Tax-Free Student Loan Forgiveness is Part of the Latest Covid-19 Relief Bill

Tax-Free Student Loan ForgivenessThe recently passed American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 includes a provision making nearly all student loan forgiveness tax-free, at least temporarily. Before the ARP, student loan forgiveness was tax-free only under special programs. Before we look at the changes to come under the ARP, let’s look back at what the previous law provided.

The Old Rules

Under the earlier measure, student loan forgiveness was tax-free under certain circumstances. These special programs included working in certain public sectors, some types of teachers as well as some programs for nurses, doctors, veterinarians, etc. Essentially, you had to work in a specific field under certain conditions for a minimum length of time and some or all your student loans would be forgiven or discharged. There are also other technical qualifications, such as death and disability, closed school, or false certification discharges, but these aren’t widely applicable.

Because student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, income-driven repayment plans were the other main type of program that could result in forgiveness or discharge. Typically, borrowers repaid an amount indexed to their income over a 20-to 25-year period; whatever was leftover at the end was discharged. The forgiven loan amounts under income-driven repayment programs were considered a discharge of indebtedness and tax as ordinary income (although there are exclusions for insolvent taxpayers).

The New Rules

Under the new law in the ARP, the forgiveness of all federal student and parent loans are tax-free. This includes Direct Loans, Family Federal Education Loans (FFEL), Perkins Loans, and federal consolidation loans. Additionally, non-federal loans such as state education loans, institutional loans direct from colleges and universities, and even private student loans also qualify.

The essential criteria for the loan discharge to qualify for tax-free treatment is that it must have been made expressly for post-secondary educational expenses and be insured or guaranteed by the federal government (this includes federal agencies).

This all means that the debt discharged under income-driven forgiveness programs will now be tax-free as well, but there’s a catch. The discharge of student loan debt needs to happen within the next five years because the provision expires at the end of 2025. There could be an extension, but that’s uncertain now.

Why this Change May Really Matter

The change in rules making income-driven student loan forgiveness tax-free isn’t a huge deal for most people. The new law really matters because it sets the stage for broader student loan forgiveness. The program currently being floated by President Biden to forgive $10,000 in student loan debt or the even larger $50,000 proposal by some Senate Democrats will qualify for tax-free treatment.

How Companies Can Become More Nimble During the Product Lifecycle

Product LifecycleThe majority of U.S. industrial product company CFOs have shared concerns that COVID-19 would impact their businesses negatively. For companies that develop and manufacture products, understanding the product lifecycle and how to work around crises like the COVID-19 pandemic can be effective to help improve the longevity and success of companies.

Market Development Stage

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the first stage of the product lifecycle is market development. This normally happens when a company introduces a new product for sale. There is usually little demand at this point; instead, demand has to be cultivated among consumers.

Factors that impact the rate of introduction include the product’s novelty; how practical it is for consumers’ existing problems; and how the new product impacts the demand of existing products. For example, if there’s a proven cure for a chronic medical condition, the product would have a more effective ability to penetrate the market versus an unproven product – be it a medical device, cell phone, etc.

Market Growth Stage

HBR calls the second stage the market growth stage or takeoff stage. When a product is successful, it enters this stage because demand begins to grow exponentially due to consumers expressing interest in the new product.

From there, competitors looking to leverage the “used apple policy” will produce either knock-offs or improved versions of the new product. Businesses competing in this product category begin standing apart – via their product and/or brand. Ongoing adaptation is fluid and contingent based on what competitors are doing, normally through balancing pricing or optimizing distribution channels.

Market Maturity Stage

This stage sees equilibrium in consumer demand. The best way to understand when this is achieved is when the target demographics are consuming the intended products. Competing companies will focus on standing out in the market by providing niche solutions through customer service, comprehensive warranties, etc. Producers are maintaining relationships with distribution outlets for in-store product promotion and shelf space; also, more favorable distribution agreements normally occur during this stage.

Market Decline Stage

This stage is evident when consumers fall out of love with an item and stop buying it. As too much capacity for the product floods the market and fewer and fewer producers survive, businesses might propose mergers for survival.

