Individual Tax briefs

New option for unused funds in a 529 college savings plan

With the high cost of college, many parents begin saving with 529 plans when their children are babies. Contributions to these plans aren’t tax deductible, but they grow tax deferred. Earnings used to pay qualified education expenses can be withdrawn tax-free. However, earnings used for other purposes may be subject to income tax plus a 10% penalty.

What if you have a substantial balance in a 529 plan but your child doesn’t need all the money for college? Perhaps your child decided not to attend college or received a scholarship. Or maybe you saved for private college, but your child attended a lower-priced state university.

What should you do with unused funds? One option is to pay the tax and penalties and spend the money on whatever you wish. But there are more tax-efficient options, including a new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer.

Nuts and bolts

Beginning in 2024, you can transfer unused funds in a 529 plan to a Roth IRA for the same beneficiary, without tax or penalties. These rollovers are subject to several rules and limits:

  • Transfers have a lifetime maximum of $35,000 per beneficiary.
  • The 529 plan must have existed for at least 15 years.
  • The rollover must be through a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer.
  • Transferred funds can’t include contributions made within the preceding five years or earnings on those contributions.
  • Transfers are subject to the annual limits on contributions to Roth IRAs (without regard to income limits).

For example, let’s say you opened a 529 plan for your son after he was born in 2001. When your son graduated from college in 2023, there was $30,000 left in the account. In 2024, under the new option, you can begin transferring funds into your son’s Roth IRA. Since the 529 plan was opened at least 15 years ago (and no contributions were made in the last five years), the only restriction on rollover is the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. Assuming your son hasn’t made any other IRA contributions for 2024, you can roll over up to $7,000 (if your son has at least that much earned income for the year).

If your son’s earned income for 2024 is less than $7,000, the amount eligible for a rollover will be reduced. For example, if he takes an unpaid internship and earns $4,000 during the year from a part-time job, the most you can roll over for the year is $4,000.

A 529-to-Roth IRA rollover is an appealing option to avoid tax and penalties on unused funds, while helping the beneficiaries start saving for retirement. Roth IRAs are a great savings vehicle for young people because they’ll enjoy tax-free withdrawals decades later.

Other options

Roth IRA rollovers aren’t the only option for avoiding tax and penalties on unused 529 plan funds. You can also change a plan’s beneficiary to another family member. Or you can use 529 plans for continuing education, certain trade schools, or even up to $10,000 per year of elementary through high school tuition. In addition, you can withdraw funds tax-free to pay down student loan debt, up to $10,000 per beneficiary.

It’s not unusual for parents to end up with unused 529 funds. Contact us if you have questions about the most tax-wise way to handle them.



Filing jointly or separately as a married couple: What’s the difference?

When you file your tax return, a tax filing status must be chosen. This status is used to determine your standard deduction, tax rates, eligibility for certain tax breaks and your correct tax.

The five filing statuses are:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly,
  • Married filing separately,
  • Head of household, and
  • Qualifying surviving spouse.

If you’re married, you may wonder if you should file joint or separate tax returns. It depends on your individual tax situation.

In general, you should choose the filing status that results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for the tax on your combined income. And you’re both equally liable for any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. That means the IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount.

Although there are “innocent spouse” provisions in the law that may offer relief, they have limitations. Therefore, even if a joint return results in less tax, some people may still choose to file separately if they want to only be responsible for their own tax. This might occur when a couple is separated.

In most cases, filing jointly offers the most tax savings, especially when the spouses have different income levels. Combining two incomes can bring some money out of a higher tax bracket. Filing separately doesn’t mean you go back to using the “single” rates that applied before you were married. Instead, each spouse must use “married filing separately” rates. They’re less favorable than the single rates.

However, there are cases when married couples may save tax by filing separately — for example, when one spouse has significant medical expenses. Medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). If a medical expense deduction is claimed on a spouse’s separate return, that spouse’s lower separate AGI, as compared to the higher joint AGI, can result in a larger total deduction.

Only on a joint return

Keep in mind that some tax breaks are only available on a joint return. The child and dependent care credit, adoption expense credit, American Opportunity tax credit and Lifetime Learning credit are only available to married couples on joint returns. And you can’t take the credit for the elderly or the disabled if you file separately unless you and your spouse lived apart for the entire year. You also may not be able to deduct IRA contributions if you or your spouse were covered by an employer retirement plan and you file separate returns. And you can’t exclude adoption assistance payments or interest income from Series EE or Series I savings bonds used for higher education expenses.

Social Security benefits

Social Security benefits may be taxed more when married couples file separately. Benefits are tax-free if your “provisional income” (AGI with certain modifications, plus half of your Social Security benefits) doesn’t exceed a “base amount.” The base amount is $32,000 on a joint return, but zero on separate returns (or $25,000 if the spouses didn’t live together for the whole year).

