2021 individual taxes: Answers to your questions about limits

Many people are more concerned about their 2020 tax bills right now than they are about their 2021 tax situations. That’s understandable because your 2020 individual tax return is due to be filed in less than three months (unless you file an extension).

However, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with tax amounts that may have changed for 2021. Below are some Q&As about tax amounts for this year.

Be aware that not all tax figures are adjusted annually for inflation and even if they are, they may be unchanged or change only slightly due to low inflation. In addition, some amounts only change with new legislation.

How much can I contribute to an IRA for 2021?

If you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,000 a year to a traditional or Roth IRA, up to 100% of your earned income. If you’re 50 or older, you can make another $1,000 “catch up” contribution. (These amounts were the same for 2020.)

I have a 401(k) plan through my job. How much can I contribute to it?

For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 (unchanged from 2020) to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. You can make an additional $6,500 catch-up contribution if you’re age 50 or older.

I sometimes hire a babysitter and a cleaning person. Do I have to withhold and pay FICA tax on the amounts I pay them?

In 2021, the threshold when a domestic employer must withhold and pay FICA for babysitters, house cleaners, etc., is $2,300 (up from $2,200 in 2020).

How much do I have to earn in 2021 before I can stop paying Social Security on my salary?

The Social Security tax wage base is $142,800 for this year (up from $137,700 last year). That means that you don’t owe Social Security tax on amounts earned above that. (You must pay Medicare tax on all amounts that you earn.)

I didn’t qualify to itemize deductions on my last tax return. Will I qualify for 2021?

A 2017 tax law eliminated the tax benefit of itemizing deductions for many people by increasing the standard deduction and reducing or eliminating various deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction amount is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly (up from $24,800). For single filers, the amount is $12,550 (up from $12,400) and for heads of households, it’s $18,800 (up from $18,650). If the amount of your itemized deductions (such as mortgage interest) are less than the applicable standard deduction amount, you won’t itemize for 2021.

If I don’t itemize, can I claim charitable deductions on my 2021 return?

Generally, taxpayers who claim the standard deduction on their federal tax returns can’t deduct charitable donations. But thanks to the CARES Act that was enacted last year, single and married joint filing taxpayers can deduct up to $300 in donations to qualified charities on their 2020 federal returns, even if they claim the standard deduction. The Consolidated Appropriations Act extended this tax break into 2021 and increased the amount that married couples filing jointly can claim to $600.

How much can I give to one person without triggering a gift tax return in 2021?

The annual gift exclusion for 2021 is $15,000 (unchanged from 2020). This amount is only adjusted in $1,000 increments, so it typically only increases every few years.

Your tax situation

These are only some of the tax amounts that may apply to you. Contact us for more information about your tax situation, or if you have questions

© 2021

Many tax amounts affecting businesses have increased for 2021

A number of tax-related limits that affect businesses are annually indexed for inflation, and many have increased for 2021. Some stayed the same due to low inflation. And the deduction for business meals has doubled for this year after a new law was enacted at the end of 2020. Here’s a rundown of those that may be important to you and your business.

Social Security tax

The amount of employees’ earnings that are subject to Social Security tax is capped for 2021 at $142,800 (up from $137,700 for 2020).

Deductions

  • Section 179 expensing:
    • Limit: $1.05 million (up from $1.04 million for 2020)
    • Phaseout: $2.62 million (up from $2.59 million)
  • Income-based phase-out for certain limits on the Sec. 199A qualified business income deduction begins at:
    • Married filing jointly: $329,800 (up from $326,600)
    • Married filing separately: $164,925 (up from $163,300)
    • Other filers: $164,900 (up from $163,300)

Business meals

Deduction for eligible business-related food and beverage expenses provided by a restaurant: 100% (up from 50%)

Retirement plans

  • Employee contributions to 401(k) plans: $19,500 (unchanged from 2020)
  • Catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans: $6,500 (unchanged)
  • Employee contributions to SIMPLEs: $13,500 (unchanged)
  • Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs: $3,000 (unchanged)
  • Combined employer/employee contributions to defined contribution plans: $58,000 (up from $57,000)
  • Maximum compensation used to determine contributions: $290,000 (up from $285,000)
  • Annual benefit for defined benefit plans: $230,000 (up from $225,000)
  • Compensation defining a highly compensated employee: $130,000 (unchanged)
  • Compensation defining a “key” employee: $185,000 (unchanged)

Other employee benefits

  • Qualified transportation fringe-benefits employee income exclusion: $270 per month (unchanged)
  • Health Savings Account contributions:
    • Individual coverage: $3,600 (up from $3,550)
    • Family coverage: $7,200 (up from $7,100)
    • Catch-up contribution: $1,000 (unchanged)
  • Flexible Spending Account contributions:
    • Health care: $2,750 (unchanged)
    • Dependent care: $5,000 (unchanged)

These are only some of the tax limits that may affect your business and additional rules may apply. If you have questions, please contact us.

© 2021

Did you make donations in 2020? There’s still time to get substantiation

If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities may be appearing in your mailbox acknowledging your 2020 donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim a deduction for the gift on your 2020 income tax return? It depends.

What is required

To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation and the value of any such goods or services.

“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of:

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

So if you made a donation in 2020 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2020 return. Contact the charity and request a written acknowledgment.