Ways to Extend the Product Lifecycle

While the Covid-19 pandemic has taught everyone how to live and work as safely as possible, it’s also shown that businesses need to be constantly reviewing how they can make their product lifecycles more agile.

One way to extend the product lifecycle for a new product is by creating a positive, memorable first impression. An unfavorable first experience might create negative repercussions beyond what would be normal.

For example, how the product was delivered to the customer can make an impact on the customer’s experience. HBR gives the example of companies that produce home appliances. If a small, independent network of family-run appliance stores can deliver white glove service for customers (going above and beyond to make a lasting, positive first impression, including implementing COVID-19 safe practices), they can make a positive first impression. This will increase the likelihood of customers wanting to share their good experience with others.

However, when it comes to merchandising the product, using a more segmented distribution channel via independent appliance stores will take a lot more effort compared to larger, corporate resellers with turnkey distribution capabilities.

Another way, especially to be mindful of COVID-19 safety precautions, is to remove the chance for miscommunication. When working remotely and using chat and/or video conferencing tools, it is important to document all processes, including sample layouts and designs, to ensure different departments are on the same page.

Staying in communication with existing and potential clients is crucial for product launches – either new or enhanced versions. Looking at the next 90 days ahead, evaluate how each customer’s business is doing – are they fighting for survival or is it nearly business as usual? If a customer is all-hands-on-deck to get cashflow to stay in business, it might not be the right time for deployment. But if the new product or enhancement can increase efficiency, it might be right to contact them ASAP.

While every product lifecycle is unique, taking steps to become more nimble can potentially make the difference between a company surviving or thriving during a crisis.

Sources

https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/manufacturing-operations-strategy-coronavirus.html

https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/pwc-covid-19-cfo-pulse-survey.html

https://hbr.org/1965/11/exploit-the-product-life-cycle

How Will the Projected Commodity Super-Cycle Impact Investors in 2021?

Commodity Super-CycleAs the January 2021 World Bank Pink Sheet documented, prices increased month-over-month from November 2020 to December 2020. Highlights include the price of oil jumping by 15 percent. The cost of fertilizer jumped 2.2 percent, grains increased by 3.8 percent and iron ore jumped by 25 percent. While there’s been no official “commodity super-cycle,” according to economists or financial analysts, the trend certainly shows commodity prices increasing.

2020 caught the world off-guard with the coronavirus pandemic, sending the price of oil negative. According to Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, on April 20, 2020, “the prompt contract price” or how much a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) cost for May 2020 deliveries went negative, falling $50. It eventually rebounded to $45 per barrel in November as vaccine optimism began to take hold.

For other commodities, the story was not as bad, signaling what might be another commodity super-cycle. On Aug. 4, 2020, gold broke the $2,000 mark. With central banks and governments spending to support the economy due to the pandemic, it put pressure on global currencies. For example, with the U.S. dollar index dropping nearly 10 percent from March 2020 to August 2020, precious metals such as gold became a hedge against inflation.

Many would assume that commodities surged in part from the economic damage of COVID-19 but, looking at the data, commodities were seeing a resurgence at the start of 2020 – well before the pandemic negatively impacted the global economy.

With data as recent as March 5, the International Monetary Fund shows how commodities changed before the pandemic, during, and as the recovery is underway for the first two months of 2021. Looking at the IMF’s “Actual Market Prices for Non-Fuel and Fuel Commodities” chart, one can see how commodities bottomed out during the pandemic and are showing signs of significant growth.

One metric ton of wheat was $186.10 in 2018, $163.30 in 2019, $185.50 in 2020. In Q1 of 2020, it was $173.80, Q2 was $174.80, Q3 was $183.00, Q4 of 2020 was $210.5. Then the first two months of 2021, one metric ton of wheat was $237.90 and $240.80, respectively.

For metals, one metric ton of copper was $6,529.80 in 2018, $6,010.10 in 2019, $6,174.60 in 2020. In Q1 of 2020, it was $5,633.90, Q2 was $5,350.80, Q3 was $6,528.60, Q4 of 2020 was $7,185.0. The first two months of 2021, the price was $7,972.10 and $8,470.90, respectively.

