Don't Fall Behind in Saving for Retirement

Some folks have been tapping or suspending their retirement savings to make ends meet during this COVID-19 pandemic, and although understandable, it is important that they continue making contributions to their savings as quickly as financially possible.

Still other people have simply been ignoring the need to save for their retirement, which can have an unpleasant result when it comes time to retire. That tends to be the case with younger individuals who perceive retirement to be far in the future and therefore believe they have plenty of time to save for it. Some will postpone the issue until late in life and then must scramble during their last few working years to fund their retirement. Other people ignore the issue altogether, thinking their Social Security income (assuming they qualify for it) will take care of their retirement needs.

By current government standards, a single individual with $12,490 or a married couple with $16,910 of annual household income is at the 100% poverty level. If you compare those levels with potential Social Security benefits, you may find that expecting to retire on just Social Security income may result in a bleak retirement.

You can predict your future Social Security income by visiting the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Estimator. With the Retirement Estimator, you can plug in some basic information to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefits. Different life choices can alter the course of your future, so try out different scenarios – such as higher and lower future earnings amounts and various retirement dates – to get a good idea of how these scenarios can change your future benefit amounts. Once you’ve done this, consider what your retirement would be like with only Social Security income.

If you are fortunate enough to have an employer-, union-, or government-funded retirement plan, determine how much you can expect to receive when you retire. Add that amount to any Social Security benefits you are entitled to and then consider what retirement would be like with that combined income. If this result portends an austere retirement, know that you will be better off the sooner you start saving for retirement.

With today’s low interest rates and up-and-down stock market, it is much more difficult to grow a retirement plan with earnings than it was 10 or 20 years ago. With current interest rates not even, or just barely, covering inflation rates, there is little or no effective growth. That means one must set aside more of one’s current earnings to prepare for a comfortable retirement.

Because the government wants you to save and prepare for your own retirement, tax laws offer a variety of tax incentives for retirement savings plans, both for wage earners and for self-employed individuals and their employees. These plans include the following:

  • Traditional IRA – This plan allows up to $6,000 (or $7,000 for individuals aged 50 and over) of tax-deductible contributions each year. In the past, you could no longer make contributions after reaching age 70½. However, beginning in 2020 and for future years, contributions can be made at any age as long as you have work earnings for the year that the contribution applies. The amount that can be deducted phases out for higher-income taxpayers who also have retirement plans through their employers. 
  • Roth IRA – This plan also allows up to $6,000 (or $7,000 for individuals aged 50 and over) of nondeductible contributions each year. The amount that can be contributed phases out for higher-income taxpayers; unlike the Traditional IRA, these amounts phase out even for those who do not have an employer-related retirement plan. Note the difference: the phaseout applies to the deductible amount for Traditional IRAs, whereas the contribution amount phases out for Roth IRAs. 
  • Spousal IRAs – Spouses with no compensation for the year may contribute to their own IRA based upon their spouse’s compensation. If the unemployed spouse chooses a traditional IRA and the working spouse participates in an employer’s plan, the contribution’s deductibility phases out when adjusted gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000; if a Roth IRA is chosen, the contribution limit also phases out between $196,000 and $206,000, even if the working spouse isn’t covered by an employer’s plan 
  • Employer 401(k) Plans – An employer’s 401(k) plan generally enables employees to contribute up to $19,500 per year, before taxes. In addition, taxpayers who are age 50 and over can contribute an extra $6,500 annually, for a total of $26,000. Many employers also match a percentage of the employee’s contribution, and this can amount to a significant sum for those who stay in the plan for many years. 
  • Health Savings Accounts – Although established to help individuals with high-deductible health insurance plans pay their medical expenses, these accounts can also be used as supplemental retirement plans if an individual has already maxed out his or her contributions to other types of plans. Annual contributions for these plans can be as much as $3,550 for individuals and $7,100 for families. 
  • Tax Sheltered Annuities – These retirement accounts are for employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations; they enable employees to make annual tax-deferred contributions of up to $19,500 (or $26,000 for those aged 50 and over). 
  • Self-Employed Retirement Plans – These plans, also referred to as Keogh plans, allow self-employed individuals to contribute 25% of their net business profits to their retirement plans. The contributions are pre-tax (which means that they reduce the individual’s taxable net profits), so the actual amount that can be contributed is 20% of the net profits. 
  • Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP) – These are plans that are relatively easy for a self-employed individual to set up and can be established in the following year up to the due date of the tax return, including the extended due date if an extension is filed. They are quite commonly used by self-employed individuals without employees and may also be used by self-employed individuals who are willing to make contributions on behalf of their employees. The contribution limit for the self-employed individual is the lesser of 25% of their compensation (which equates to 20% of the net profits from self-employment, after deducting the SEP contribution) or $57,000 for 2020. Contributions made on behalf of employees are deductible as a business expense, while the contributions for the self-employed individual are deducted as an above-the-line deduction on the individual’s income tax return.

