Estate Tax Changes May Affect You

Big projects and changes in the operations of government are always sought by new presidents with in their first one hundred days in office. President Biden is no exception to this trend.

However, one of the areas of change proposed by the new administration is estate taxation. Under current law, most citizens’ estates in the United States would be well under the exemption allowed of $11,700,000. For those whose estates exceed this exemption amount, the rate at which their estate value is taxed is 40%. The current law is set to “sunset” after 2025 and the exemption would be returned to $5.5 million which would subject many more estates to taxation.

Biden has proposed a significant reduction in the estate exemption to $3.5 million and a limit of $1,000,000 on lifetime transfers. To provide some historical context, when I began my career as a CPA, the estate exemption was $600,000. While seemingly low, it did require many families to liquidate assets of their estates to pay the assessed tax. There were exceptions to the $600,000 exemption for farms and other “family-owned” businesses.

In the proposal to reduce the estate tax exemption, the proposed lifetime transfers limit of $1,000,000 will require many families to perform considerable planning to minimize the tax burden caused by such a low threshold. Under current law, the lifetime transfers, called “inter vivos gifts”, would be exempt from tax up to the amount of the estate exemption of $11.7 million. By uncoupling the exemption and gift tax amounts, many families will reassess their gifting plans for the next generation.

One of the most significant changes in the proposed law is the removal of the “step-up” in basis doctrine allowed by law for more than 50 years. Many attempts have been made over the years to repeal this valuable tool for estate planners. To understand how drastic this change would be to most American families, let’s consider the family home being bequeathed to the children of a decedent. When the parents purchased the home and 640 acres in 1960, the price paid of $25,000 would be their basis in the property. However, during the period of ownership by the parents, natural resources and subsurface mineral deposits of a vast amount were discovered. The land is now worth $5 million (keep in mind this is meant to be an educational example). Under current law, the heirs could sell the property immediately after the death of the parents and receive $5 million tax-free. Fast forward to 2022, assuming Congress passed the bill requiring taxation on capital gains and the lowering of the estate tax exemption to $3.5 million, the heirs of the estate would receive only $4.4 million after the payment of estate tax. The capital gains assessed on the conveyance would be another $1,386,000 to be paid by the heirs upon sale of the property. 

To summarize our very simple example, the total value of the property inherited would be $5,000,000. However, under the proposed law changes by the current administration of our government, total taxes in the amount of almost $2,000,000 would be assessed the transactions. Today, if this same scenario occurred, the family would be exempt from all estate and gift taxation as well as no capital gains tax producing a savings of $2,000,000 to the family.

Allow me to reminisce for a moment. In 2010, the United States had an unlimited estate exemption meaning any citizens dying in the year could pass all of their estate assets to their heirs without U.S. estate tax being assessed. The owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner, had an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion at the time of his death in 2010. His passing in 2010 enabled his heirs to receive his net worth without paying any estate tax to the United States. 

This is the thought behind the removal of the “step-up” in basis doctrine and lowering of the estate tax exemption. However, many Americans who have worked diligently to provide for their families and became successful over time may now be caught in the net of taxation at a time they can least afford it. Most family-owned small businesses may be worth more than $3.5 million but lack the liquid assets to pay the tax burden. This scenario would require the sale of the company, or at least its assets, to pay the tax. This draconian approach to taxing the middle class will not bring much treasury to the coffers of the United States. 

Estate laws are very complex. If you wish to maximize the amount of assets you wish your heirs to inherit, now is the time to create a plan. Seek out the advice to take advantage of opportunities to reduce the burden of taxation on your wealth. Contact a CPA and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to assist you in creating and maintaining a plan for your future. I’ll see you on the jogging trail!

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The Cost of Cash

One of the most important areas of planning for a secure future is to be able to weather the storms of life without invading your long-term investments. When working with a new client, we always ask questions regarding their current monthly living needs. By monitoring and managing your basic living needs such as food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, gifts, etc., you can determine your cash needs on a monthly basis.