Circumstances matter

The filing status decision you make when filing your federal tax return may affect your state or local income tax bill, so the total tax impact should be compared. There may not be a simple answer as to whether a couple should file jointly or separately. Various factors must be examined. We can help you make the most advantageous choice. Contact us to prepare your return or if you have any questions.



If you gave to charity in 2023, check to see that you have substantiation

Did you donate to charity last year? Acknowledgment letters from the charities you gave to may have already shown up in your mailbox. But if you don’t receive such a letter, can you still claim a deduction for the gift on your 2023 income tax return? It depends.

What the law requires

To prove a charitable donation for which you claim a tax deduction, you must comply with IRS substantiation requirements. For a donation of $250 or more, this includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charitable organization stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation and the value of any such goods or services.

“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of:

  1. The date you file your tax return, or
  2. The extended due date of your return.

Therefore, if you made a donation in 2023 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2023 return. Contact the charity now and request a written acknowledgment.

Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is adequate. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value — and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.

No longer a tax break for nonitemizers

Currently, taxpayers who don’t itemize their deductions (and instead claim the standard deduction) can’t claim a charitable deduction. Under previous COVID-19 relief laws, an individual who didn’t itemize deductions could claim a limited federal income tax write-off for cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2020 and 2021 tax years. Unfortunately, the deduction for nonitemizers isn’t available for 2022 or 2023.

More requirements for certain donations

Some types of donations require additional substantiation. For example, if you donate property valued at more than $500, you must attach a completed Form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions) to your return.

And for donated property with a value of more than $5,000, you generally must obtain a qualified appraisal and attach an appraisal summary to your tax return.

Contact us if you have questions about whether you have the required substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2023 tax return. We can also advise on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2024 return.



IRAs: Build a tax-favored retirement nest egg

Although traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs have been around for decades, the rules involved have changed many times. The Secure 2.0 law, which was enacted at the end of 2022, brought even more changes that made IRAs more advantageous for many taxpayers. What hasn’t changed is that they can help you save for retirement on a tax-favored basis. Here’s an overview of the basic rules and some of the recent changes.

Rules for traditional IRAs

You can make an annual deductible contribution to a traditional IRA if:

  • You (and your spouse) aren’t active participants in employer-sponsored retirement plans, or
  • You (or your spouse) are active participants in an employer plan, and your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary annually by filing status.

For example, in 2024, if you’re a joint return filer covered by an employer plan, your deductible IRA contribution phases out over $123,000 to $143,000 of MAGI ($77,000 to $87,000 for singles).

Deductible IRA contributions reduce your current tax bill, and earnings are tax deferred. However, withdrawals are taxed in full (and subject to a 10% penalty if taken before age 59½, unless one of several exceptions apply). Under the SECURE 2.0 law, you must now begin making minimum withdrawals by April 1 of the year following the year you turn age 73 (the age was 72 before 2023 and 70½ before 2020).

You can make an annual nondeductible IRA contribution without regard to employer plan coverage and your MAGI. The earnings in a nondeductible IRA are tax-deferred but taxed when distributed (and subject to a 10% penalty if taken early, unless an exception applies).

Nondeductible contributions aren’t taxed when withdrawn. If you’ve made deductible and nondeductible IRA contributions, a portion of each distribution is treated as coming from nontaxable IRA contributions (and the rest is taxed).

Amount you can sock away

The maximum annual IRA contribution (deductible or nondeductible, or a combination) is $7,000 for 2024 (up from $6,500 for 2023). If you are age 50 or over, you can make a $1,000 “catch-up contribution” for 2024 (unchanged from 2023). Additionally, your contribution can’t exceed the amount of your compensation includible in income for that year.

Rules for Roth IRAs

You can make an annual contribution to a Roth IRA if your income doesn’t exceed certain levels based on filing status. For example, in 2024, if you’re a joint return filer, the maximum annual Roth IRA contribution phases out over $230,000 to $240,000 of MAGI ($146,000 to $161,000 for singles). Annual Roth contributions can be made up to the amount allowed as a contribution to a traditional IRA, reduced by the amount you contribute for the year to non-Roth IRAs, but not reduced by contributions to a SEP or SIMPLE plan.

Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible. However, earnings are tax-deferred and (unlike a traditional IRA) withdrawals are tax-free if paid out:

  • After a five-year period that begins with the first year for which you made a contribution to a Roth IRA, and
  • Once you reach age 59½, or upon death or disability, or for first-time home-buyer expenses of you, your spouse, child, grandchild, or ancestor (up to a $10,000 lifetime limit).

You don’t have to take required minimum distributions from a Roth IRA. You can “roll over” (or convert) a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA regardless of your income. The amount taken out of the traditional IRA and rolled into the Roth IRA is treated for tax purposes as a regular withdrawal (but not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty).

There’s currently no age limit for making regular contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA, as long as you have compensation income. Contact us if you have questions about IRAs.



Should your business offer the new
emergency savings accounts to employees?

