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Standard vs. Itemized Deduction: Which One Should You Take?

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Standard versus itemized deduction: Which one should you claim? If this question is weighing heavily on your mind as you file your taxes, now that all the new tax reforms have taken effect, let this guide help you decide.

Itemizing your deductions—particularly if you’ve bought a home recently—could save you major bucks when you file. But, more than ever, you need to understand what you can and can’t do. We’ll break it down to help you make the decision on whether to select a standard or an itemized deduction.

What is the standard deduction?

The standard deduction is essentially a flat-dollar, no-questions-asked reduction to your adjusted gross income. When you file your tax return, you can deduct a certain amount right off the bat from your taxable income.

For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. (The standard deduction nearly doubled as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect in 2018.)

Here are some of the benefits to taking a standard deduction:

  • It allows you a deduction even if you have no expenses that qualify as itemized deductions.
  • It eliminates the need to keep records and receipts of your expenses in case you’re audited by the IRS.
  • It lets you avoid having to track medical expenses, charitable donations, and other itemizable deductions throughout the year.
  • It saves you the trouble of needing to understand the fine nuances of tax law.

 

What are itemized deductions?

Although claiming the standard deduction is easy and convenient, choosing to itemize can potentially save you thousands of dollars, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at the Jackson Hewitt tax service.

“Don’t be lulled into thinking the standard deduction is always a better answer,” Steber says. That advice especially applies to homeowners.

“Buying a home has the single largest impact on your tax return,” he adds, noting that a home purchase is “an anchor item that can move someone into the itemized taxpayer category.”

Itemizing your deductions may enable you to deduct these expenses:

  • Home mortgage interest (note the exceptions below)
  • Real estate and personal property taxes (note the cap below)
  • State and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both)
  • Gifts to charities
  • Casualty or theft losses
  • Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses

 

Why itemizing often makes sense for homeowners

Under the new law, current homeowners can continue to deduct interest on a total of $1 million of mortgage debt for a first and second home. But new buyers can deduct interest on only $750,000 for a first and second home.

It’s still possible that if you own a home, your mortgage interest alone might exceed the standard deduction, says Steve Albert, director of tax services at the CPA wealth management firm Glass Jacobson. In this case, it’s a no-brainer to itemize your deductions.

This is particularly true if you bought a house recently, since most mortgages are front-loaded to pay mortgage interest rather than whittle down the principal (which is the amount you borrowed).

For instance: If you have a 30-year loan for $400,000 at a fixed 5% interest rate, in the first year of your mortgage, you’ll pay off only $5,901 in principal and a whopping $19,866 in interest.

That alone exceeds an individual’s standard deduction of $12,000 deduction for 2019. So if you’re filing taxes this year, itemizing would make total sense.

Plus: If you bought your house in 2019 and paid points—which are essentially a way to prepay interest upfront to lower your monthly mortgage bills—these points count as mortgage interest, too, amounting to more tax savings.

On the other hand, if you’ve owned your home for a while, then your mortgage interest may not amount to much. By the 25th year of that same $400,000 loan, you’ll pay only $6,223 in interest.

However, keep in mind that your property taxes of up to $10,000 are an itemized deduction, too—and combined with mortgage interest and other deductions, could push you over the top into itemizing territory.

Itemized vs. standard deduction: Which is right for you?

Not sure how much you paid in mortgage interest and property taxes last year? To get a ballpark, you can punch your info into an online mortgage calculator.

Also, early in the new year, your mortgage lender should have mailed you a mortgage interest statement (Form 1098) showing the total you paid during the previous year.

“And if you had your property taxes impounded in your loan, your taxes will appear on your 1098 as well,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert at TurboTax.

Another DIY approach for seeing whether your combined itemized tax deductions are higher than your standard tax deduction is to fill out the IRS Schedule A form, which outlines all federal itemized deductions line by line.

You can also consult an accountant (you can search for a tax professional in your area using the IRS directory of tax return preparers). But as a general rule, if you bought a home recently, you could be a prime candidate for itemizing, so don’t let these potential savings pass you by without checking!

The post Standard vs. Itemized Deduction: Which One Should You Take? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

A Guide to Schedule K-1 (Form 1041)

Man prepares his tax returnsInheriting property or other assets typically involves filing the appropriate tax forms with the IRS. Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is used to report a beneficiary’s share of an estate or trust, including income as well as credits, deductions and profits. A K-1 tax form inheritance statement must be sent out to beneficiaries at the end of the year. If you’re the beneficiary of an estate or trust, it’s important to understand what to do with this form if you receive one and what it can mean for your tax filing.

Schedule K-1 (Form 1041), Explained

Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is an official IRS form that’s used to report a beneficiary’s share of income, deductions and credits from an estate or trust. It’s full name is “Beneficiary’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc.” The estate or trust is responsible for filing Schedule K-1 for each listed beneficiary with the IRS. And if you’re a beneficiary, you also have to receive a copy of this form.