Spot Crude priced per barrel in U.S. dollars was $68.30 in 2018, $61.40 in 2019, $41.30 in 2020. In Q1 of 2020, it was $49.10, Q2 was $30.30, Q3 was $42.00, and Q4 of 2020 was $43.70. Then the first two months of 2021, Spot Crude was $53.50 and $60.50, respectively.

For the Spot Crude figures, the IMF uses the Average Petroleum Spot Price (APSP), which averages equally three crudes: West Texas Intermediate, Dubai, and Brent.

Will China Lead the Globe’s Super-Cycle?

As the United Nations defines it, a super-cycle is when there’s a paradigm shift toward increased demand, lasting at least a decade and up to 35 years “in a wide range of base material prices.” It focuses on “industrial production and urban development of an emerging economy.”

Looking at China could signal what the globe will follow economically. According to Refinitiv, China saw a positive growth of 2.3 percent of its GDP in 2020, compared to the global average of -3.5 percent. As the world emerges from the pandemic, it will undoubtedly consume more commodities. When it comes to 2021 GDP expectations for China, the World Bank expects the country to grow by 8 percent to 9 percent.

Looking forward to 2022, Eikon predicts that China’s GDP will grow by 1.6 percent more than the rest of the world, and 3.1 percent higher than America’s GDP expected growth rate in 2022.

Much like the pandemic was not in anyone’s economic forecast, if the global economy is in a commodity super-cycle, savvy investors will be ahead of the curve if a super-cycle materializes. 

Roth Conversion in 2021?

Roth Conversion in 2021?In 2020, a year when all income brackets benefited from lower tax rates, the stock market took a nosedive at the beginning of the pandemic. For investors sharp enough to see the opportunity, this was an ideal time to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.

When you conduct a Roth conversion, the assets are taxed at ordinary income tax rates in the year of the conversion. So, the best time to do this is when your current income tax rate is low and when your IRA account balance loses money due to declining market performance. Once you convert the account to a Roth, those assets continue to grow tax free and are no longer subject to taxes when withdrawn later.

If you believe those stocks will rebound, you can direct the traditional and new Roth IRA custodians to move the shares as they are, rather than selling them for cash. Or, if you are converting the entire account and choose to remain with the same brokerage, you can simply instruct the custodian to change the account type. This way you can keep the same investments, pay applicable taxes on the account balance at the time of the conversion, and then never have to pay taxes on future gains.

While the stock market did recover in 2020, many market analysts believe equities are currently overpriced and could experience another correction this year. On top of that, with Democrats now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, many expect legislation that will increase income taxes, at least among wealthier households.

Therefore, in order to avoid higher taxes on a long-accumulated traditional IRA, 2021 might be a good year to conduct a Roth conversion. The key is to try to time that conversion with a market loss. By conducting a conversion before income taxes increase, you’ll pay a lower rate, and all future earnings can grow tax-free and be distributed tax-free. Bear in mind, too, that a Roth does not mandate required minimum distributions at any age. The full account balance of a Roth has the opportunity to continue growing for the rest of the owner’s life.

A Roth conversion is not the best strategy for everyone. Consider the following scenarios that are not ideal for conversion.

  • An investor under age 59½ will be assessed a penalty on newly converted Roth funds withdrawn in less than five years, so this might not work for an early retiree who needs immediate income.
  • If you expect to be in a lower tax bracket during retirement, you should wait until then to pay taxes on distributions of your traditional IRA. Also, if you think you might relocate to a state with lower or no state income tax during retirement, not converting eliminates state taxes on that money entirely.
  • Watch out for a bump in income taxes on a Roth conversion. You might not want to convert if those assets put you in a higher tax bracket during the year of conversion.
  • Also note that if you convert after age 65, higher income reported that year could increase premiums for Medicare Part B benefits, as well as taxes on Social Security benefits.
  • If the non-spousal IRA beneficiary is likely to remain in a lower tax bracket than the owner, he might as well leave the assets in the traditional IRA. Otherwise, the owner will waste more of his estate’s assets to pay taxes on the conversion.
  • If you don’t have available cash outside the traditional IRA to pay the taxes on the conversion, the money will come out of the account and substantially drop the value. Consider whether or not your investment timeline is long enough to make up for that loss.
  • If your goal is to leave that IRA money to a charity, don’t bother to convert. Qualified charities are exempt from taxes on donations.