This is the first step to developing a cash management plan that will serve you well in life. Once you know the cash flow need for a typical month, it is critical that you expand the thought process to cover a period of 90 – 120 days. Should a catastrophic event affect your family you will be confident that you can sustain your lifestyle without negatively impacting your future by withdrawing retirement assets prematurely.

The process of cash management is a delicate one. There is such a state of having too much cash. Yes, you read the sentence correctly! When a portion of your overall net worth is in cash you are experiencing something negative in your overall financial picture – loss of purchasing power. One of the most critical costs of retaining cash is that you lose the opportunity for the investment (cash) to maintain or exceed inflation with growth. A prime example is a recent client who came to meet with us for retirement planning. When we spoke about his overall wealth, he was rather proud of the fact that he had accumulated what he thought would be sufficient assets to live the life he desired.

However, when we applied inflation and taxes to the overall asset structure he maintained currently, he was not so happy. When your investments are stressed with the actual costs of living, and we all know that inflation and taxation may be present during our lives, the overall balance of assets for your lifestyle is less than the amount you currently see in your bank account.

The key to creating and maintaining a successful cash management program is in the process you utilize for your total investment portfolio. Cash is important and should be maintained in your financial plan. To arrive at the appropriate amount of cash needs it is critical you analyze your spending for a period of a month that is typical of your life. Do not measure a month like November when you are buying more food for Thanksgiving or gifts for Christmas. Rather, choose a month without these extraordinary expenses and evaluate what you are truly using the cash to provide you.

Once you understand where your money is being utilized, you may wish to make some adjustments. Now multiply the amount of cash flow needed in the month you analyzed it and multiply it by 3 or 4. The result of this calculation is the amount of cash you should maintain in a checking or savings account. If it sounds like you are losing money on these funds by not investing them in something that will meet or exceed inflation, you are correct. However, the real purpose of these funds is to provide you confidence and security if, or should I say “when”, a disaster was to strike your family.

Review your cash balance account every month and make certain you return it to your target amount. This is your security blanket. It is a good practice to analyze your spending at least one month per month to determine if you need to adjust your cash balance account for possible changes in life such as added prescriptions, increases in insurance needs, etc.

It is critical you plan properly for the future while sustaining your lifestyle today. If you don’t feel secure about your future, it is time to seek help. Contact a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to assist you in creating and maintaining a plan for your future. I’ll see you on the golf course!

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Millennial Perspective: Planting Roots in a Pandemic

As a millennial, buying a home is already hard enough. Trying to save up enough money for an average 6% down payment, trying to determine how much home we can afford, trying to find the time to house hunt, and battling debt to income ratio. Now we are dealing with a seller’s market with some of the lowest interest rates we have seen in years and a pandemic. Many of my fellow millennials are trying to take advantage of these low rates, but it has been a bumpy ride for a lot of us. Throughout this article I will recount my personal experience buying a home as well as the experiences of others in my generation in the past year.

Let us rewind to March of 2020. I know, this is not the best month that we have all had, but it was certainly looking like it was going to be for my husband and me. We had found a home that we both loved at a price point that was perfect in a buyer’s market and we were prepared to take this giant step towards this milestone. We settled on an offer with the seller, signed a contract, and we were on our way. Then the pandemic hit. 

Our situation completely changed. We were no longer in a place where we could get the home. Thankfully, our sellers, lender, and realtor worked with us and we were able to essentially pause the whole process. It was only supposed to be two weeks, right? Then two weeks turned into a month, then two months, and so on. When we finally got back to a place where we could proceed, my husband and I ultimately decided that the time was not right and we needed to wait until COVID-19 blew over, so we ended our contract. 

Ending our contract and losing the opportunity turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we also decided to move closer to family. Not being able to see anyone and not knowing if we may ever see them again due to a deadly virus makes you think about where your heart is meant to be. We packed everything up a few months later, moved across the state, and devised our new plan. We would rent for another year and look at plans to build our dream starter home the following summer. Then the market flipped, and construction costs rose nearly 130%! It was back to the drawing board for us. 

The small community we are now living in is growing and many houses on the market are new construction. Since this was no longer a viable option for us, we would need to find a completed home, but any homes that were listed were typically off the market within 24 hours, were pocket listings, or they entered bidding wars which drove the price up tens of thousands of dollars. This made our search a little tricky. Thankfully, an opportunity to buy a perfect home fell into our laps. We are now back on track to buying our first home. It feels that we got lucky.

