Individual Tax briefs

Is your withholding adequate? Here’s how to check

When you filed your federal tax return this year, were you surprised to find you owed money? You might want to change your withholding so that this doesn’t happen again next year. You might even want to adjust your withholding if you got a big refund. Receiving a tax refund essentially means you’re giving the government an interest-free loan.

Adjust if necessary

Taxpayers should periodically review their tax situations and adjust withholding, if appropriate.

The IRS has a withholding calculator to assist you in conducting a paycheck checkup. The calculator reflects tax law changes in areas such as available itemized deductions, the child credit, the dependent credit and the repeal of dependent exemptions. You can access the IRS calculator here: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator

Life changes

There are some situations when you should check your withholding. In addition to tax law changes, the IRS recommends that you perform a checkup if you:

  • Adjusted your withholding last year, especially in the middle or later part of the year,
  • Owed additional tax when you filed your 2021 return,
  • Received a refund that was smaller or larger than expected,
  • Got married or divorced,
  • Had a child or adopted one,
  • Purchased a home, or
  • Had changes in income.

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even multiple times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically go into effect several weeks after a new Form W-4 is submitted. (For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly estimated payments are due. The next payments for 2022 are due on September 15, 2022, and January 16, 2023.)

Plan ahead now

There’s still time to remedy any shortfalls to minimize taxes due for 2022, as well as any penalties and interest. Contact us if you have any questions or need assistance. We can help you determine if you need to adjust your withholding.



How to avoid the early withdrawal tax penalty on IRA distributions

When you take withdrawals from your traditional IRA, you probably know that they’re taxable. But there may be a penalty tax on early withdrawals depending on how old you are when you take them and what you do with the money.

Important: Once you reach a certain age, you must start taking required minimum distributions from your traditional IRAs to avoid a different tax penalty. Previously, the required beginning date (RBD) was April 1 of the year after the year in which you turn 70½. However, a 2019 law changed the RBD to 72 for individuals who reach age 70½ after 2019.

But what if you want to take an “early” withdrawal, defined as one taken before age 59½? You’ll be hit with a 10% penalty tax unless an exception applies. This 10% early withdrawal penalty tax is on top of the regular income tax you’ll owe on the distribution.

Exceptions to the general rule

Fortunately, there are several exceptions to the early withdrawal penalty tax if you use the money for certain things. Common examples include:

  • Paying for medical costs that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income,
  • Withdrawals up to the amount of qualified higher education expenses for you, your spouse, or the children or grandchildren of you or your spouse, and
  • Withdrawals to buy or build a first home for a parent, grandparent, yourself, a spouse, or you or your spouse’s child or grandchild. This exception for first-time home purchases is subject to a lifetime limit of $10,000. A first-time homebuyer is someone who hasn’t had an ownership interest in a home in the last two years before buying a new home.

There’s also an exception to the early withdrawal penalty tax if you take annuity-like annual withdrawals under IRS guidelines. If distributions are made as part of a series of “substantially equal periodic payments” over your life expectancy or the life expectancies of you and your designated beneficiary, the tax doesn’t apply.

Be careful with rollovers

Be aware that the early withdrawal penalty may come into play if you’re moving funds out of an account. You can roll over funds from one IRA to another tax-free so long as you complete the rollover within 60 days. What if you miss the deadline? You may owe tax and the early withdrawal penalty if you’re younger than age 59½. (The IRS may waive the penalty if there are extenuating circumstances.)

We can help

We can tell you if you’re eligible for the exceptions described above or other exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax. Be sure to keep good records so you can prove your eligibility.



Interested in an EV? How to qualify for a powerful tax credit

Sales and registrations of electric vehicles (EVs) have increased dramatically in the U.S. in 2022, according to several sources. However, while they’re still a small percentage of the cars on the road today, they’re increasing in popularity all the time.

If you buy one, you may be eligible for a federal tax break. The tax code provides a credit to purchasers of qualifying plug-in electric drive motor vehicles including passenger vehicles and light trucks. The credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional amount, based on battery capacity, that can’t exceed $5,000. Therefore, the maximum credit allowed for a qualifying EV is $7,500.