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

New deduction for non-itemizers

In general, taxpayers who don’t itemize their deductions (and instead claim the standard deduction) can’t claim a charitable deduction. Under the CARES Act, individuals who don’t itemize deductions can claim a federal income tax write-off for up to $300 of cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2020 tax year. The same $300 limit applies to both unmarried taxpayers and married joint-filing couples.

Even better, this tax break was extended to cover $300 of cash contributions made in 2021 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The new law doubles the deduction limit to $600 for married joint-filing couples for cash contributions made in 2021.

2020 and 2021 deductions

Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2020 income tax return — and guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2021 return.

© 2021

Didn’t contribute to an IRA last year? There still may be time

If you’re getting ready to file your 2020 tax return, and your tax bill is higher than you’d like, there might still be an opportunity to lower it. If you qualify, you can make a deductible contribution to a traditional IRA right up until the April 15, 2021 filing date and benefit from the tax savings on your 2020 return.

Who is eligible?

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

  • You (and your spouse) aren’t an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or
  • You (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer plan, but your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn’t exceed certain levels that vary from year-to-year by filing status.

For 2020, if you’re a joint tax return filer and you are covered by an employer plan, your deductible IRA contribution phases out over $104,000 to $124,000 of modified AGI. If you’re single or a head of household, the phaseout range is $65,000 to $75,000 for 2020. For married filing separately, the phaseout range is $0 to $10,000. For 2020, if you’re not an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but your spouse is, your deductible IRA contribution phases out with modified AGI of between $196,000 and $206,000.

Deductible IRA contributions reduce your current tax bill, and earnings within the IRA are tax deferred. However, every dollar you take out is taxed in full (and subject to a 10% penalty before age 59 1/2, unless one of several exceptions apply).

IRAs often are referred to as “traditional IRAs” to differentiate them from Roth IRAs. You also have until April 15 to make a Roth IRA contribution. But while contributions to a traditional IRA are deductible, contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t. However, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free as long as the account has been open at least five years and you’re age 59 1/2 or older. (There are also income limits to contribute to a Roth IRA.)

Here are two other IRA strategies that may help you save tax.

1. Turn a nondeductible Roth IRA contribution into a deductible IRA contribution. Did you make a Roth IRA contribution in 2020? That may help you in the future when you take tax-free payouts from the account. However, the contribution isn’t deductible. If you realize you need the deduction that a traditional IRA contribution provides, you can change your mind and turn a Roth IRA contribution into a traditional IRA contribution via the “recharacterization” mechanism. The traditional IRA deduction is then yours if you meet the requirements described above.

2. Make a deductible IRA contribution, even if you don’t work. In general, you can’t make a deductible traditional IRA contribution unless you have wages or other earned income. However, an exception applies if your spouse is the breadwinner and you are a homemaker. In this case, you may be able to take advantage of a spousal IRA.

What’s the contribution limit?

For 2020 if you’re eligible, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution of up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or over).

In addition, small business owners can set up and contribute to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan up until the due date for their returns, including extensions. For 2020, the maximum contribution you can make to a SEP is $57,000.

If you want more information about IRAs or SEPs, contact us or ask about it when we’re preparing your return. We can help you save the maximum tax-advantaged amount for retirement.

© 2021

Retirement of Edward W. Shippen, CPA

Edward W. Shippen, CPA has announced his retirement. Ed was the founding partner of The Firm of Shippen & Associates, PC. He has been practicing in Yuma, Arizona since he graduated from the University of Arizona in 1972. In August of 2016, Ed merged The Firm of Shippen & Associates, PC with Sunderman & Pope, CPA, PLLC to form Shippen, Pope & Associates, PLLC. Ed was the president of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce in 2015 and his firm was named Chamber Member of the Year for 2013.

Below is Ed’s letter announcing his retirement:

Dear friends, clients, fellow accountants, and the wonderful staff at Shippen Pope and Associates, PLLC:

After much deliberation I have finally come to the realization that it is time for me to retire. At the end of January, I gave up my space in the office at 200 E 16th Street. I will not completely abandon my support to the staff, clients, or firm. I have agreed to continue to consult and support staff from home on a limited, “as needed,” basis. However, I will no longer be taking client meetings or be the lead accountant responsible for completing tax returns or projects.

I have been practicing in Yuma since I graduated from the University of Arizona in 1972. It has been a wonderful journey for well over 50 years. I have been blessed to have worked with wonderful bosses who mentored me. Once I started my own firm, I was blessed to have maintained exceptional staff who kept me out of trouble. Most importantly, I have maintained many great, loyal clients who have allowed us to assist them. Together we have grown Shippen, Pope and Associates, PLLC into one of the leading accounting firms in Yuma.

The most enjoyable part of my job has always been the close personal contact with my clients, friends, and fellow staff members.  Covid-19 is a serious virus that is forcing us all to limit personal face to face interactions, which has taken away a good portion of my enjoyment at work. That, coupled with my aging body, dictates that it is time for me to pass the torch to the great staff that I have been mentoring and helping prepare for this very moment.

I am very proud of our reputation and accomplishments and feel that I am leaving the firm in good hands.

Thank you for the opportunity of working with you!

Sincerely,

Ed