I have seen many of my friends post on social media or reach out with the news that they have also found a home. It is great news, and it makes me happy to see so many people in my generation finally able to reach this milestone. I have discussed experiences with several of them and their stories sound very familiar. They spent countless hours searching for homes on sites like Zillow and Realtor.com with little luck. When a home is found and an appointment is secured to view it, it is off the market. You do not get a lot of time to think about the investment you are about to make and practically must sign an offer within hours of viewing the home. The whole task can be very daunting compared to last year’s market. However, with today’s low rates it is something that we simply cannot pass up.

All this to say, hang in there millennials. The timing for buying a house is perfectly imperfect right now. Do not get yourself down if a home falls through. It just means that something better is waiting for you around the corner. Buying a house is a huge step and you do not want to get roped into something that you will regret. Keep searching and the right opportunity will come to you!

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Important Retirement Considerations for Educators

Educators are challenged every day. Why would you want to make your retirement transition challenging? You have worked for 30 years educating individuals that have changed the world through your guidance. Mrs. Smith, my first-grade teacher, was the first motivational speaker I heard in my life. At six years of age, Mrs. Smith instilled in me, or perhaps I should say endowed in my mind, the mantra and belief that “I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard enough”. This wonderful lady may have known, but I certainly did not, that she was bestowing to me a lifetime adventure of learning and dreaming that would reward me in tremendous ways throughout my life.

Teachers are the influencers, supporters, and cheerleaders for their students. What does this information have to do with retirement planning? Everything! At a time in the professional life of a teacher when he or she is making lifetime decisions, inadequacy rears its ugly head. As specialists in retirement planning, we focus on a variety of pension platforms and one of the most comprehensive is the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS). This system is the pension plan that provides support for teachers, administrators and support staff in the field of education in Oklahoma. 

Many people become confused and simply disregard provisions of the pension plan that would help them live a better life. The OTRS requires certain decisions for the participants to retire that are lifetime elections. Once the decision is made, even when life may go strangely awry, you cannot change your initial plan for retirement. How can you mitigate this risk? First, ask questions of the plan administrators, read the plan manual and familiarize yourself with the information and terms of the plan.

Second, seek out an expert to help you coordinate retirement, estate and income tax planning to equip you with the capability to enjoy your retirement years with potentially less worry. The OTRS provides a monthly benefit to qualified participants once the election to retire is filed. However, you may not wish to give total control of your future cashflow to the plan. What will you do if your health were to suddenly worsen immediately after retiring? The plan contains a provision that allows participants with 30 or more years of service to elect a Partial Lump Sum Option (PLSO) which allows the participant to rollover, or transfer tax-free, a sum representing 12-, 24- or 36-months of benefits to an Individual Retirement Account. Why would you wish to do this? You are in control of the distribution of the funds should an unexpected event occur!

Third, the timing of your notification filed with the plan of your planned retirement date is critical for the receipt of your first retirement benefit payment. For example, if you wish to receive continuity in your family’s income, and you plan to retire on July 1, 2021, you must file your Pre-Retirement Information Verification (Form 3) on or before April 1, 2021. This date is non-negotiable. To help you understand the strict interpretation of this required date, if April 1, 2021, was a weekend or holiday, you would not be extended any grace period to meet this deadline. Additional subsequent dates must be met to experience a smooth transition to retirement.

Each person’s retirement is unique. Do not rely on others’ comments or experiences to make important decisions for your future. A horror story from the past comes to mind. One of the educators I know came to me after filing his initial documents with OTRS. After we discussed it for a few minutes, he realized he had made a horrible mistake on his paperwork. Certain elections were not heeded, and life was not going to be as he had planned. However, we were able to resolve the issues for him in time to meet his statutory deadlines. His first retirement trip was exciting, and his cash flow was on time.

To enjoy your future years, and experience uninterrupted cashflow, the OTRS filing process requires attention and proper timing. Seek out a Certified Financial Planner™ or other retirement planning expert to help you through this tedious process. You should be planning your next trip to celebrate retirement, not worrying about your lifetime income source. Go ahead, book your trip and do not forget the sunscreen!