As part of the SECURE 2.0 law, there’s a new benefit option for employees facing emergencies. It’s called a pension-linked emergency savings account (PLESA) and the provision authorizing it became effective for plan years beginning January 1, 2024. The IRS recently released guidance about the accounts (in Notice 2024-22) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published some frequently asked questions to help employers, plan sponsors, participants and others understand them.

PLESA basics

The DOL defines PLESAs as “short-term savings accounts established and maintained within a defined contribution plan.” Employers with 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans can opt to offer PLESAs to non-highly compensated employees. For 2024, a participant who earned $150,000 or more in 2023 is a highly compensated employee.

Here are some more details of this new type of account:

  • The portion of the account balance attributable to participant contributions can’t exceed $2,500 (or a lower amount determined by the plan sponsor) in 2024. The $2,500 amount will be adjusted for inflation in future years.
  • Employers can offer to enroll eligible participants in these accounts beginning in 2024 or can automatically enroll participants in them.
  • The account can’t have a minimum contribution to open or a minimum account balance.
  • Participants can make a withdrawal at least once per calendar month, and such withdrawals must be distributed “as soon as practicable.”
  • For the first four withdrawals from an account in a plan year, participants can’t be subject to any fees or charges. Subsequent withdrawals may be subject to reasonable fees or charges.
  • Contributions must be held as cash, in an interest-bearing deposit account or in an investment product.
  • If an employee has a PLESA and isn’t highly compensated, but becomes highly compensated as defined under tax law, he or she can’t make further contributions but retains the right to withdraw the balance.
  • Contributions will be made on a Roth basis, meaning they are included in an employee’s taxable income but participants won’t have to pay tax when they make withdrawals.

Proof of an event not necessary

A participant in a PLESA doesn’t need to prove that he or she is experiencing an emergency before making a withdrawal from an account. The DOL states that “withdrawals are made at the discretion of the participant.”

These are just the basic details of PLESAs. Contact us if you have questions about these or other fringe benefits and their tax implications.



Answers to your tax season questions

The IRS announced it will open the 2024 income tax return filing season on January 29. That’s when the tax agency will begin accepting and processing 2023 tax year returns.

Here are answers to seven tax season questions we receive at this time of year.

1.What are this year’s deadlines?

The filing deadline to submit 2023 returns or file an extension is Monday, April 15, 2024, for most taxpayers. Taxpayers living in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 17, due to state holidays. If taxpayers reside in a federally declared disaster area, they may have additional time to file.

2.When is my return due if I request an extension?

If you’re requesting an extension, you’ll have until October 15, 2024, to file. Keep in mind that an extension of time to file your return doesn’t grant you any extension of time to pay your taxes. You should estimate and pay any taxes owed by the April 15 deadline to avoid penalties.

3.When should I file?

You may want to wait until close to the deadline (or file for an extension), but there are reasons to file earlier. Doing so provides some protection from tax identity theft.

4.What’s tax identity theft and how does early filing help protect me?

Typically, in a tax identity theft scam, a thief uses another person’s information to file a fake tax return and claim a fraudulent refund early in the filing season.

The legitimate taxpayer discovers the fraud when filing a return. He or she is then told by the IRS that the return is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. The victim should be able to eventually prove that his or her return is the valid one, but it can be time consuming and frustrating to straighten out. It can also delay a refund.

Filing early provides some proactive defense. The reason: If you file first, the tax return filed by a potential thief will be rejected.

5.Are there other benefits to filing early? 

Besides providing protection against tax identity theft, another benefit of early filing is you’ll get any refund sooner. According to the IRS, “most refunds will be issued in less than 21 days.” The time may be shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account. Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen, returned to the IRS as undeliverable or caught in mail delays.

6.When will my W-2s and 1099s arrive?

To file your tax return, you’ll need all of your Forms W-2 and 1099. January 31, 2024, is the deadline for employers to file 2023 W-2s and, generally, for businesses to file Form 1099s for recipients of any 2023 interest, dividends or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors).

If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by early February, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, ask us how to proceed.

7.When can you prepare my return?

Contact us as soon as possible for a tax preparation appointment. Separate penalties apply for failing to file and pay on time — and they can be quite severe. Even though the IRS isn’t beginning to process returns until January 29, they can be prepared before that. We can help ensure you file an accurate, timely return and receive all the tax breaks to which you’re entitled.



It’s possible (but not easy) to claim a medical expense tax deduction

One of your New Year’s resolutions may be to pay more attention to your health. Of course, that may cost you. Can you deduct your out-of-pocket medical costs on your tax return? It depends. Many expenses are tax deductible, but there are several requirements and limitations that make it difficult for many taxpayers to actually claim a deduction.

The rules

Medical expenses can be claimed as a deduction only to the extent your unreimbursed costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Plus, medical expenses are deductible only if you itemize, which means that your itemized deductions must exceed your standard deduction. Due to changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which generally went into effect in 2018, many taxpayers no longer itemize.