This form is required when an estate or trust is passing tax obligations on to one or more beneficiaries. For example, if a trust holds income-producing assets such as real estate, then it may be necessary for the trustee to file Schedule K-1 for each listed beneficiary.

Whether it’s necessary to do so or not depends on the amount of income the estate generates and the residency status of the estate’s beneficiaries. If the annual gross income from the estate is less than $600, then the estate isn’t required to file Schedule K-1 tax forms for beneficiaries. On the other hand, this form has to be filed if the beneficiary is a nonresident alien, regardless of how much or how little income is reported.

Contents of Schedule K-1 Tax Form Inheritance Statements

The form itself is fairly simple, consisting of a single page with three parts. Part one records information about the estate or trust, including its name, employer identification number and the name and address of the fiduciary in charge of handling the disposition of the estate. Part Two includes the beneficiary’s name and address, along with a box to designate them as a domestic or foreign resident.

Part Three covers the beneficiary’s share of current year income, deductions and credits. That includes all of the following:

  • Interest income
  • Ordinary dividends
  • Qualified dividends
  • Net short-term capital gains
  • Net long-term capital gains
  • Unrecaptured Section 1250 gains
  • Other portfolio and nonbusiness income
  • Ordinary business income
  • Net rental real estate income
  • Other rental income
  • Directly apportioned deductions
  • Estate tax deductions
  • Final year deductions
  • Alternative minimum tax deductions
  • Credits and credit recapture

If you receive a completed Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) you can then use it to complete your Form 1040 Individual Tax Return to report any income, deductions or credits associated with inheriting assets from the estate or trust.

You wouldn’t, however, have to include a copy of this form when you file your tax return unless backup withholding was reported in Box 13, Code B. The fiduciary will send a copy to the IRS on your behalf. But you would want to keep a copy of your Schedule K-1 on hand in case there are any questions raised later about the accuracy of income, deductions or credits being reported.

Estate Income and Beneficiary Taxation

Woman prepares her tax returns

If you received a Schedule K-1 tax form, inheritance tax rules determine how much tax you’ll owe on the income from the estate. Since the estate is a pass-through entity, you’re responsible for paying income tax on the income that’s generated. The upside is that when you report amounts from Schedule K-1 on your individual tax return, you can benefit from lower tax rates for qualified dividends. And if there’s income from the estate that hasn’t been distributed or reported on Schedule K-1, then the trust or estate would be responsible for paying income tax on it instead of you.

In terms of deductions or credits that can help reduce your tax liability for income inherited from an estate, those can include things like:

  • Depreciation
  • Depletion allocations
  • Amortization
  • Estate tax deduction
  • Short-term capital losses
  • Long-term capital losses
  • Net operating losses
  • Credit for estimated taxes

Again, the fiduciary who’s completing the Schedule K-1 for each trust beneficiary should complete all of this information. But it’s important to check the information that’s included against what you have in your own records to make sure that it’s correct. If there’s an error in reporting income, deductions or credits and you use that inaccurate information to complete your tax return, you could end up paying too much or too little in taxes as a result.

If you think the information in your Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is incorrect, you can contact the fiduciary to request an amended form. If you’ve already filed your taxes using the original form, you’d then have to file an amended return with the updated information.

Schedule K-1 Tax Form for Inheritance vs. Schedule K-1 (Form 1065)

Schedule K-1 can refer to more than one type of tax form and it’s important to understand how they differ. While Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is used to report information related to an estate or trust’s beneficiaries, you may also receive a Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) if you run a business that’s set up as a pass-through entity.

Specifically, this type of Schedule K-1 form is used to record income, losses, credits and deductions related to the activities of an S-corporation, partnership or limited liability company (LLC). A Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) shows your share of business income and losses.

It’s possible that you could receive both types of Schedule K-1 forms in the same tax year if you run a pass-through business and you’re the beneficiary of an estate. If you’re confused about how to report the income, deductions, credits and other information from either one on your tax return, it may be helpful to get guidance from a tax professional.

The Bottom Line

Senior citizen prepares her tax returnsReceiving a Schedule K-1 tax form is something you should be prepared for if you’re the beneficiary of an estate or trust. Again, whether you will receive one of these forms depends on whether you’re a resident or nonresident alien and the amount of income the trust or estate generates. Talking to an estate planning attorney can offer more insight into how estate income is taxed as you plan a strategy for managing an inheritance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the financial implications of inheriting assets. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • One way to make the job of filing taxes easier is with a free, easy-to-use tax return calculator. Also, creating a trust is something you might consider as part of your own estate plan if you have significant assets you want to pass on.

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The post A Guide to Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com