If you’re planning to leave a Roth IRA to your heirs, they also enjoy tax-free distributions as long as that Roth was opened and funded for at least five years before you pass away. This is another reason why it might be better to convert to a Roth IRA sooner rather than later.

3 Best Ways to Save for College

Save for CollegeWhat if you could save enough for your child to go to college debt-free? It might sound impossible, but with dedication, hard work, and careful planning, you can do just that. According to Dave Ramsey, American personal finance advisor, here are the top three tax-favored plans to get started.

The Education Savings Account (ESA)

Otherwise known as the Education IRA, this plan allows you to save $2,000 (after tax) per year, per child. Let’s do that math. If you begin saving when your child is born and put away $2,000 a year until they’re 18, you’ll be investing $36,000. Not too shabby. And the good news is that qualified distributions are tax-free, which means you won’t have to pay anything when you withdraw the funds to pay for college. The other upside is, depending on the rate of growth, you’ll earn more than you would in a regular savings account. However, there are some caveats. You can’t contribute if you make more than $110,000 (single) or $220,000 (married filing jointly); the contribution cap is $2,000 a year; and the money must be used by the time your child is 30.

The 529 Plan

If you want to save more for your child’s education or you don’t qualify for the income limits of the ESA, then this might be a better fit because you can contribute up to $300,000, depending on what state you live in. Ramsey recommends you look for a 529 Plan that allows you to choose your investment funds. Also, he says most of the time there aren’t any income restrictions based on your child’s age; however, there are some limits, so choose wisely. This plan also grows tax-free. One thing to note: restrictions may apply if you want to transfer your funds to another child.

The UTMA or UGMA (Uniform Transfer/Gift to Minors Act)

One of the best things about these plans is they’re not just designed to save for education. For example, if your kiddo wants to take a gap year, this can cover living expenses. The account is set up in your child’s name but it’s controlled by a custodian (usually a parent or grandparent). The custodian manages the account until the child is 21 (18 for the UGMA). One of the pluses of this plan is that since the account is owned by the child, the earnings are usually taxed at the child’s rate, which is generally lower than that of the parents. For some people, the savings can be significant. However, there are two important things to know: (1) once your child is of legal age, she can use the funds however she likes (a trip to Europe, a sports car…or college?) and, (2) the beneficiary can’t be changed after selected.

While setting up a college fund is a smart goal, it’s not the only one. Prior to starting down these paths, Ramsey recommends that you consider paying off your mortgage, credit cards, and your own student loans. He also suggests setting up an emergency fund of three to six months and allocating 15 percent of your salary to retirement through a 401(k) and/or a Roth IRA. For more help, he recommends both parents and children read “Debt-Free Degree.” This book walks you through how to go to college without student loans.

Saving for an education might feel completely overwhelming, but if you start early enough, do your homework and create a solid plan, it’s absolutely possible.

Sources

https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/saving-for-college-is-easier-than-you-think

https://www.troweprice.com/personal-investing/accounts/general-investing/ugma-utma.html#:~:text=Because%20money%20placed%20in%20an,this%20savings%20can%20be%20significant.&text=Up%20to%20%241%2C050%20in%20earnings%20tax%2Dfree.&text=Any%20earnings%20over%20%242%2C100%20are%20taxed%20at%20the%20parent’s%20rate

How Cloud Accounting Helps Small Businesses Gain Competitive Edge

Cloud AccountingIn a continuously changing business environment, small businesses have a challenge to keep up. It’s especially expensive to keep pace with ever changing technology. Luckily, with affordable cloud accounting solutions, small businesses can maintain a competitive edge.

What is Cloud Accounting

Cloud accounting involves moving your business books online. Unlike desktop accounting systems, cloud accounting permits you to access accounting software from a web browser without the need to install it on your personal computer.

Companies that offer cloud computing provide their services on remote servers and applications. For a fee, you gain remote access to the services that fit your business needs.

