Steer clear of the wash sale rule if you’re selling stock by year end

Are you thinking about selling stock shares at a loss to offset gains that you’ve realized during 2020? If so, it’s important not to run afoul of the “wash sale” rule.

IRS may disallow the loss

Under this rule, if you sell stock or securities for a loss and buy substantially identical stock or securities back within the 30-day period before or after the sale date, the loss can’t be claimed for tax purposes. The rule is designed to prevent taxpayers from using the tax benefit of a loss without parting with ownership in any significant way. Note that the rule applies to a 30-day period before or after the sale date to prevent “buying the stock back” before it’s even sold. (If you participate in any dividend reinvestment plans, it’s possible the wash sale rule may be inadvertently triggered when dividends are reinvested under the plan, if you’ve separately sold some of the same stock at a loss within the 30-day period.)

The rule even applies if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.

Although the loss can’t be claimed on a wash sale, the disallowed amount is added to the cost of the new stock. So, the disallowed amount can be claimed when the new stock is finally disposed of in the future (other than in a wash sale).

An example to illustrate

Let’s say you bought 500 shares of ABC Inc. for $10,000 and sold them on November 5 for $3,000. On November 30, you buy 500 shares of ABC again for $3,200. Since the shares were “bought back” within 30 days of the sale, the wash sale rule applies. Therefore, you can’t claim a $7,000 loss. Your basis in the new 500 shares is $10,200: the actual cost plus the $7,000 disallowed loss.

If only a portion of the stock sold is bought back, only that portion of the loss is disallowed. So, in the above example, if you’d only bought back 300 of the 500 shares (60%), you’d be able to claim 40% of the loss on the sale ($2,800). The remaining $4,200 loss that’s disallowed under the wash sale rule would be added to your cost of the 300 shares.

If you’ve cashed in some big gains in 2020, you may be looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio so you can sell those investments before year end. By doing so, you can offset your gains with your losses and reduce your 2020 tax liability. But be careful of the wash sale rule. 

© 2020

How Series EE savings bonds are taxed

Many people have Series EE savings bonds that were purchased many years ago. Perhaps they were given to your children as gifts or maybe you bought them yourself and put them away in a file cabinet or safe deposit box. You may wonder: How is the interest you earn on EE bonds taxed? And if they reach final maturity, what action do you need to take to ensure there’s no loss of interest or unanticipated tax consequences?

Fixed or variable interest

Series EE Bonds dated May 2005, and after, earn a fixed rate of interest. Bonds purchased between May 1997 and April 30, 2005, earn a variable market-based rate of return.

Paper Series EE bonds were sold at half their face value. For example, if you own a $50 bond, you paid $25 for it. The bond isn’t worth its face value until it matures. (The U.S. Treasury Department no longer issues EE bonds in paper form.) Electronic Series EE Bonds are sold at face value and are worth their full value when available for redemption.

The minimum term of ownership is one year, but a penalty is imposed if the bond is redeemed in the first five years. The bonds earn interest for 30 years.

Interest generally accrues until redemption

Series EE bonds don’t pay interest currently. Instead, the accrued interest is reflected in the redemption value of the bond. The U.S. Treasury issues tables showing the redemption values.

The interest on EE bonds isn’t taxed as it accrues unless the owner elects to have it taxed annually. If an election is made, all previously accrued but untaxed interest is also reported in the election year. In most cases, this election isn’t made so bond holders receive the benefits of tax deferral.

If the election to report the interest annually is made, it will apply to all bonds and for all future years. That is, the election cannot be made on a bond-by-bond or year-by-year basis. However, there’s a procedure under which the election can be canceled.

If the election isn’t made, all of the accrued interest is finally taxed when the bond is redeemed or otherwise disposed of (unless it was exchanged for a Series HH bond). The bond continues to accrue interest even after reaching its face value, but at “final maturity” (after 30 years) interest stops accruing and must be reported.

Note: Interest on EE bonds isn’t subject to state income tax. And using the money for higher education may keep you from paying federal income tax on your interest.

Reaching final maturity

One of the main reasons for buying EE bonds is the fact that interest can build up without having to currently report or pay tax on it. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow for this tax-free buildup to continue indefinitely. When the bonds reach final maturity, they stop earning interest.

Series EE bonds issued in January 1990 reached final maturity after 30 years, in January 2020. That means that not only have they stopped earning interest, but all of the accrued and as yet untaxed interest is taxable in 2020.

If you own EE bonds (paper or electronic), check the issue dates on your bonds. If they’re no longer earning interest, you probably want to redeem them and put the money into something more profitable. Contact us if you have any questions about savings bond taxation, including Series HH and Series I bonds.

© 2020

Disability income: How is it taxed?

Many Americans receive disability income. You may wonder if — and how — it’s taxed. As is often the case with tax questions, the answer is … it depends.

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

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

Even if your employer arranges for the coverage, (in other words, it’s a policy made available to you at work), the benefits aren’t taxed to you if you pay the premiums. For these purposes, if the premiums are paid by the employer but the amount paid is included as part of your taxable income from work, the premiums are treated as paid by you.