Multiple Plan Limitations – If individuals wish to maximize their retirement contributions, they may become involved in more than one plan and end up with a combination of plans. This is where some overall limitations apply and where individuals can unknowingly make excess contributions, resulting in penalties and requirements to make corrective distributions.

  • 401(k)s – It is not uncommon for individuals to have multiple employers, each with a 401(k) plan. This can possibly create a situation in which the employee makes an excess elective-deferred compensation contribution. The annual maximum limit applies to all 401(k) contributions combined.
  • Combinations of Deferred Income Plans – There is also a $57,000 limit for 2020 on the aggregate amount of all elective deferrals made by an individual during the year. Plans affected by this limit include the following:
    • 401(k) plans,
    • SEP plans,
    • SIMPLE plans, and
    • Tax-sheltered annuities (TSAs, also referred to as 403(b) plans)

However, Code Sec. 457 plans (government plans) are not included in the overall deferral limitations 

  • IRAs – The IRA limits apply to the aggregate contributions to traditional and Roth IRAs. However, an individual can have both an IRA and deferred income plans.

Saver’s Credit – To help lower-income taxpayers save for retirement, Congress several years ago included a provision in the tax law that allows a 10%, 20%, or 50% tax credit on up to $2,000 of retirement plan and IRA contributions per year. The percentage of the credit depends on the taxpayer’s filing status and income (when the income is lower, the percentage is higher). For 2020, the maximum AGI at which a credit can be claimed is $64,000 for taxpayers filing a joint return, $48,000 for head-of-household filers, and $32,000 for all other filing statuses. For example, a single individual with an income of $30,000, who made an IRA contribution of $2,000 in 2020, would be eligible for a Saver’s Credit of $400 ($2,000 x 20%). Thus, their $2,000 IRA contribution would actually cost them only $1,600.

Qualified 2020 Distributions – For 2020, the Congress did provide relief from the early 10% distribution penalty on up to $100,000 for distributions from IRAs and qualified retirement plans. Individuals who qualify for these distributions include the following:

  • Those diagnosed with the virus SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 
  • A spouse or dependent who is diagnosed with such virus or disease by such a test, or 
  • An individual (or the individual’s spouse or household member) that experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed/laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care resulting from such virus or disease, or closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease.

If you were eligible and took a distribution, you can either include the income all in 2020 or include one-third in each of the years 2020, 2021, and 2022. You also have the option to return the distribution to your retirement plan or IRA and restore your retirement savings. The recontribution would need to be made within three years of the date of the distribution. You don’t have to return all of the distribution, but what you can return will certainly help your retirement savings. Plus, the IRS will refund the taxes you paid on the amount you returned to your retirement plan.

Each individual’s financial resources, family obligations, health, life expectancy, and retirement expectations will vary greatly, and there is no one-size-fits-all retirement savings strategy for everyone. Purchasing a home and putting children through college are exemplary events that can limit an individual’s or family’s ability to make retirement contributions; these events must be accounted for in any retirement planning.

If you have questions about any of the retirement vehicles discussed above, please give our office a call.

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Employee Holiday Gifts May Be Taxable

It is common practice this time of year for employers to give their employees gifts. Where a gift is infrequently offered and has a fair market value so low that it is impractical and unreasonable to account for it, the gift’s value would be treated as a de minimis fringe benefit. As such, it would be tax-free to the employee, and its cost would be tax deductible by the employer.

De Minimis Benefits - In general, a de minimis benefit is one that, considering its value and the frequency with which it is provided, is so minor as to make accounting for it unreasonable or impractical. De minimis benefits are excluded from income under Internal Revenue Code section 132(a)(4) and include items not specifically excluded under other sections of the Code. Examples of de minimis benefits include such items as:

  • Controlled, occasional employee use of a company photocopier. 
  • Occasional snacks, coffee, doughnuts, etc., furnished to employees. 
  • Occasional tickets for entertainment events given to employees. 
  • Holiday gifts from the employer to the employees. 
  • Occasional meal money or transportation expenses paid for by the employer for employees working overtime. 
  • Group-term life insurance on the life of an employee’s spouse or dependent with a face value not more than $2,000. 
  • Flowers, fruit, books, etc., provided to employees under special circumstances, such as a birthday or illness. 
  • Personal use of a cell phone provided by an employer primarily for business purposes.

In determining whether a benefit is de minimis, you should always consider its frequency and value. An essential element of a de minimis benefit is that it is occasional or unusual in frequency. It also must not be a form of disguised compensation.

Whether an item or service is de minimis depends on all the facts and circumstances. In addition, if a benefit is too large to be considered de minimis, the entire value of the benefit is taxable to the employee, not just the excess over a designated de minimis amount. The IRS has ruled previously that items with a value exceeding $100 cannot be considered de minimis, even under unusual circumstances.

Holiday Gifts - A gift of cash, regardless of the amount, is considered additional wages and subject to employment taxes (FICA) and withholding taxes. Caution: If the gift recipient is a W-2 employee, the employer may not issue them a Form 1099-NEC or a 1099-MISC for a holiday gift of cash; the amount must be treated as W-2 income.