Cloud Accounting Benefits for a Small Business

Here are benefits offered by cloud accounting that enable small businesses to gain a competitive edge:

  • No need to invest in expensive software and hardware
    With cloud accounting, you need only subscribe to a company offering cloud accounting services. This removes the need to purchase the actual software and necessary hardware. It also means there are no extra costs for maintenance, allowing a business to focus on core business activities. 
  • Save on upgrade costs
    Software keeps changing and needs frequent patches and upgrades. This is expensive for a small business running a traditional accounting software, and most end up using outdated software.

    Subscribing to cloud accounting means the service provider takes care of the upgrades, and you have access to new features instantly.

  • No need to hire an in-house accountant or bookkeeper
    If your business is small and running on a tight budget, subscribing to a cloud accounting solution will save you the cost of hiring a person for manual accounting and other bookkeeping processes. By connecting the system with your bank account, the transactions will be updated automatically, thereby saving you time and ensuring accuracy.
  • Easy to scale
    With cloud-based services, you can easily scale your business as it grows by adding to the services you subscribe to. At the same time, if your business is experiencing a slowdown and you need to reduce expenses, you can scale down by reducing the number of subscribed services.
  • Data accessibility
    You can easily access your financial status at any time, unlike when you run a traditional desktop accounting system. This is possible from any device that has an internet connection.
  • Access to various functions, features and support
    Cloud accounting enables a small business to have access to different accounting features and functions, such as project estimates, finance, billing, invoicing, tax summary, and stocks, among others. This is because of the ability to select services depending on the needs of your business and your budget.
  • Enables remote working and collaboration
    Cloud accounting allows for remote working, which is especially important with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations to work from home. This enhances collaboration with your team and financial advisor because you can all work on the same system at the same time, regardless of your location. The accountant also needs not go through the trouble of importing client data.
  • Financial reports
    Cloud accounting allows for access to regular reports that include insights about the financial state of your business. This enables a business owner to have an up-to-date picture of how the business is performing anytime, whether at home, at work or on the go.
  • Data security
    Data on the cloud is more secure than data stored on a hard drive, which can be accessed if it is stolen. In the case of a natural disaster, your business productivity is not greatly affected because you can still access your data. This is because it’s the responsibility of the cloud provider to ensure data security, make regular backups, scan servers for vulnerabilities and use the latest technology.

Final Words

Cloud accounting enables small businesses to enjoy business efficiency and increased productivity while reducing costs. Businesses of all sizes, even small ones, have to keep up with changing technology. Any business that wants to maintain a competitive edge has the option to do away with traditional accounting desktop software.

Economic Stimulus, Making the Post Office Solvent Again, Gun Control, Voting Rights and Restricting China’s Influence

Gun Control, Voting RightsAmerican Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (HR 1319) – This $1.9 trillion relief bill provides stimulus money to address the continued impact of COVID-19. Provisions include issuing $1,400 checks to taxpayers, increasing the Child Tax Credit up to $3,000 and the dependent care credit to $4,000, and providing funds for schools, small businesses, renters and landlords, increased subsidies for Americans who buy individual health insurance, and $160 billion allocated toward vaccine development and distribution. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) on Jan. 15, first passed in the House on Feb. 27 and in the Senate on March 6, and was signed into law by President Biden on March 11.

SAVE LIVES Act (HR 1276) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) on Feb. 24. The legislation would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish a COVID-19 vaccine to veterans ineligible for the VA health care system, who live abroad, and family caregivers of veterans, among others. The bill passed in the House on March 9 and in the Senate on March 17. It has been returned to the House for approval of changes.

USPS Fairness Act (HR 695) – This act would repeal the requirement that the U.S. Postal Service annually prepay future retiree benefits, decades in advance. The current mandate, which was signed into law in 2006, has since threatened the viability of the USPS. While the Post Office generates enough revenue to cover its operating costs, this prepayment of pension and retiree healthcare benefits has pushed its bottom line into the red. The bill was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on Feb. 2 and enjoys bipartisan support.

Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 (HR 1620) – This is a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, a popular law that protects and provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. The bill expired at the end of 2018 after Congress failed to act due to partisan disputes over guns and transgender issues. It was re-introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) on March 8 and passed in the House on March 17. It is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 (HR 8) – This bill establishes new background check requirements for every firearm sale. It prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) on March 1 and passed in the House on March 11. This bill is currently under review in the Senate.