Eligible medical costs include many expenses other than hospital and doctor bills. Here are some items to take into account when determining a possible deduction:

Transportation. The cost of getting to and from medical treatment is an eligible expense. This includes taxi fares, public transportation or using your own vehicle. Car costs can be calculated at 21 cents per mile for miles driven in 2024 (down from 22 cents in 2023), plus tolls and parking. Alternatively, you can deduct your actual costs, including gas and oil, but not general costs such as insurance, depreciation or maintenance.

Insurance premiums. The cost of health insurance is a medical expense that can total thousands of dollars a year. Even if your employer provides you with coverage, you can deduct the portion of the premiums you pay. Long-term care insurance premiums also qualify, subject to dollar limits based on age.

Therapists and nurses. Services provided by individuals other than physicians can qualify if they relate to a medical condition and aren’t for general health. For example, the cost of physical therapy after knee surgery does qualify, but the cost of a personal trainer to help you get in shape doesn’t. Also qualifying are amounts paid for acupuncture and those paid to a psychologist for medical care. In addition, certain long-term care services required by chronically ill individuals are eligible.

Eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental work and prescriptions. Deductible expenses include the cost of glasses, contacts, hearing aids, dentures and most dental work. Purely cosmetic expenses (such as teeth whitening) don’t qualify, but certain medically necessary cosmetic surgery is deductible. Prescription drugs qualify, but nonprescription drugs such as aspirin don’t, even if a physician recommends them. Neither do amounts paid for treatments that are illegal under federal law (such as marijuana), even if permitted under state law.

Smoking-cessation programs. Amounts paid to participate in a smoking-cessation program and for prescribed drugs designed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are deductible expenses. However, nonprescription gum and certain nicotine patches aren’t.

Weight-loss programs. A weight-loss program is a deductible expense if undertaken as treatment for a disease diagnosed by a physician. This could be obesity or another disease, such as hypertension, for which a doctor directs you to lose weight. It’s a good idea to get a written diagnosis. In these cases, deductible expenses include fees paid to join a weight-loss program and attend meetings. However, the cost of low-calorie food that you eat in place of a regular diet isn’t deductible.

Dependents and others. You can deduct the medical expenses you pay for dependents, such as your children. Additionally, you may be able to deduct medical costs you pay for an individual, such as a parent or grandparent, who would qualify as your dependent except that he or she has too much gross income or files jointly. In most cases, the medical costs of a child of divorced parents can be claimed by the parent who pays them.

Track eligible costs

As you can see, for deduction purposes, many expenses are eligible. Keep track of your outlays and we’ll determine if you qualify for a deduction when we prepare your tax return.



The “nanny tax” must be paid for nannies and other household workers

You may have heard of the “nanny tax.” But if you don’t employ a nanny, you may think it doesn’t apply to you. Check again. Hiring a housekeeper, gardener or other household employee (who isn’t an independent contractor) may make you liable for federal income and other taxes. You may also have state tax obligations.

If you employ a household worker, you aren’t required to withhold federal income taxes from pay. However, you may choose to withhold if the worker requests it. In that case, ask the worker to fill out a Form W-4. However, you may be required to withhold Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and to pay federal unemployment (FUTA) tax.

Threshold increasing in 2024

In 2023, you must withhold and pay FICA taxes if your household worker earns cash wages of $2,600 or more (excluding the value of food and lodging). If you reach the threshold, all the wages (not just the excess) are subject to FICA. In 2024, the threshold will increase to $2,700.

However, if a nanny is under age 18 and child care isn’t his or her principal occupation, you don’t have to withhold FICA taxes. So, if you have a part-time babysitter who is a student, there’s no FICA tax liability.

Both an employer and a household worker may have FICA tax obligations. As an employer, you’re responsible for withholding your worker’s FICA share. In addition, you must pay a matching amount. FICA tax is divided between Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the worker (12.4% total). Medicare tax is 1.45% each for both the employer and the worker (2.9% total).

If you want, you can pay your worker’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you do, your payments aren’t counted as additional cash wages for Social Security and Medicare purposes. However, your payments are treated as additional income to the worker for federal tax purposes, so you must include them as wages on the W-2 form that you provide.

You also must pay FUTA tax if you pay $1,000 or more in cash wages (excluding food and lodging) to your worker in any calendar quarter. FUTA tax applies to the first $7,000 of wages paid and is only paid by the employer.

Reporting and paying 

You pay household worker obligations by increasing your quarterly estimated tax payments or increasing withholding from wages, rather than making an annual lump-sum payment.

As a household worker employer, you don’t have to file employment tax returns, even if you’re required to withhold or pay tax (unless you own your own business). Instead, employment taxes are reported on your tax return on Schedule H.

When you report the taxes on your return, you include your employer identification number (EIN), which is not the same as your Social Security number. You must file Form SS-4 to get one.

However, if you own a business as a sole proprietor, you include the taxes for a household worker on the FUTA and FICA forms (940 and 941) that you file for your business. And you use your sole proprietorship EIN to report the taxes.

