Tax Tips: Everything You Want To Know For The 2020 Tax Season

You could say that the year 2020 was like a bull in a China shop. Businesses were forced to close, parents became teachers to their now "homeschooled" children, and working from home became the new norm. But what does all of this have to do with your taxes? Depending on your particular situation, there might be certain questions you need answered, from tax implications on working from home, stimulus payments, and even ways to boost your tax refund.

 

Tax Issues of Remote Employment:

Even though I work from home, do I still pay taxes on my income? Yes! The income from your job will be reported to you on a W-2 in January, and you'll report that income on your tax return. Nothing there has changed, at least for the federal tax return. But you may have special tax issues to deal with when you file your state income tax return unless you live and work in a state that has no income tax.

Can I deduct the costs of working from home, such as my computer, internet, office furniture, and supplies?  Unfortunately not. The tax act passed at the end of 2018 axed those deductions for most employees, with the exception for teachers that allows them to deduct up to $250 for supplies used in the classroom. If you aren't entitled to a deduction for your expenses, your best bet is to ask your employer to give you a non-taxable reimbursement for those costs.

 

How the Stimulus Payments Impact My Taxes:

 

Do I owe tax on the money I received? Nope! The stimulus payment was designed to impact the economy, not your taxes, so it won't reduce your 2020 refund or increase your tax due.

I didn't get a payment - why? If your income for 2019 or 2018 was over $75,000 ($150,000 if you filed jointly, $112,500 if you were head of household), then your payment was reduced by $5 for every excess $100 you earned.  And if you didn't file a tax return for either year, you may not have gotten a payment.

Really? What can I do now? If you were supposed to file a 2019 tax return and didn't, file right away. If your income was too low to file, at IRS.gov you can click on the tab marked "Non-filers" and fill in your basic information. If the IRS determines you are eligible for a payment, they will send it to you.

What if my income has gone down? If your 2019 income was too high for you to receive a payment, but your income this year is much lower, you are in luck. You can claim your stimulus payment on your 2020 income tax return, and it increase the refund you receive (or reduce any tax due).

My 2020 income is higher than in 2019 - will the government want the money back? No. If you received a stimulus payment based on lower income in 2019, that payment is yours to keep even if your income increased above the threshold in 2020.



How Can I Boost My Tax Refund?

Itemize your deductions. The standard deduction is $12,400, so it's tempting to claim it rather than tracking down receipts and tax forms so you can itemize your deductions. But itemizing might be worth it if you are a homeowner with a sizeable mortgage, gave money and "stuff" to charity, or paid points when you took out your mortgage. If you are an educator, you can deduct up to $250 of school supplies even if you don't itemize deductions.

Claim credit for your "full house". If your adult children, their significant others or other family have come to live with you during the pandemic, you may be eligible to claim a $500 tax credit for non-child dependents you support if their income is less than $4,300. You can claim the credit for parents you support, even if they don't live with you.

Claim education expenses. If you are paying college expenses for yourself, your spouse or a child, two education credits can help defray those costs, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). The AOTC is a partly reimbursable credit for 100% of the first $2,000 of education expenses you pay and 25% of the next $2,000. The Lifetime Learning credit (LLC) is 20% of the first $10,000 of education expenses. The AOTC is eliminated once your income exceeds $90,000 and the LLC at $68,000. There are other differences as well, so weigh your options carefully in deciding which credit to claim. Start gathering the data you'll need to claim the deduction, and consider prepaying tuition or other costs to get the maximum credit possible.

Contribute to tax-deductible retirement accounts. This is a way to save for your future and boost your tax refund. If your income is under $65,000, you may qualify for a Saver's Tax Credit as well. That's three different benefits from the same action. Make contributions to your 401(k) by the end of the year. Though you have until the tax filing deadline to contribute to an IRA, if you are claiming the Saver's Tax Credit, do that by year end as well. 

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