For the People Act of 2021 (HR 1) – This bill was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) on Jan. 4 and passed in the House on March 3. It is currently under consideration in the Senate. The purpose of this legislation is to protect and expand voter rights. Specifically, the bill:

  • Expands voter registration (automatic and same-day registration)
  • Increases voting access (vote-by-mail and early voting)
  • Prohibits removing voters from voter rolls
  • Requires states to establish an independent commission to deploy congressional redistricting
  • Establishes provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials and supporting states in securing their election systems
  • Prohibits campaign spending by foreign nationals, requires additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, mandates additional disclaimers in political advertising, and establishes an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices
  • Establishes additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for personnel who work in the three branches of government
  • Requires the president, the vice president, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns

CONFUCIUS Act (S 590) – This bill, also referred to as the Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States Act, is designed to mitigate China’s influence on U.S. post-secondary educational institutions that are directly or indirectly funded by the Chinese government. Specifically, educational institutions contracted with Confucius Institutes that also receive federal funding must include provisions in those agreements that prohibit the application of foreign law on those campuses and grant full control over teaching plans, activities, research grants and employment decisions to the U.S. university. The act was introduced by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) on March 4 and passed in the Senate on the same day. It is currently under consideration in the House.

Uncle Sam May Pick Up the Cost of Your COBRA Medical Coverage

Article Highlights:

 

  • COBRA coverage
  • Federal COBRA Subsidy
  • Period for Subsidy
  • Alternate Coverage

The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes a provision for the federal government to pick up the cost of COBRA health coverage for employees’ involuntary termination of their employment or reduction of hours subject to certain qualifications.

COBRA is the acronym for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which was passed years ago, and gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue obtaining group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited time periods, under certain circumstances such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other life events. Qualified individuals may be required to pay the entire premium, for coverage, up to 102% of the cost to the plan.

COBRA generally requires that group health plans sponsored by employers with 20 or more employees in the prior year offer employees and their families a temporary extension of health coverage (called continuation coverage) in certain instances in which coverage under the plan would otherwise end.

The ARPA provides premium assistance, a 100% federal subsidy (i.e., makes the health insurance coverage no cost to the former employee), for COBRA premiums for eligible individuals who have a COBRA option through their employment beginning April 1 and continuing through September 30, 2021. On top of that, this subsidy is also tax-free.

An individual qualified for this subsidy is one who is eligible for COBRA coverage as an employee, former employee, covered spouse, or covered dependent, and elects to have COBRA coverage due to involuntary termination of their employment or reduction of hours and is not eligible for other group coverage or Medicare.

Individuals who do not have a COBRA election in effect on April 1, 2021, but who would be otherwise qualified for the subsidy also qualify. Also qualified are those  who elected to have COBRA coverage but discontinued it before April 1, 2021, are still within their maximum coverage period and make the COBRA election during the period starting April 1, 2021 and ending 60 days after they are provided with a required notification of the extended election period by their former employer.

The duration of this subsidized coverage will begin April 1, 2021, and end on September 30, 2021, unless, under the terms of the COBRA coverage, the covered period is less, or the COBRA beneficiary becomes eligible for coverage under another group health plan or Medicare. A penalty of $250, or more for intentional failures, applies to beneficiaries who fail to notify the government that they become ineligible for the subsidy.

Where the COBRA group health plan sponsors permit it, the premium assistance will apply to any compliant coverage in which the employee enrolls, provided the premium does not exceed the premium for the coverage in which the individual was enrolled and does not provide only excepted benefits or is not a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement or health flexible spending arrangement.

The employer, or insurer for fully insured plans, will pay for the subsidized COBRA coverage, and in turn, will be reimbursed for the cost of the coverage by the federal government through a credit claimed against its Medicare payroll tax. If the credit exceeds the tax, the difference is refundable and can be claimed in advance. ARPA requires employers provide notices to assistance eligible individuals of: the subsidy’s availability, the extended election period for COBRA coverage, and the subsidy’s expiration.

Contact your prior employer related to your benefits under COBRA coverage.  For more information, related to this new law change please give this office a call.