Keep meticulous records 

Keep related tax records for at least four years from the later of the due date of the return or the date the tax was paid. Records should include the worker’s name, address, Social Security number, employment dates, dates and amount of wages paid and taxes withheld, and copies of forms filed.

If you need assistance or have questions about how to comply with these employment tax requirements, contact us.



4 ideas that may help reduce your 2023 tax bill

If you’re concerned about your 2023 tax bill, there may still be time to reduce it. Here are four quick strategies that may help you trim your taxes before year end.

1. Accelerate deductions and/or defer income. Certain tax deductions are claimed for the year of payment, such as the mortgage interest deduction. So, if you make your January 2024 payment in December, you can deduct the interest portion on your 2023 tax return (assuming you itemize).

Pushing income into the new year also will reduce your taxable income. If you’re expecting a bonus at work, for example, and you don’t want the income this year, ask if your employer can hold off on paying it until January. If you’re self-employed, you can delay sending invoices until late in December to postpone the revenue to 2024.

You shouldn’t follow this approach if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket next year. Also, if you’re eligible for the qualified business income deduction for pass-through entities, you might reduce the amount of that deduction if you reduce your income.

2. Take full advantage of retirement contributions. Federal tax law encourages individual taxpayers to make the allowable contributions for the year to their retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs and SEP plans, 401(k)s and deferred annuities.

For 2023, you generally can contribute as much as $22,500 to 401(k)s and $6,500 to traditional IRAs. Self-employed individuals can contribute up to 25% of net income (but no more than $66,000) to a SEP IRA.

3. Harvest your investment losses. Losing money on your investments has a bit of an upside — it gives you the opportunity to offset taxable gains. If you sell underperforming investments before the end of the year, you can offset gains realized this year on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

If you have more losses than gains, you generally can apply up to $3,000 of the excess to reduce your ordinary income. Any remaining losses are carried forward to future tax years.

4. Donate to charity using investments. If you itemize deductions and want to donate to IRS-approved public charities, you can simply write a check or use a credit card. Or you can use your taxable investment portfolio of stock and/or mutual funds. Consider making charitable contributions according to these tax-smart principles:

  • Underperforming stocks. Sell taxable investments that are worth less than they cost and book the resulting tax-saving capital loss. Then, give the sales proceeds to a charity and claim the resulting tax-saving charitable write-off. This strategy delivers a double tax benefit: You receive tax-saving capital losses plus a tax-saving itemized deduction for your charitable donations.
  • Appreciated stocks. For taxable investments that are currently worth more than they cost, you can donate the stock directly to a charity. Contributions of publicly traded shares that you’ve owned for over a year result in a charitable deduction equal to the current market value of the shares at the time of the gift. Plus, when you donate appreciated investments, you escape any capital gains taxes on those shares. This strategy also provides a double tax benefit: You avoid capital gains tax and you get a tax-saving itemized deduction for charitable contributions.

Time is running out

The ideas described above are only a few of the strategies that still may be available. Contact us if you have questions about these or other methods for minimizing your tax liability for 2023.



Don’t forget to empty out your flexible spending account

If you have a tax-saving flexible spending account (FSA) with your employer to help pay for health or dependent care expenses, there’s an important date coming up. You may have to use the money in the account by year-end or you’ll lose it (unless your employer has a grace period).

As the end of 2023 gets closer, here are some rules and reminders to keep in mind.

Health FSA 

A pre-tax contribution of $3,050 to a health FSA is permitted in 2023. This amount will be increasing to $3,200 in 2024. You save taxes in these accounts because you use pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses that might not be deductible. For example, expenses won’t be deductible if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return. Even if you do itemize, medical expenses must exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income in order to be deductible. Additionally, the amounts that you contribute to a health FSA aren’t subject to FICA taxes.

Your employer’s plan should have a list of qualifying items and any documentation from a medical provider that may be needed to get reimbursed for these expenses.

FSAs generally have a “use-it-or-lose-it” rule, which means you must incur qualifying medical expenditures by the last day of the plan year (December 31 for a calendar year plan) — unless the plan allows an optional grace period. A grace period can’t extend beyond the 15th day of the third month following the close of the plan year (March 15 for a calendar year plan).

What if you don’t spend the money before the last day allowed? You forfeit it.

Take a look at your year-to-date expenditures now. It will show you what you still need to spend. What are some ways to use up the money? Before year end (or the extended date, if permitted), schedule certain elective medical procedures, visit the dentist or buy new eyeglasses.

Dependent care FSA 

Some employers also allow employees to set aside funds on a pre-tax basis in dependent care FSAs. A $5,000 maximum annual contribution is permitted ($2,500 for a married couple filing separately).

FSAs are for:

  • A child who qualifies as your dependent and who is under age 13, or
  • A dependent or spouse who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care and who has the same principal place of abode as you for more than half of the tax year.

Like health FSAs, dependent care FSAs are subject to a use-it-or-lose-it rule, but the grace period relief may apply. Therefore, it’s a good time to review your expenses to date.

