Highlights of the Latest COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Bill

On December 27, 2020, the President signed into law the House Amendments to the Senate Amendments to bill HR 133. The original HR 133 was a US-Mexico trade pact, but after months of political tinkering, amendments in both chambers, and having numerous other bills stuffed into it, became a 5,593 page monster of a bill. Tucked within it are the complete federal spending appropriations for Fiscal Year 2021, the latest COVID-19 economic stimulus effort, and numerous additional items.

Here are some of the highlights from this massive piece of legislation:

  • Federal unemployment benefits will be extended, with an extra $300 per week bonus benefit added on.
  • Individuals may be eligible for a direct payment of up to $600 per person, subject to income limitations.
  • A second round of PPP loans have been authorized for businesses that experienced a 25% or greater decline in any quarter of 2020 over the same quarter in 2019.
  • PPP loans under $150,000 will effectively be given rubber-stamp forgiveness via a 1-page application and self-certification of forgiveness eligibility.
  • Recipients of EIDL grants no longer need to subtract the grant amount from their PPP forgiveness amount.
  • Business expenses paid with PPP funds and EIDL grants are fully tax deductible, and forgiven PPP loans amounts and EIDL grants are not included as income.

There are many additional provisions in this lengthy bill, of course, but these highlights should give hope to many struggling individuals and small businesses. To learn more about the provisions of this bill that can help your family or business, search our directory of tax firms to find a tax professional near you for assistance.… Continue reading

Six Financial Best Practices for Year-End 2020

By any measure, 2020 has been an interesting year. Tens of millions of Americans have faced unemployment, and millions of small businesses have had to scale back operations, or even worse, close permanently. And right when things start to feel like they’ll return to normal, something else happens.

Thankfully, with multiple COVID-19 vaccines in the works, there’s hope the load will lighten in the new year, which is fast approaching. While we prepare for a fresh start, here are six financial best practices for year-end 2020 and beyond, none of which require any heavy lifting.

  1. Give as you’re able, get a little back. What the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) took from charitable giving, this year’s CARES Act partially gave back – at least for 2020.
  • A $300 “Gift”: Under the TCJA, it became much harder to realize itemized tax deductions beyond what the increased standard deductions already allow. But this year, the CARES Act lets you donate up to $300 to a qualified charity, and deduct it “above the line.” In other words, even if you’re taking a standard deduction, you can give a little extra, and receive an extra tax break back, without having to itemize your deductions.
  • Giving Large: If you are itemizing deductions, the CARES Act also temporarily suspends the usual “60% of your AGI” limit on qualified cash contributions. The exception does NOT apply to Donor Advised Fund contributions, and has a few other restrictions. But if you’ve already been thinking about making a large donation to a favorite charity, 2020 might be an especially good year to do so – for all concerned.
  1. Revisit life’s risks. As the pandemic reminded us, life is full of surprises. That’s why it’s imperative to build wealth, and protect it against the inevitable unexpected. Is your current coverage still well-aligned with your potentially altered lifestyle? Perhaps you’re driving less, with lower coverage requirements. Or new health or career risks now warrant stronger disability insurance. Might it be time to consider long-term care or umbrella coverage? Bottom line, there’s no time like the present to prepare for your future greatest risks. 
  1. Leverage lower tax rates. While it’s never a sure bet, Federal income tax rates seem more likely to rise than fall over the next little while. Even before this year’s massive relief spending, the TCJA’s reduced individual income tax rates were set to expire after 2025, reverting to their prior, higher
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Understanding tax breaks for higher education

If you’ve been effected by the economic downturn and decided to return to school to further your own education, or you support a dependent that is a college student, there are three education tax breaks that you should be aware of.

Each of the three is unique, and only one of them can be claimed for any particular student in a given tax year. But, you can claim one type of education credit for a child, for example, and another type of credit for yourself.

The three most common tax breaks for higher education are:

  1. American Opportunity Credit (AOC)
  2. Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC)
  3. Tuition and fees deduction

All three of these tax benefits can be claimed regardless of whether you itemize or claim the standard deduction. The AOC and LLC are claimed using Form 8863, and while the IRS didn’t start processing tax returns filed with this form until late in the current tax return filing season, they are now doing so. The tuition and fees deduction is claimed using form 8917.

A few legislative notes:

  1. The “fiscal cliff” bill passed Jan 2, 2013 by Congress extended the AOC through tax year 2017.
  2. The same law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction through tax year 2013, since it actually had expired at the end of 2011.
  3. The LLC is a permanent part of the tax code (at least for now – that could change tomorrow, of course).

It should be noted that none of these tax benefits can be claimed by a non-resident alien, nor a person filing as Married Filing Seperately.

The AOC is aimed at full time college students completing their first four years of undergraduate education. Students must be at least a half-time student for at least 5 months out of the year to claim this credit, and they must also not have any felony drug convictions. The Lifetime Learning Credit, as the name implies, is applicable to all students, including part-time and graduate students. The tuition and fees deduction generally provides the least direct tax benefit, but can usually be claimed by people that can’t claim one of the other two for some reason.

The most common reason for not being eligible for one of the other two tax credits is due to income limitations. For 2012, the AOC starts to phase out for single taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $80,000 (double that for married couples), and the … Continue reading