Be aware that not all EVs are eligible for the tax break, as we’ll describe below.

The EV definition

For purposes of the tax credit, a qualifying vehicle is defined as one with four wheels that’s propelled to a significant extent by an electric motor, which draws electricity from a battery. The battery must have a capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours and be capable of being recharged from an external source of electricity.

The credit may not be available because of a per-manufacturer cumulative sales limitation. Specifically, it phases out over six quarters beginning when a manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles for use in the United States (determined on a cumulative basis for sales after December 31, 2009). For example, Tesla and General Motors vehicles are no longer eligible for the tax credit. And Toyota is the latest auto manufacturer to sell enough plug-in EVs to trigger a gradual phase out of federal tax incentives for certain models sold in the U.S.

Several automakers are telling Congress to eliminate the limit. In a letter, GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota asked Congressional leaders to give all electric car and light truck buyers a tax credit of up to $7,500. The group says that lifting the limit would give buyers more choices, encourage greater EV adoption and provide stability to autoworkers.

The IRS provides a list of qualifying vehicles on its website and it recently added some eligible models. You can access the list here: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/irc-30d-new-qualified-plug-in-electric-drive-motor-vehicle-credit.

Here are some additional points about the plug-in electric vehicle tax credit:

  • It’s allowed in the year you place the vehicle in service.
  • The vehicle must be new.
  • An eligible vehicle must be used predominantly in the U.S. and have a gross weight of less than 14,000 pounds.

These are only the basic rules. There may be additional incentives provided by your state. If you want more information about the federal plug-in electric vehicle tax break, contact us.



How disability income benefits are taxed

If you’ve recently begun receiving disability income, you may wonder how it’s taxed. The answer is: It depends.

The key issue is: Who paid for the benefit? If the income is paid directly to you by your employer, it’s taxable to you just as your ordinary salary would be. (Taxable benefits are also subject to federal income tax withholding. However, depending on the employer’s disability plan, in some cases they aren’t subject to Social Security tax.)

Frequently, the payments aren’t made by an employer but by an insurance company under a policy providing disability coverage. In other cases, they’re made under an arrangement having the effect of accident or health insurance. In these cases, the tax treatment depends on who paid for the insurance coverage. If your employer paid for it, then the income is taxed to you just as if it was paid directly to you by the employer. On the other hand, if it’s a policy you paid for, the payments you receive under it aren’t taxable.

Even if your employer arranges for the coverage (in a policy made available to you at work), the benefits aren’t taxed to you if you (and not your employer) pay the premiums. For these purposes, if the premiums are paid by the employer but the amount paid is included as part of your taxable income from work, the premiums will be treated as paid by you. In these cases, the tax treatment of the benefits received depends on the tax treatment of the premiums paid.

Illustrative example

Let’s say Max’s salary is $1,000 a week ($52,000 a year). Additionally, under a disability insurance arrangement made available to him by his employer, $10 a week ($520 annually) is paid on his behalf by his employer to an insurance company. Max includes $52,520 in income as his wages for the year ($52,000 paid to him plus $520 in disability insurance premiums). Under these facts, the insurance is treated as paid for by Max. If he becomes disabled and receives benefits under the policy, the benefits aren’t taxable income to him.

Now assume that Max includes only $52,000 in income as his wages for the year because the amount paid for the insurance coverage qualifies as excludable under the rules for employer-provided health and accident plans. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by the employer. If Max becomes disabled and receives benefits under the policy, the benefits are taxable income to him.

There are special rules if there is a permanent loss (or loss of the use) of a member or function of the body or a permanent disfigurement. In these cases, employer disability payments aren’t taxed, as long as they aren’t computed based on amount of time lost from work.

Social Security disability benefits 

This discussion doesn’t cover the tax treatment of Social Security disability benefits. They may be taxed to you under the rules that govern Social Security benefits.