Other rules and exceptions may apply. Your HR department can answer any questions about your specific plan. Contact us with any questions you have about the tax implications.



What you need to know about restricted stock awards and taxes

Restricted stock awards are a popular way for companies to offer equity-oriented executive compensation. Some businesses offer them instead of stock option awards. The reason: Options can lose most or all of their value if the price of the underlying stock takes a dive. But with restricted stock, if the stock price goes down, your company can issue you additional restricted shares to make up the difference.

Restricted stock basics

In a typical restricted stock deal, you receive company stock subject to one or more restrictions. The most common restriction is that you must continue working for the company until a certain date. If you leave before then, you forfeit the restricted shares, which are usually issued at minimal or no cost to you.

To be clear, the restricted shares are transferred to you, but you don’t actually own them without any restrictions until they become vested.

Tax rules for awards 

What are the tax implications? You don’t have any taxable income from a restricted share award until the shares become vested — meaning when your ownership is no longer restricted. At that time, you’re deemed to receive taxable compensation income equal to the difference between the value of the shares on the vesting date and the amount you paid for them, if anything. The current federal income tax rate on compensation income can be as high as 37%, and you’ll probably owe an additional 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). You may owe state income tax too.

Any appreciation after the shares vest is treated as capital gain. So, if you hold the stock for more than one year after the vesting date, you’ll have a lower-taxed long-term capital gain on any post-vesting-date appreciation. The current maximum federal rate on long-term capital gains is 20%, but you may also owe the 3.8% NIIT and possibly state income tax.

Special election to be currently taxed

If you make a special Section 83(b) election, you’ll be taxed at the time you receive your restricted stock award instead of later when the restricted shares vest. The income amount equals the difference between the value of the shares at the time of the restricted stock award and the amount you pay for them, if anything. The income is treated as compensation subject to federal income tax, federal employment taxes and state income tax, if applicable.

The benefit of making the election is that any subsequent appreciation in the value of the stock is treated as lower-taxed, long-term capital gain if you hold the stock for more than one year. Also, making the election can provide insurance against higher tax rates that might be in place when your restricted shares become vested.

The downside of making the election is that you recognize taxable income in the year you receive the restricted stock award, even though the shares may later be forfeited or decline in value. If you forfeit the shares back to your employer, you can claim a capital loss for the amount you paid for the shares, if anything.

If you opt to make the election, you must notify the IRS either before the restricted stock is transferred to you or within 30 days after that date. We can help you with election details.

Important decision 

The tax rules for restricted stock awards are pretty straightforward. The major tax planning consideration is deciding whether or not to make the Section 83(b) election. Consult with us before making that call.



Contributing to your employer’s 401(k) plan: How it works

If you’re fortunate to have an employer that offers a 401(k) plan, and you don’t contribute to it, you may wonder if you should participate. In general, it’s a great tax and retirement saving deal! These plans help an employee accumulate a retirement nest egg on a tax-advantaged basis. If you’re thinking about contributing to a plan at work, here are some of the advantages.

With a 401(k) plan, you can opt to set aside a certain amount of your wages in a qualified retirement plan. By electing to set cash aside in a 401(k) plan, you’ll reduce your gross income and defer tax on the amount until the cash (adjusted by earnings) is distributed to you in the future. It will either be distributed from the plan or from an IRA or other plan that you roll your proceeds into after leaving your job.

Tax benefits

Your wages or other compensation will be reduced by the pre-tax contributions that you make, which will save you current income taxes. But the amounts will still be subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. If your employer’s plan allows, you may instead make all, or some, contributions on an after-tax basis. These are Roth 401(k) contributions. With Roth 401(k) contributions, the amounts will be subject to current income taxation, but if you leave these funds in the plan for a required time, distributions (including earnings) will be tax-free.

Your elective contributions — either pre-tax or after-tax — are subject to annual IRS limits. In 2023, the maximum amount permitted is $22,500. When you reach age 50, if your employer’s plan allows, you can make additional “catch-up” contributions. In 2023, that additional amount is up to $7,500. So if you’re 50 or older, the total that you can contribute to all 401(k) plans in 2023 is $30,000. Total employer contributions, including your elective deferrals (but not catch-up contributions), can’t exceed 100% of compensation or, for 2023, $66,000, whichever is less.

In a typical plan, you’re permitted to invest the amount of your contributions (and any employer matching or other contributions) among available investment options that your employer has selected. Periodically review your plan investment performance to determine that each investment remains appropriate for your retirement planning goals and your risk specifications.

Taking withdrawals

Another important characteristic of these plans is the limitation on withdrawals while you’re working. Amounts in the plan attributable to elective contributions aren’t available to you before one of the following events:

  • Retirement (or other separation from service),
  • Reaching age 59½,
  • Disability,
  • Plan termination, or
  • Hardship.

Eligibility rules for a hardship withdrawal are strict. A hardship distribution must be necessary to help deal with an immediate and heavy financial need.