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When to Claim SSA Benefits

When the economy takes a downward trend and the retirement you planned did not quite work out in the manner you thought, what can you do? Most of us look at this scenario as an opportunity to engage in the workforce. Much confusion exists about working while claiming your Social Security Benefits. 

“Can I work and receive my SSA benefits?” This is the typical question we receive when planning for retirement with our clients. I look the client straight in the eye and answer “depends”. Well, that wasn’t very helpful. However, the SSA regulations applied to this scenario are complex and may be confusing to many of us. To properly apply the rules, think in terms of life sections: 1) before reaching your full retirement age (FRA) as defined by law; 2) the year you reach FRA; and 3) the period after you reach FRA.

Let’s address the first section of life which is before you reach FRA. The earliest a person can receive SSA benefits, without being a survivor or disabled, is age 62. To determine your FRA, you must consider the year of your birth. For example, if you were born in the period of 1943-1954, your FRA is 66. The amount of SSA benefits you are entitled to at age 62 is reduced permanently to 75% of your projected full retirement benefits. For example, if you would have been entitled to $2,000 a month of SSA benefits at FRA, by claiming your benefits at age 62, your lifetime initial benefit will be reduced to $1,500 per month. The loss of $500 per month of lifetime benefits, depending upon your longevity, may become a significant amount. By working and delaying your claiming of benefits closer to your FRA, you will have opportunity to receive a larger percentage of your benefits. For example, if you claimed your benefits at age 64, you would be entitled to 86.7% of your full retirement benefit. The closer your age to your FRA, the greater percentage you may claim of your full retirement benefit.

The next section of life is the year of reaching your FRA. Let’s assume you were born July 1, 1955. Your FRA would be 66 years and 2 months. Therefore, you could work in your full-time position earning up to $50,520 in the period of January 1 to June 30, 2021. You would be allowed to claim your SSA benefits and receive the full retirement amount even though you worked more than that allowed for those beneficiaries who wish to retire before FRA. This is where the confusion lies. Think about the individual who decided to retire early at the age of 63. This person may earn only $18,960 in 2021 without impacting their SSA benefits. However, for every $2.00 earned over the $18,960 limit, their SSA benefit will be reduced by $1.00.

Lastly, let’s explore the impact on the SSA benefits and the amount of earnings an individual may earn initiating with the month after reaching FRA. A person who has delayed claiming SSA benefits until reaching FRA, may continue to work full-time and not subject their SSA benefits to any reduction. There are some tax implications that will be imposed on your SSA benefits when you file your individual income tax return but we will address this issue in a future column.

Thinking about the three phases of before, reaching and after retirement age will help you make a better decision on the timing of your SSA benefits. We typically perform an analysis that helps you understand the economics and the qualitative issues of claiming your benefits at the proper time. This complex set of laws can be difficult to grasp. Seek out a complimentary consultation to determine the date of claiming your SSA benefits and maximizing your retirement income. See you on the golf course!

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Predict Your Future By Creating It

Many of you will read the title of this article and wonder what it means. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” One of the roles I relish, when working with our clients, is the ability to help people reach their goals in life. Often clients will look at me during the planning process and possess only two items of information: 1) where she currently resides financially; and 2) where she wishes to be at retirement. The chasm between these two points of life may seem bottomless and unreachable. Before you shake your head that you agree with the previous statement, let me share a proven method of predicting your future.

First, you must clearly define your desires for your future. It is often said that “no archer can hit a target that doesn’t exist.” The process of future design begins with your imagination. Do you wish to relocate in retirement? Do you dream of a second career? What about your volunteerism you wish to enhance during retirement? Will you need specialty medical assistance and support in retirement? What type of home do you wish to reside in retirement? There are many considerations and you should list all of them that you wish. There are no wrong answers! 

A plain piece of paper and your favorite writing instrument will open your mind to the world you want to develop. Once the list is completed, for now, you should breathe a sigh of relief. You have now performed more planning for your future than most people. More time is spent by individuals planning their vacation than planning their future!