A couple of examples

Let’s say your salary is $1,000 a week ($52,000 a year). Additionally, under a disability insurance arrangement made available to you by your employer, $10 a week ($520 for the year) is paid on your behalf by your employer to an insurance company. You include $52,520 in income as your wages for the year: the $52,000 paid to you plus the $520 in disability insurance premiums. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by you. If you become disabled and receive benefits, they aren’t taxable income to you.

Now, let’s look at an example with the same facts as above. Except in this case, you include only $52,000 in income as your wages for the year because the amount paid for the insurance coverage qualifies as excludable under the rules for employer-provided health and accident plans. In this case, the insurance is treated as paid for by your employer. If you become disabled and receive benefits, they are taxable income to you.

Note: There are special rules in the case of a permanent loss (or loss of the use) of a part or function of the body, or a permanent disfigurement.

Social Security benefits

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

How much coverage is needed?

In deciding how much disability coverage you need to protect yourself and your family, take the tax treatment into consideration. If you’re buying the policy yourself, you only have to replace your after tax, “take-home” income because your benefits won’t be taxed. On the other hand, if your employer pays for the benefit, you’ll lose a percentage to taxes. If your current coverage is insufficient, you may wish to supplement an employer benefit with a policy you take out.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss this in more detail.

© 2020

2021 dollar limits and thresholds for 401(k)s and similar plans

The IRS recently announced the 2021 dollar limits and thresholds for retirement plans, reflecting the latest cost-of-living adjustments. Here are some relevant amounts for 401(k)s and similar plans:

Annual contributions. The limit on annual contributions to 401(k) and other defined contribution plans will increase to $58,000 (up from $57,000 for 2020).

Compensation. The annual limit on compensation that can be taken into account for contributions and deductions will increase to $290,000 (up from $285,000).

Elective deferrals. The annual limit on elective deferrals will remain at $19,500 for 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans, as well as for Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension plans (SARSEPs). The annual limits will remain the same at $13,500 for Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLEs) and SIMPLE IRAs.

Catch-up contributions. The annual limit on catch-up contributions for individuals age 50 and over will remain at $6,500 for 401(k) plans, 403(b) contracts, 457 plans and SARSEPs. The annual limit for SIMPLEs and SIMPLE IRAs stays the same at $3,000.

Highly compensated employees. The threshold for determining who’s a highly compensated employee will remain at $130,000.

Key employees. The threshold for determining whether an officer is a “key employee” under the top-heavy rules (as well as the cafeteria plan nondiscrimination rules) will remain at $185,000.

SEP participation. The threshold for determining participation in a SEP or SARSEP will increase to $650 from $600.

Saver’s tax credit. The upper income limit for determining whether certain individuals are eligible for the saver’s tax credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) will increase to:

  • $66,000 (up from $65,000) for married filing jointly,
  • $49,500 (up from $48,750) for head of household, and
  • $33,000 (up from $32,500) for all other taxpayers.

For individuals whose adjusted gross income is below those thresholds, there are also some adjustments to the income levels that trigger a change in the percentage used to calculate the credit.

Employers that sponsor 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans should carefully note when the new limits and thresholds apply. Review and revise employee communications, plan procedures and administrative forms to reflect these changes. 

© 2020

Divorcing couples should understand these 4 tax issues

When a couple is going through a divorce, taxes are probably not foremost in their minds. But without proper planning and advice, some people find divorce to be an even more taxing experience. Several tax concerns need to be addressed to ensure that taxes are kept to a minimum and that important tax-related decisions are properly made. Here are four issues to understand if you’re in the midst of a divorce.

Issue 1: Alimony or support payments. For alimony under divorce or separation agreements that are executed after 2018, there’s no deduction for alimony and separation support payments for the spouse making them. And the alimony payments aren’t included in the gross income of the spouse receiving them. (The rules are different for divorce or separation agreements executed before 2019.)

Issue 2: Child support. No matter when a divorce or separation instrument is executed, child support payments aren’t deductible by the paying spouse (or taxable to the recipient).

Issue 3: Your residence. Generally, if a married couple sells their home in connection with a divorce or legal separation, they should be able to avoid tax on up to $500,000 of gain (as long as they’ve owned and used the residence as their principal residence for two of the previous five years). If one spouse continues to live in the home and the other moves out (but they both remain owners of the home), they may still be able to avoid gain on the future sale of the home (up to $250,000 each), but special language may have to be included in the divorce decree or separation agreement to protect the exclusion for the spouse who moves out.

If the couple doesn’t meet the two-year ownership and use tests, any gain from the sale may qualify for a reduced exclusion due to unforeseen circumstances.

Issue 4: Pension benefits. A spouse’s pension benefits are often part of a divorce property settlement. In these cases, the commonly preferred method to handle the benefits is to get a “qualified domestic relations order” (QDRO). This gives one spouse the right to share in the pension benefits of the other and taxes the spouse who receives the benefits. Without a QDRO the spouse who earned the benefits will still be taxed on them even though they’re paid out to the other spouse.

More to consider

These are just some of the issues you may have to deal with if you’re getting a divorce. In addition, you must decide how to file your tax return (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household). You may need to adjust your income tax withholding and you should notify the IRS of any new address or name change. If you own a business, you may have to pay your spouse a share. There are also estate planning considerations. Contact us to help you work through the financial issues involved in divorce.

© 2020