Needed coverage

In deciding how much disability coverage you need to protect yourself and your family, take the tax treatment into consideration. If you’re buying the policy yourself, you only have to replace your “after tax” (take-home) income because your benefits won’t be taxed. On the other hand, if your employer is paying for the benefit, keep in mind that you’ll lose a percentage of it to taxes. If your current coverage is insufficient, you may want to supplement the employer benefit with a policy you take out on your own. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this issue.



Your estate plan: Don’t forget about income tax planning

As a result of the current estate tax exemption amount ($12.06 million in 2022), many people no longer need to be concerned with federal estate tax. Before 2011, a much smaller amount resulted in estate plans attempting to avoid it. Now, because many estates won’t be subject to estate tax, more planning can be devoted to saving income taxes for your heirs.

Note: The federal estate tax exclusion amount is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2025. Beginning on January 1, 2026, the amount is due to be reduced to $5 million, adjusted for inflation. Of course, Congress could act to extend the higher amount or institute a new amount.

Here are some strategies to consider in light of the current large exemption amount.

Gifts that use the annual exclusion 

One of the benefits of using the gift tax annual exclusion to make transfers during life is to save estate tax. This is because both the transferred assets and any post-transfer appreciation generated by those assets are removed from the donor’s estate.

As mentioned, estate tax savings may not be an issue because of the large estate exemption amount. Further, making an annual exclusion transfer of appreciated property carries a potential income tax cost because the recipient receives the donor’s basis upon transfer. Thus, the recipient could face income tax, in the form of capital gains tax, on the sale of the gifted property in the future. If there’s no concern that an estate will be subject to estate tax, even if the gifted property grows in value, then the decision to make a gift should be based on other factors.

For example, gifts may be made to help a relative buy a home or start a business. But a donor shouldn’t gift appreciated property because of the capital gains that could be realized on a future sale by the recipient. If the appreciated property is held until the donor’s death, under current law, the heir will get a step-up in basis that will wipe out the capital gains tax on any pre-death appreciation in the property’s value.

Spouse’s estate 

Years ago, spouses often undertook complicated strategies to equalize their estates so that each could take advantage of the estate tax exemption amount. Generally, a two-trust plan was established to minimize estate tax. “Portability,” or the ability to apply the decedent’s unused exclusion amount to the surviving spouse’s transfers during life and at death, became effective for estates of decedents dying after 2010. As long as the election is made, portability allows the surviving spouse to apply the unused portion of a decedent’s applicable exclusion amount (the deceased spousal unused exclusion amount) as calculated in the year of the decedent’s death. The portability election gives married couples more flexibility in deciding how to use their exclusion amounts.

Estate or valuation discounts

Be aware that some estate exclusion or valuation discount strategies to avoid inclusion of property in an estate may no longer be worth pursuing. It may be better to have the property included in the estate or not qualify for valuation discounts so that the property receives a step-up in basis. For example, the special use valuation — the valuation of qualified real property used for farming or in a business on the basis of the property’s actual use, rather than on its highest and best use — may not save enough, or any, estate tax to justify giving up the step-up in basis that would otherwise occur for the property.

Contact us if you want to discuss these strategies and how they relate to your estate plan.



Social Security benefits: Do you have to pay tax on them?

Some people who begin claiming Social Security benefits are surprised to find out they’re taxed by the federal government on the amounts they receive. If you’re wondering whether you’ll be taxed on your Social Security benefits, the answer is: It depends.

The taxation of Social Security benefits depends on your other income. If your income is high enough, between 50% and 85% of your benefits could be taxed. (This doesn’t mean you pay 85% of your benefits back to the federal government in taxes. It merely means that you’d include 85% of them in your income subject to your regular tax rates.)