Second, you should evaluate your current financial statement. What have you saved for the future? Do you possess an emergency fund? One of the quantitative misunderstandings by most people is that your life in retirement will cost you less than your current lifestyle when working. This is not necessarily true. Think about it. Your medical costs may rise due to age or you may locate where you wish to spend most of your day in your hobby. These types of activities require funds and it is a fact that most retired individuals will continue to require 90% – 95% of their currently living expense in retirement.

When planning for our clients’ future, we assume the same lifestyle in retirement as experienced in their career. Why? It is better to assume more income is required and save more than enough for a lifetime than to be deficient. No one wants to simply exist in their retirement. Therefore, it is critical that a projection assuming taxes, cost of living increases, medical needs, housing costs, etc. be developed into your plan for the future. Success in retirement depends on the ability to weather any financial storm that may arise.

Lastly, you must bridge the chasm with an active savings plan that allows you to maximize growth for the future. Time is your friend when investing. Start early and be consistent in the savings process. If you are starting a little later than intended to save for retirement, there is hope for you. With a proper review of your current circumstances, you can make strategic changes in your savings plan that will give you the most probable opportunity for success. As retirement planning specialists, we have witnessed the fear people experience when the vision for the future is not clear. 

Seek out a complimentary consultation to see if you qualify for a “second opinion” of your plan for retirement. If you don’t have a plan, lets get one started. Live for today but plan for your future. Might as well, that’s where you will be spending your time in retirement. See you on the walking trail!

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The Millennial Perspective: Who To Trust?

Millennials have been through the ringer in their short time on this Earth. Many of these events have had big effects on the financial system and institutions in our country. There also happens to be an extremely large gap in financial literacy in U.S. schools. As a result, we find that a good portion of millennials lack trust in said system, institutions, and even the educated professionals working in them. So, what reasons do we have to distrust these professionals and is there any chance of gaining or regaining that trust?

Think about how you handle your finances. Do you take advice from family and friends, or do you use a service, such as wealth management? When it comes to managing finances, a lot of millennials will turn to their friends and family for advice. This could be for a number of reasons, the most common reason you may come across is the cost of using a professional service. I’ve already discussed in previous articles why millennials can’t afford many of the things older generations could at our age. We make less money and things cost significantly more. So, would this be considered an “essential” cost for our generation? Probably Not.

The way we see it is, we simply don’t have enough money to manage, so why would a large portion of us spend money to manage what’s not there to begin with? We likely know that it may be helpful to work out a personalized budget with someone who is certified to do so. Knowing this, why would millennials still stick to family and friend advice versus a professional? The stigma.

There is a stigma working against financial professionals and it’s been determined that they are all in it for the money. They’re just salesmen that are out to make a buck and who cares about your personal finances. This just simply is not true in many, if not most, cases. It’s also why financial literacy is so important. With proper education, trust in the professionals can be built from a young age. You can learn what to look for when searching for a certified professional to know you are getting help from someone trustworthy. A good place to start, is looking at credentials. Are they a “CERTIFIED FINANICAL PLANNERô”, someone certified to have knowledge to help navigate finances? Are they a “fiduciary”, someone legally obligated to do what is best for the client? If so, these professionals would be a good option to help you with your finances and get on the right path.

Another reason millennials may not trust the financial systems in our country has become particularly relevant this past week. You may have heard about the chaos ensuing on Wall Street with a social media platform called Reddit, various stocks, such as Game Stop, and a trading platform called Robinhood. From what I have seen personally, not many of my fellow millennials know a lot about how the stock markets work, but they all seem to agree that Wall Street gets richer while the poor get poorer. So, a crew of Reddit users wanted to fight back and raise the stock of some soon-to-be shorted companies. As a result, these stocks went up in record numbers. Game Stop rose almost 2,500%! In the midst of all of this, Robinhood shut down trading shares for these particular stocks on January 28, 2021. If you had already invested in them, you could no longer invest more and if you had not invested in them yet, you may have missed your chance. The whole point of the Robinhood app is to allow the “common man” to participate in the stock market freely. As you can imagine, this made a lot of people angry. They felt as though the app created to help them was now working for the other side. There is a lot more that goes into this whole story, but to sum it up, the action that Robinhood took to stop people from trading these stocks is a solid reason why millennials don’t trust the financial system in our country and feel like the system works against those who do not already have a large sum of wealth.