Big Increase in Child Tax Credit For 2021

Article Highlights:

 

  • Additional Credit Amounts
  • Refundability
  • High-Income Phaseout
  • Advance Payments
  • Reconciliation of Advance Payments with Credit
  • Child’s Death
  • Online Portal

 

An increased child tax credit is part of President Biden’s stimulus package to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic and stimulate the economy. This stimulus package, which was passed by Congress on March 10, 2021 and is known as the American Rescue Plan Act, will provide lower-income parents with substantial financial assistance and support various other efforts to stimulate the economy. Even though the benefit of a tax credit traditionally isn’t available until after the tax return for the year has been filed, for 2021, the IRS will pay a portion of the credit in advance in the form of monthly payments from July through December.

Here are the details.

  • Additional Credit Amounts – Normally, the credit is $2,000 per eligible child. For 2021, it has increased to $3,000 for each child under age 18 (normally under age 17) and $3,600 for children under age 6 at the end of the year.
  • Refundability – A tax credit can be either nonrefundable or refundable. Nonrefundable credits can only offset a taxpayer’s tax liability, at most bringing it down to zero, while a refundable credit offsets the tax liability and any credit amount in excess of the liability is refunded to the taxpayer. Generally, the child tax credit is nonrefundable, but for 2021, it is fully refundable.
  • High-Income Phaseout – The credit is designed to only provide parents of lower incomes with a tax benefit. Thus, the credit phases out for higher-income taxpayers at a rate of $50 for each $1,000 (or fraction thereof) by which the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the threshold.

 

2021 MAGI PHASEOUT – CHILD TAX CREDIT
Filing Status Threshold
Married Filing Jointly 150,000
Heads of Household 112,500
Others 75,000

 

 

 

 

Example 1: Jack and Jill have two children—Ella, age 4, and Joe, age 8. Their child tax credit for 2021 before the phaseout will be $6,600 ($3,600 + 3,000). They file a joint return and their AGI is below $150,000, so they are entitled to the full $6,600. However, if their AGI for 2021 is $170,000, they would have to reduce (phase out) the credit by $1,000 ($50 x [($170,000-$150,000)/1,000]). Thus, their child tax credit would be $5,600.

Note: This phaseout only applies to the increase in the credit. Families that aren’t eligible for the higher child credit would still be able to claim the regular credit of $2,000 per child subject to the normal phaseout thresholds of $400,000 for married couples filing jointly and $200,000 for others.

Example 2: Using Jack and Jill from example #1, they qualified for a credit of $6,600 before phaseout. If their AGI had been $220,000, they would be completely phased out of the additional 2021 credit but would still qualify for the normal $2,000 per child credit. Since their AGI is below the regular $400,000 phaseout threshold, their credit for 2021 would be $4,000 (2 x $2,000).

Advance Payments – Under a special provision included in the new tax law, to get the credit benefit into the hands of taxpayers as quickly as possible, the Secretary of the Treasury has been charged with establishing an advance payment plan. Under this mandate, those qualifying for the credit would receive monthly payments equal to 1⁄12 of the amount the IRS estimates the taxpayer would be entitled to by using the information on the 2020 return. If the 2020 return has not been filed, the 2019 information is to be used. If the 2019 return is used to determine the advance payments, the amount of the payments can be altered (either reduced or increased) when the 2020 return is filed. The initial advance payment won’t arrive before July 1, 2021, and monthly payments would end in December 2021. Any balance of the credit due to a taxpayer would be claimed on their 2021 tax return.

  • Reconciliation on the 2021 Tax Return – The advance payments will reduce the child tax credit claimed on the tax return, but not below zero. If the aggregate amount of the advance payments to the taxpayer exceeds the amount of the allowable credit, the excess must be repaid unless the taxpayer meets the safe harbor test.
  • No Repayment Safe Harbor – The amount of the excess advance repayment is eliminated or reduced based on a safe harbor that applies to lower- income taxpayers. Thus, families with a 2021 MAGI below the applicable income threshold (see table below) will not have to repay any advance credit overpayments that they receive.
SAFE HARBOR APPLICABLE MAGI
Filing Status Threshold
Married Filing Joint 60,000
Heads of Household 50,000
Others 40,000

 

 

 

 

Child’s Death – A child isn’t taken into account in determining the annual advance amount if the death of the child is known to the IRS as of the beginning of the calendar year for which the estimate is made.

