As tax time approaches, here are some tax issues that taxpayers frequently overlook, ranging from obscure deductions to overlooked tax credits and benefits. Of course, not everything can be included since the tax law has grown significantly in complexity, and it would take a thick book to list everything. But besides what you are probably accustomed to, here are over 10 issues you may not be aware of and that can save you tax dollars.
Social Security Taxes Deduction – If you are self-employed, you can deduct half of the self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare tax) that you are liable for on your 2020 net profits. You don’t have to itemize on a Schedule A to take the deduction because it is an adjustment to income.
NOL Carryback – The year 2020 has been challenging for many businesses, especially those that were subjected to COVID-19 closure orders and ended up with a tax loss for the year. However, the CARES Act does allow a 5-year carryback period in which to use the loss (known as a net operating loss) for business owners who cannot utilize the full loss in 2020. This is done by amending prior returns to recover the taxes paid in the earlier year(s). First, the 2015 return is amended, and if not all of the loss is used on that return, then the 2016 return is amended, and so on.
Charitable Contribution Deduction for Non-Itemizers – For the first time ever, taxpayers can claim a cash charitable contribution without itemizing their deductions on Schedule A. Non-itemizers can deduct up to $300 in cash contributions per tax return. Unfortunately, the $300 limit – and not $600 – also applies to married taxpayers filing jointly. So, hold onto those receipts to substantiate the contributions.
Student-Loan Interest – If parents pay back a non-dependent child’s student loans, the IRS treats the transactions as if the money were a gift to the child and the child made the payment. Thus, the child is deemed as having paid any interest included in the payment and can deduct it as student-loan interest, which is deductible without having to itemize deductions, up to the annual limit of $2,500.
Extended Tax Benefits – A number of tax benefits that had expired at the end of 2019 were extended, without much fanfare, and are still available in 2020. In case you missed any of them, they include the following:
- A tax credit of up to $500 for installing energy-efficient improvements in your home, including exterior windows and skylights, exterior doors, metal roofs with appropriately pigmented coatings, asphalt roofing with appropriate cooling granules, energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning systems, insulation materials, or systems designed to reduce heat loss or gain. The $500 limit is a lifetime limit, so if you’ve taken this credit in the past, you need to take into account the amount of credit you claimed previously.
- A tax credit of up to $2,500 for purchasing a qualifying electric motorcycle.
- A deduction for mortgage insurance premiums on a loan used to purchase the home (acquisition debt).
- Forgiveness of qualified cancellation of debt income on a principal residence.
- Tax credits for fuel-cell vehicles and alternative-fuel-refueling property.
Gambling Losses – Gambling losses up to the extent of one’s gambling winnings are allowed as a deduction and can help to offset gambling winnings, provided the taxpayer itemizes deductions.
Spousal IRA – If one spouse works and the other does not, the tax law allows the non-working spouse to base his or her contribution to an IRA on the working spouse’s income. This tax benefit is frequently overlooked when spouses have been working for years and basing their individual contributions on their own income, and then one of the spouses retires. Even if the working spouse has a pension plan at work and his or her income precludes making a deductible IRA contribution, the non-working retired spouse may still make a contribution based on the working spouse’s income. Spousal contributions can also be made to Roth IRAs if the spouses’ joint income does not exceed IRS limits. As of 2020, the law was changed so that there is no longer an age limitation for making contributions to IRAs.
Reinvested Dividends – If you are invested in a mutual fund, you are probably reinvesting the annual dividends. Reinvested dividends add to the basis of your investment, and when you sell the mutual fund, having a higher basis will reduce the gain. Mutual funds are required to track your basis for mutual fund shares purchased after 2012. Some even track the basis and reinvested dividends going further back. However, some do not, and it would be your responsibility to track the reinvested dividends so that you get the benefit of all reinvested dividends when you sell.
Worthless Stock – If you are like most investors, you occasionally will pick a loser that declines in value. Sometimes, a security can even become totally worthless when the issuing company goes out of business. Whatever you do, don’t wait until it’s too late to claim your loss. If the IRS challenges the loss and the security is found to have become worthless in an earlier year, then the current year’s loss will be denied.
Self-Employed Health Insurance Deduction – A self-employed individual (or a partner or a more-than-2%-shareholder of an S corporation) can generally deduct, as an above-the-line expense, 100% of the amount paid during the tax year for medical insurance on behalf of themselves, their spouse, and their dependents limited to the self-employed taxpayer’s net income from self-employment.
However, no deduction is allowed for any month when the self-employed individual is eligible to participate in a subsidized health plan maintained by an employer of the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, any dependent, or any child of the taxpayer who hasn’t attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year. The term “subsidized” means that the employer pays at least 50% of the coverage’s cost.
The health insurance premiums claimed as an above-the-line self-employed health insurance expense cannot also be claimed as a Schedule A medical expense.
Summer Camp – If you are single and working, or married and both you and your spouse work, you may not realize that the costs of day camp during the summer generally count as expenses toward the child and dependent care credit allowing you to work. A day camp or similar program may qualify even if the camp specializes in a particular activity, such as soccer or computers. The credit ranges from 20% to 35% of the day camp’s cost, not exceeding $3,000 for one child or $6,000 for two or more. Overnight camps do not count.
Medical Dependent – You may not realize that if you itemize your deductions, you can deduct medical expenses paid for certain individuals who are not your dependents. One such situation involves divorced parents, in which the non-custodial parent can deduct medical expenses they pay for their child, even when the other parent claims the child as a dependent. Another situation, which we refer to as a medical dependent, involves paying the expenses for someone who would qualify as your dependent except that their gross income is too much, which disqualifies them. For 2020, the gross income limitation is $4,300.
Example – The taxpayers’ adult son was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and did not have medical insurance. His parents paid all of his medical expenses for the year. Their son meets all of the dependent qualifications, except that his gross income of $20,000 is too much, which disqualifies him. However, under the exception, they can still include his medical expenses on their 1040 Schedule A.
If you have questions about how these or other tax issues apply to your particular tax circumstances, please call 561-826-9303 to schedule a consultation.