As an alternative to taking a hardship or other plan withdrawal while employed, your employer’s plan may allow you to receive a loan, which you pay back to your account with interest.

Matching contributions

Employers may opt to match 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount. Although matching is not required, surveys show that most employers offer some type of match. If your employer matches contributions, you should make sure to contribute enough to receive the full amount. Otherwise, you’ll lose out on free money!

These are just the basics of 401(k) plans for employees. For more information, contact your employer. Of course, we can answer any tax questions you may have.



Facing a future emergency? Two new tax provisions may soon provide relief

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation before: You have a financial emergency and need to get your hands on some cash. You consider taking money out of a traditional IRA or 401(k) account but if you’re under age 59½, such distributions are not only taxable but also are generally subject to a 10% penalty tax.

There are exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, but they don’t cover many types of emergencies.

Good news: Beginning in 2024, there will be new relief for some taxpayers facing emergencies. The SECURE 2.0 law, which was enacted late last year, contains two different relevant provisions:

1. Pension-linked emergency savings accounts. Employers with 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans can opt to offer these emergency savings accounts to non-highly compensated employees. For 2024, a participant who earned $150,000 or more in 2023 is a highly compensated employee. Here are some more details of these new type of accounts:

  • Contributions to the accounts will be limited to up to $2,500 a year (or a lower amount determined by the plan sponsor).
  • The accounts can’t have a minimum contribution or account balance requirement.
  • Employers can offer to enroll eligible participants in these accounts beginning in 2024 or can automatically enroll participants in them.
  • Participants can make a withdrawal at least once per calendar month and such withdrawals must be made “as soon as practicable.”
  • For the first four withdrawals from an account in a plan year, participants can’t be subject to any fees or charges. Subsequent withdrawals may be subject to reasonable fees or charges.
  • Contributions must be held as cash, in an interest-bearing deposit account or in an investment product.
  • If an employee has a pension-linked emergency savings account and is not highly compensated, but becomes highly compensated as defined under tax law, he or she can’t make further contributions but retains the right to withdraw the balance.
  • Contributions will be made on a Roth basis, meaning they are included in an employee’s taxable income but participants won’t have to pay tax when they make withdrawals.

2. Penalty-free withdrawals for emergency expenses. This new provision is another way to get money for emergencies. As mentioned earlier, taking a distribution from an IRA or 401(k) before age 59½ generally results in a 10% penalty tax unless an exception exists. SECURE 2.0 adds a new exception for certain distributions used for emergency expenses, which are defined as “unforeseeable or immediate financial needs relating to personal or family” emergencies.

Only one distribution of up to $1,000 is permitted a year, and a taxpayer has the option to repay the distribution within three years. This provision is effective for distributions made beginning in 2024.

Guidance likely coming soon

These are just the basic details of the two new emergency-related provisions. Other rules apply and the IRS will need to issue guidance to address certain details. Contact us if you have questions or need cash and want to explore the most tax-efficient ways to tap one of your accounts.



Are scholarships tax-free or taxable?

With the rising cost of college, many families are in search of scholarships to help pay the bills. If your child is awarded a scholarship, you may wonder about how it could affect your family’s taxes. Good news: Scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax-free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or an accredited vocational school. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the individual or reduces tuition.

Requirements for tax-free treatment

Despite this generally favorable treatment, scholarships aren’t always tax-free. Certain requirements must be met. A scholarship is tax-free only if it’s used to pay for:

  • Tuition and fees required to attend the school, and
  • Fees, books, supplies and equipment required of all students in a particular course.

For example, expenses that don’t qualify include the cost of room and board, travel, research and clerical help.

A scholarship award is taxable to the extent it isn’t used for qualifying items. The recipient is responsible for establishing how much of an award is used to pay for tuition and eligible expenses. Therefore, you should maintain records (such as copies of bills, receipts and cancelled checks) that reflect the use of the scholarship money.

Taxable and nontaxable amounts

Subject to limited exceptions, a scholarship isn’t tax-free if the payments are linked to services that your child performs as a condition for receiving the award, even if the services are required of all degree candidates. Therefore, a stipend your child receives for required teaching, research or other services is taxable, even if the child uses the money for tuition or related expenses.

What if you, or a family member, are an employee of an educational institution that provides reduced or free tuition? A reduction in tuition provided to you, your spouse or your dependents by the school at which you work isn’t included in your income and isn’t subject to tax.

Payments reported and not reported on tax returns

If a scholarship is tax-free and your child has no other income, the award doesn’t have to be reported on a tax return. However, any portion of an award that’s taxable as payment for services is treated as wages. Estimated tax payments may have to be made if the payor doesn’t withhold enough tax. Your child should receive a Form W-2 showing the amount of these “wages” and the amount of tax withheld, and any portion of the award that’s taxable must be reported, even if no Form W-2 is received.

These are just the basic rules. Other rules and limitations may apply. For example, if your child’s scholarship is taxable, it may limit other higher education tax benefits to which you or your child are entitled. Contact us if you wish to discuss these or other tax matters further.