I’m not saying that millennials should change their view of the financial world completely, but it’s worth educating yourself on certain things so that you can have a better understanding of how it all works. We all have different financial journeys. What works for your family and friends may not work for you. Do not be afraid to ask for help to build a plan that is designed for and works for you. There are professionals out there that want to help you and it is absolutely worth setting up a consultation just to talk things through and find the right fit for you. 

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The Millennial Perspective: Ending New Year’s Resolutions for Good

“My New Year’s resolution is…” I cannot tell you how many times I have said that phrase and I do not think I have ever really fulfilled those resolutions. Goal setting is a fundamental part of life, but it can also be a source of great disappointment and anxiety due to the restrictions we often place on ourselves to achieve these goals. Because of this, myself and many others are switching things up this year. Sure, we all have baggage that we carry with us into the new year that we would like to resolve, but sometimes the way it is stated is not helpful or healthy. Rather than setting resolutions we are setting intentions.

Instead of saying, “I need tolose 20 pounds,” or, “I need to go to the gym every day,” try saying, “I will do my best to lose 20 pounds,” and, “I will do my best to go to the gym every day.” We are not robots. We cannot be perfect. Setting such grand expectations for ourselves can lead to undue stress and with everything else going on day-to-day, why should we cause stress for ourselves? Remember my article about stress last year? Worry about the things you have control over and do the best you can do when you can. Besides, stress can often disrupt our day-to-day actions and the make your goals even harder to achieve. I am not saying you should not set goals at all because you must have something to work towards. Goals are the end game, the bigger picture. Intentions are the day-to-day actions you take to work towards that goal, like mini goals.

I have found that writing my intentions down every day, or however often, helps to serve as a reminder. Again, you must keep in mind that nothing is perfect. Your day may not go exactly how you want, and those intentions might change as the day progresses, and that is okay. If I wake up and intend to take a walk outside, but the forecast suddenly changes, as it often does in Oklahoma, I am not going to beat myself up about it because I cannot control the weather. I will just scratch that off my list and do laps in my living room! Or I can take it as a sign that it just was not meant to happen today, and I will use that opportunity to do something else on my list instead.

It is okay to slip up sometimes. It is okay to skip a workout and eat the cookies at the work luncheon. You can do these things and still reach your goal. There is no need to beat ourselves up when we give into to a few temptations here and there or just simply have a dreadful day. Changing the way our minds think of the things we wish to achieve is huge. It can turn your whole attitude towards an action around. If I say I need to do something that makes it feel like it is a chore and a burden which, in turn, makes me not want to do that thing. When I recognize that I cannot be perfect and messing up from time to time is inevitable, then it feels more like motivation. I am more motivated to do the things I intend to do to achieve my goal when I take a positive and realistic approach. That is what setting intentions to achieve a goal is all about. So, give setting intentions a try this year. Change it up and see how it works for you. You might surprise yourself and be thankful you did it in the end.

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Last-Minute Strategies To Lower Your Taxes

It’s that time of year when the sand has almost passed to the bottom of the hourglass. Most individual taxpayers are calendar-year filers which means that many opportunities to reduce your 2020 income tax bill will lapse after midnight on December 31, 2020. To help you achieve your goal of paying the least amount of income tax as possible, you may want to consider some simple, yet effective strategies

Taxes for personal property and real estate may be deducted on your individual income tax return if you elect to itemize for 2020. If you own property, you will have received a notice of taxes due on the property from the previous assessment by the County Assessor’s Office. You may wish to pay the full amount of taxes every other year to “bunch” up the deduction allowing you to accumulate deductible expenses in excess of the standard deduction. 

Income taxes paid to state and local governments are included in your itemized deductions. If you are self-employed, or receive income from sources that do not withhold taxes for you, you may be required to remit income taxes on a quarterly voucher. Typically, your fourth and final state income payment for 2020 is due on January 15, 2021. However, you may elect to remit payments in December to the state and local governments and claim the expense in 2020. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 limited the amount of state and local income taxes for deduction to $10,000.