Figuring your income

To determine how much of your benefits are taxed, first determine your other income, including certain items otherwise excluded for tax purposes (for example, tax-exempt interest). Add to that the income of your spouse if you file a joint tax return. To this, add half of the Social Security benefits you and your spouse received during the year. The figure you come up with is your total income plus half of your benefits. Now apply the following rules:

  1. If your income plus half your benefits isn’t above $32,000 ($25,000 for single taxpayers), none of your benefits are taxed.
  2. If your income plus half your benefits exceeds $32,000 but isn’t more than $44,000, you will be taxed on one half of the excess over $32,000, or one half of the benefits, whichever is lower.

An example to illustrate

Let’s say you and your spouse have $20,000 in taxable dividends, $2,400 of tax-exempt interest and combined Social Security benefits of $21,000. So, your income plus half your benefits is $32,900 ($20,000 + $2,400 +½ of $21,000). You must include $450 of the benefits in gross income (½ ($32,900 − $32,000)). (If your combined Social Security benefits were $5,000, and your income plus half your benefits were $40,000, you would include $2,500 of the benefits in income: ½ ($40,000 − $32,000) equals $4,000, but half the $5,000 of benefits ($2,500) is lower, and the lower figure is used.)

Note: If you aren’t paying tax on your Social Security benefits now because your income is below the floor, or you’re paying tax on only 50% of those benefits, an unplanned increase in your income can have a triple tax cost. You’ll have to pay tax on the additional income, you’ll have to pay tax on (or on more of) your Social Security benefits (since the higher your income the more of your Social Security benefits are taxed), and you may get pushed into a higher marginal tax bracket.

For example, this situation might arise if you receive a large distribution from an IRA during the year or you have large capital gains. Careful planning might avoid this negative tax result. You might be able to spread the additional income over more than one year, or liquidate assets other than an IRA account, such as stock showing only a small gain or stock with gain that can be offset by a capital loss on other shares.

If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you can voluntarily arrange to have the tax withheld from the payments by filing a Form W-4V. Otherwise, you may have to make quarterly estimated tax payments. Keep in mind that most states do not tax Social Security benefits, but 12 states do tax them. Contact us for assistance or more information.

Is it a good time for a Roth conversion?

The downturn in the stock market may have caused the value of your retirement account to decrease. But if you have a traditional IRA, this decline may provide a valuable opportunity: It may allow you to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost.

Traditional vs. Roth

Here’s what makes a traditional IRA different from a Roth IRA:

Traditional IRA. Contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and whether you (or your spouse) participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Funds in the account can grow tax deferred.

On the downside, you generally must pay income tax on withdrawals. In addition, you’ll face a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59½ — unless you qualify for a handful of exceptions — and you’ll face an even larger penalty if you don’t take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) after age 72.

Roth IRA. Roth IRA contributions are never deductible. But withdrawals — including earnings — are tax free as long as you’re age 59½ or older and the account has been open at least five years. In addition, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions at any time tax- and penalty-free. You also don’t have to begin taking RMDs after you reach age 72.

However, the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is subject to limits based on your MAGI. Fortunately, no matter how high your income, you’re eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. The catch? You’ll have to pay income tax on the amount converted.

Your tax hit may be reduced

This is where the “benefit” of a stock market downturn comes in. If your traditional IRA has lost value, converting to a Roth now rather than later will minimize your tax hit. Plus, you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation when the market goes back up.

It’s important to think through the details before you convert. Here are some of the issues to consider when deciding whether to make a conversion:

Having enough money to pay the tax bill. If you don’t have the cash on hand to cover the taxes owed on the conversion, you may have to dip into your retirement funds. This will erode your nest egg. The more money you convert and the higher your tax bracket, the bigger the tax hit.

Your retirement plans. Your stage of life may also affect your decision. Typically, you wouldn’t convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA if you expect to retire soon and start drawing down on the account right away. Usually, the goal is to allow the funds to grow and compound over time without any tax erosion.

Keep in mind that converting a traditional IRA to a Roth isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. You can convert as much or as little of the money from your traditional IRA account as you like. So, you might decide to gradually convert your account to spread out the tax hit over several years.

There are also other issues that need to be considered before executing a Roth IRA conversion. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, contact us to discuss whether a conversion is right for you.