The tax implications of renting out a vacation home

Many Americans own a vacation home or aspire to purchase one. If you own a second home in a waterfront community, in the mountains or in a resort area, you may want to rent it out for part of the year.

The tax implications of these transactions can be complicated. It depends on how many days the home is rented and your level of personal use. Personal use includes vacation use by you, your family members (even if you charge them market rent) and use by nonrelatives if a market rent isn’t charged.

Short-term rentals

If you rent the property out for less than 15 days during the year, it’s not treated as “rental property” at all. In the right circumstances, this can produce revenue and significant tax benefits. Any rent you receive isn’t included in your income for tax purposes. On the other hand, you can only deduct property taxes and mortgage interest — no other operating costs or depreciation. (Mortgage interest is deductible on your principal residence and one other home, subject to certain limits.)

If you rent the property out for more than 14 days, you must include the rent received in income. However, you can deduct part of your operating expenses and depreciation, subject to certain rules. First, you must allocate your expenses between the personal use days and the rental days. This includes maintenance, utilities, depreciation allowance, interest and taxes for the property. The personal use portion of taxes can be deducted separately. The personal use part of interest on a second home is also deductible (if eligible) when it exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental days. However, depreciation on the personal use portion isn’t allowed.

Losses may be deductible

If the rental income exceeds these allocable deductions, you report the rent and deductions to determine the amount of rental income to add to your other income. But if the expenses exceed the income, you may be able to claim a rental loss. This depends on how many days you use the house for personal purposes.

Here’s the test: if you use it personally for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental days, you’re using it “too much” and can’t claim your loss. In this case, you can still use your deductions to wipe out rental income, but you can’t create a loss. Deductions you can’t claim are carried forward and may be usable in future years. If you’re limited to using deductions only up to the rental income amount, you must use the deductions allocated to the rental portion in this order:

  • Interest and taxes,
  • Operating costs, and
  • Depreciation.

If you “pass” the personal use test, you must still allocate your expenses between the personal and rental portions. However, in this case, if your rental deductions exceed your rental income, you can claim the loss. (The loss is “passive,” however, and may be limited under passive loss rules.)

Navigate a plan

These are only the basic rules. There may be other rules if you’re considered a small landlord or real estate professional. Contact us if you have questions. We can help plan your vacation home use to achieve optimal tax results.



Disabled family members may be able to benefit from ABLE accounts

If you have family members with disabilities, there may be a tax-advantaged way to save for their needs — without having them lose eligibility for the government benefits to which they’re entitled. It can be done though an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, which is a tax-free account that can be used for disability-related expenses. The SECURE 2.0 law made changes that will allow more people to be eligible for these accounts, beginning in 2026.

Eligibility rules

ABLE accounts can be created by eligible individuals to support themselves, by family members to support their dependents, or by guardians for the benefit of the individuals for whom they’re responsible. Anyone can contribute to an ABLE account. While contributions aren’t tax-deductible, the funds in the account are invested and grow free of tax.

Eligible individuals must be blind or disabled — and currently must have become so before turning age 26. However, SECURE 2.0 increases this age to 46, beginning on January 1, 2026.

In addition, eligible individuals must be entitled to benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. Alternatively, an individual can become eligible if a disability certificate is filed with the IRS for him or her.

Distributions from an ABLE account are tax-free if used to pay for expenses that maintain or improve the beneficiary’s health, independence or quality of life. These expenses include education, housing, transportation, employment support, health and wellness costs, assistive technology, personal support services, and other IRS-approved expenses.

If distributions are used for nonqualified expenses, the portion of the distribution that represents earnings on the account is subject to income tax — plus a 10% penalty.

More details

Here are some other key factors:

  • An eligible individual can have only one ABLE account. Contributions up to the annual gift-tax exclusion amount, currently $17,000, may be made to an ABLE account each year for the benefit of an eligible person. If the beneficiary works, he or she can also contribute part, or all, of his or her income to their account. (This additional contribution is limited to the poverty-line amount for a one-person household.)
  • There’s also a limit on the total account balance. This limit, which varies from state to state, is equal to the limit imposed by that state on qualified tuition (Section 529) plans.
  • ABLE accounts have no impact on an individual’s Medicaid eligibility. However, ABLE account balances in excess of $100,000 are counted toward the SSI program’s $2,000 individual resource limit. Therefore, an individual’s SSI benefits are suspended, but not terminated, when his or her ABLE account balance exceeds $102,000 (assuming the individual has no other assets). In addition, distributions from an ABLE account to pay housing expenses count toward the SSI income limit.
  • If made before 2026, the designated beneficiary can claim the saver’s credit for contributions to his or her ABLE account.

Many choices

ABLE accounts are established under state programs and there are many choices. An account may be opened under any state’s program (if the state allows out-of-state participants). The funds in an account can be invested in a variety of options and the account’s investment directions can be changed up to twice a year. If you’d like more details about setting up or maintaining an ABLE account, contact us.