Charitable contributions to qualified charities will increase your itemized deductions for 2020. Consider those charities that you typically support and be generous this year. As long as the charity is a qualified exempt organization and you remit payment before December 31, you should be allowed to include the deduction on your return. Don’t forget that you should request a receipt to document your charitable intent and the receipt of the payment by the organization.

Have you thought about cleaning out your closet or gifting your old car to a worthwhile charity? Good news! You may qualify for an in-kind donation. Additional rules and requirements must be followed to document the deduction but you will have helped a great cause and your closet or garage may look better, too.

Another easy method of lowering your tax bill is to defer any income that is possible. If you are self-employed, you may delay your billing for services until January, 2021 and, thereby, deferring payment to be earned income until the next tax year.

Remember in 2020 that personal exemptions are no longer allowed. Instead, a much larger standard deduction is availed to individuals and married filing joint taxpayers of $12,400 and $24,800, respectively. If you are a single parent with a child in your household, you may qualify for a little larger standard deduction of $18,650.

The key to tax reduction is to be proactive. Don’t procrastinate on this important task. By spending a few minutes planning, you may significantly reduce your tax bill for 2020. One statement we share with our clients is that “you should always seek to pay the least amount of income tax you legally owe”. 

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Gifts, Charitable Donations and Taxes

It is the time of year that we think of others. By “others” I am referring to our favorite charities, loved ones and the IRS. Sounds interesting to place the IRS in the same sentence as charities and love ones, doesn’t it? I offer that this particular government agency should always be a part of any discussion for gifts and donations.

Many people confuse the requirements that qualify charitable donations for deductibility purposes. A particular section of the Internal Revenue Code specifies the types of recipients (donees) that qualify for charitable deduction. Typically, a contribution to your local church may qualify for a charitable deduction in the year it was given. This means that you can generally contribute to your church’s building fund or other designated use funds for your church and claim the contribution on your individual income tax return for the year. Substantiation should be received from the charitable organization, in written form, that discloses the date of receipt of the gift, the amount received as a gift (unless it is other than a check or cash which would require the donor to assign a reasonable fair market value), the name and address of the charitable organization and a statement as to no services or goods given to the donor for the donation.

Unique for most taxpayers, that do not itemize deductions on their individual returns, the tax law changes signed by President Trump in March, 2020, allows for a deduction of $300 of charitable deductions for cash contributions to qualified charities. This deduction is claimed “above the line” which will lower the adjusted gross income of the filer resulting in lowered taxes owed. Highly recommend everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to help qualified charities during this difficult pandemic.

You may not realize but your Christmas gifts to loved ones actually fall within the requirements for reporting purposes to the IRS. You guessed it – gift taxes may apply! Talk about Scrooge, right? Consequently, the IRS wishes to know of any transfers of property for less than full value to another party to determine the amount of gift given to the party. Good news is that the IRS doesn’t require that you report the clothing, toys or other gifts given to your children if the total given for the year is less than $15,000 per donee for 2020. 

If you add up all of your gifts to Cousin Eddie, a reference to one of my favorite Christmas movies, and the amount is greater than $15,000 for 2020, you will need to consult with your tax advisor as to the filing of a gift tax return by April 15, 2021. Although a gift tax return may need to be filed, you will, generally, not remit any tax due to a unified gift and estate tax exemption of $11,580,000 per person. So, be generous this year!

Individuals are typically calendar-year taxpayers. This means that you lose some opportunities to lower your 2020 income taxes after December 31, 2020. It is critical that you review your current tax deductions for 2020 and accumulate those needed receipts to provide your tax preparer. Be proactive this year and contact your tax preparer now to book your appointment for receiving tax preparation services.

Lastly, remember those that have suffered during the pandemic. Families in our community may have little to enjoy the basic living needs of life much less Christmas with their loved ones. Disregard the IRS for a moment and let’s focus on our community. Reach out to families that may need a hand up, not a hand out, this Christmas Season. Put some joy in your life by giving to those in need.

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