the deduction. Yes, some employees used to be eligible under special circumstances, but those rules changed at the end of 2017. Now, only business owners who use space in her or his home exclusively and regularly to substantially conduct business operations can consider taking a home office deduction. No non-business activity can be conducted in a home office. That means no personal items in the home office, even clothes in the closet.

  1. What home expenses can be deducted?

Deductible home office expenses are either direct or indirect, based on the expense type and business percentage of the home used for business. The most common method used to calculate the business percentage is dividing the square footage used exclusively for business by total square footage. Shared spaces, like hallways, cannot be included in office space.  

  • Direct Expenses: Expenses that benefit only the home area that is exclusively used for business, such as painting or repairs in the home office, are direct expenses that are fully deductible.
  • Indirect Expenses: Expenses for keeping up and running the entire home, such as the mortgage interest, real estate taxes, insurance, utilities, and general repairs are deductible based on the business use percentage, described above.

Expenses to maintain the non-living home space, such as lawn care, are not deductible. For business owners who don’t want to hassle with tracking all the various home office expenses, the IRS has a Simplified Option that allows a standard deduction of $5 per square foot, limited to 300 square feet.  

Eligibility for a home office deduction is determined by a lot of rules that can be confusing. We address the basics here, but there’s more to it. Details and examples are on the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/home-office-deduction.

RMD Rule Reminder

Keeping up with tax rule changes was never easy. But the flurry of tax changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been absolutely head-spinning. A few of those changes impact the rules for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts. RMD rules are how the IRS prevents taxpayers from avoiding tax payments on retirement funds that were invested pre-tax, or before any taxes were paid on the income used for the retirement investment.

On December 20, 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (aka “Secure Act”) was signed into law. The Secure Act changed IRA distributions and contributions in three big ways:

  • Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Age Increase

Under prior tax law, RMDs had to begin no later than April 1 following the year in which a person turned age 70½. For taxpayers who were not already age 70½ by December 31, 2019, the age to start taking RMDs is extended to 72. Distributions don’t have to be postponed to 72; it’s just an option. What’s better – waiting or not – depends on individual circumstances.

  • Contribution Age Restrictions Repealed 

Before the Secure Act, workers over age 70½ were not eligible to make contributions to an IRA. That contribution age limit has been eliminated. Yea! Slight damper on that celebration, though – the same rules about who can and cannot deduct a traditional IRA contribution apply, regardless of age. 

  • Inherited IRA “Stretch Distributions” Eliminated for Non-Spouses

Traditional IRAs that are inherited by someone other than the owner’s spouse can no longer be distributed over the life of the beneficiary. Distributions now must be taken within a ten-year period after inheritance. This new rule eliminates the options for non-spouse beneficiaries to use inherited traditional IRAs as part of his or her own retirement planning.

So, what does this mean for 2021 RMDs?

  • Individuals who reached 70½ in 2019 or earlier and were not required to take an RMD for 2020 are required to take an RMD for 2021 by December 31, 2021. 
  • Individuals who did not reach age 70½ in 2019 will reach age 72 in 2021 will have their first RMD due by April 1, 2022, and their second RMD due by December 31, 2022. 
  • To avoid having both amounts included in their income for the same year, the taxpayer can make the first withdrawal by December 31, 2021, instead of waiting until April 1, 2022. After the first year, all RMDs must be made by December 31.

Tax rules are always changing. Keeping up is always challenging. For help to meet the challenge, checkout the IRS website – HTTPS://WWW.IRS.GOV/NEWSROOM/TAX-TIME-GUIDE-IRS-REMINDS-TAXPAYERS-OF-RECENT-CHANGES-TO-RETIREMENT-PLANS.