Online Portal – The Secretary of the Treasury will establish an online portal for taxpayers to elect to not receive advance payments or provide information that would affect the amount of the advance payment, including the birth of a qualifying dependent, change in marital status or significant changes in income.

 

It will take the Treasury some time to initiate the advance payments, but if you have questions about the child tax credit, please give this office a call.

 

 

Are Your Unemployment Benefits Taxable?

Article Highlights:

 

  • CARES and COVID Tax Relief Acts
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • American Rescue Plan
  • Tax-Exempt Portion of Unemployment
  • Bogus Forms 1099-G
  • Kiddie Tax and Unemployment
  • States’ Taxation of Unemployment

 

With the passage of the CARES Act stimulus package early in 2020, the federal government began supplementing the normal state weekly unemployment benefits by adding $600 per week through the end of July 2020. When this provision ran out, and with Congress at a stalemate, President Trump issued an executive order in early August that extended the supplement, but at $400 per week, with the federal government providing $300 and the state the other $100. Then, the COVID Tax Relief Act that was enacted in late December of 2020 extended the federal unemployment supplement through March 14, 2021, but at $300 per week. Now, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan that Congress enacted in March of 2021 has extended the $300 benefit through September 9, 2021, and increased the number of weeks an individual can qualify for the benefits from 50 to 74.

The American Rescue Plan Act originally slated the weekly amount to be $400. That was before a provision to treat the first $10,200 of unemployment income as tax exempt was included, at which point the weekly supplemental amount was reduced to $300. However, the tax exemption of the first $10,200 of unemployment compensation will only apply to taxpayers with AGIs less than $150,000. Prior to this change, unemployment benefits were fully taxable income for federal purposes.

This change is retroactive to 2020, and if you have already filed your 2020 tax return, on which you included unemployment compensation, and you qualify for the income exclusion, the return can be amended to take advantage of the up to $10,200 tax-exempt portion of the unemployment income. There is a remote chance the IRS might make the adjustment automatically.

Those who received unemployment benefits will be sent a Form 1099-G (Certain Government Payments) from the state that paid the benefits. This tax form shows the amount of unemployment benefits paid to the individual during 2020 and the amount of income tax withheld, if any.

There have been reports of people receiving Form 1099-G when they never applied for and didn’t collect any unemployment benefits for 2020. In these cases, the individual’s personal information was apparently used fraudulently by someone else to claim the unemployment benefits. If this happens to you, you should contact the government office that issued the erroneous form to request a correction.

Also, be aware that children under age 19, or full-time students over age 18 and under age 24 with unearned income in excess of $2,200, are subject to what is referred to as the kiddie tax. The kiddie tax taxes the child’s unearned income at the parent’s rate. Normally, we think of unearned income as being interest, dividends and capital gains, but certain other types of income, including unemployment benefits, are considered to be unearned income. This can lead to some unpleasant tax surprises, as those who have already filed their 2020 tax returns may have discovered. But the $10,200 retroactive exclusion should eliminate the unemployment tax for most kiddie tax returns. An amended return may be needed in this situation.

There are several states where unemployment benefits are not taxable. Of those, seven states do not have a state income tax, so obviously, unemployment benefits are not taxable in those states, which are the following:

  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Nevada
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Several states have state income tax but do not tax unemployment benefits:

  • California
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia

Two states exempt 50% of amounts above $12,000 (single taxpayer) or $18,000 (married taxpayers):

  • Indiana
  • Wisconsin

The remaining states fully tax unemployment benefits.

A word of caution: Some states may pass laws to conform to the federal treatment, or even automatically conform. Unfortunately, that information was not available when this article was prepared.

If you’ve collected unemployment compensation, the benefits’ impact on your tax bill will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of unemployment income you received, whether your benefits are covered by the $10,200 exclusion, what other income you have, whether you are single or married (and, if married, whether you and your spouse are both receiving unemployment benefits), and whether you had or have income tax withheld from benefit payments.

 

If you have questions about the taxation of unemployment compensation, please give this office a call.