When an employer gives gift certificates, debit cards or similar items that are convertible to cash, the value is considered additional wages regardless of the amount. However, if the gift is a coupon that is nontransferable and convertible only into a turkey, ham, gift basket or the like at a particular establishment, the gift coupon is not treated as a cash equivalent.

Holiday group meals, cocktail parties, picnics or similar events for employees are also treated as de minimis fringe benefits.

If you have questions about the tax treatment of holiday gifts to employees, please give our office a call.

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IRS Releases Anticipated Guidance Regarding PPP Loans and Expense Deductibility

On November 18, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Ruling 2020-27 and Revenue Procedure 2020-51. The two releases offer clarification regarding the non-deductibility of expenses that contribute to the forgiveness of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  Author Sally Schreiber breaks down the contents and significance of the two releases in an article from the Journal of Accountancy.


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act established the PPP program to support qualifying businesses through the coronavirus pandemic via forgivable loans. Loan recipients are permitted to use loan funds to cover a variety of expenses including payroll costs, payment of mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments. Section 1106(i) of the CARES Act excludes forgiven PPP loan amounts from gross income.

In a May 2020 follow-up notice, the IRS clarified that PPP loan recipients may not deduct expenses whose payments result in PPP loan forgiveness. This is an area not directly addressed by the CARES Act. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has voiced the opinion that the IRS clarification is counter to the intent of the CARES Act authors.

Revenue Ruling 2020-27

This ruling “addresses the issue of borrowers who pay expenses in 2020 but whose PPP loan is not forgiven until 2021.” It offers two scenarios to illustrate how the IRS expects loan recipients to handle PPP-eligible expenses, citing Sec. 265(a)(1). Both scenarios determine that the deduction of expenses is inappropriate. The tax bureau concludes that “the fact that the tax-exempt income may not have been accrued or received by the end of the taxable year does not change this result because the disallowance applies whether or not any amount of tax-exempt income in the form of covered loan forgiveness and to which the eligible expenses are allocable is received or accrued.”

Revenue Procedure 2020-51

This procedure “provides a safe harbor for PPP borrowers that have their loan forgiveness denied or who choose not to request loan forgiveness.” In the event that previously anticipated PPP loan forgiveness does not happen, this revenue procedure offers a path for taxpayers to retroactively deduct some or all of the expenses that they previously did not deduct because they expected to have their PPP loan forgiven. This procedure goes into effect with the 2020 tax year.

For further details, click here to read the article in full at the Journal of Accountancy.

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2020 Year End Tax Letter

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10 Tips for Better Budgeting…

If you already have a budget, it’s probably been difficult for you to stick with it for the last several months. Unless you provide products and/or services that have been in great demand since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, you’ve had to adjust your budget significantly.

Better days are ahead, though, and now is a good time to start doing some planning for 2021. While there are still likely to be uncertainties next year, creating a budget will give you a starting point. A budget increases your awareness of all of your projected income and expenses, which may make it less likely that you’ll find yourself constantly running short on funds.

Here are some ways you can make your budgeting process more effective and realistic.

Use what you already know. Unless you’re starting a brand-new business, you already have the best resource possible: a record of your past income and expenses. Use this as the basis for your projections.

Be aware of your sales cycle. Even if you’re not a seasonal business, you’ve probably learned that some months or quarters are better than others. Budget conservatively for the slower months.

Distinguish between essential and non-essential expenses. Enter your budget items for the bills and other expenses that must be covered before you add optional categories.

Budgeting October 2020 1

You can use data from a previous year to create a new budget in QuickBooks Online.

Keep it simple. Don’t budget down to the last paper clip. You risk budget burnout, and your reports will be unwieldy.

Build in some backup funding. Just as you’re supposed to have an emergency fund in your personal life, try to create one for your business.

Make your employees part of the process. You shouldn’t be secretive about the expense element of your budget. Try to get input from staff in areas where they have knowledge.

Overestimate your expenses, a little. This can help prevent “borrowing” from one budget category to make up for a shortfall in another.

Consider using excess funds to pay down debt. Debt costs you money. The sooner you pay it off, the sooner you can use those payments for some non-essential items.

Look for areas where you can change vendors. As you’re creating your budget think carefully about each supplier of products and services. Can you find less costly alternatives?

Revisit your budget frequently. You should evaluate your progress at least once a month. In fact, you could even start by budgeting for only a couple of months at a time. You’ll learn a lot about your spending and sales patterns that you can use for future periods.

How QuickBooks Online Can Help

QuickBooks Online offers built-in tools to help you create a budget. Click the gear icon in the upper right corner and select Budgeting under Tools. Click Add budget. At the top of the screen, give your budget a Name and select the Fiscal Year it should cover from the drop-down list by that field. Choose an Interval (monthly, quarterly, or yearly) and indicate whether you want to Pre-fill data from an existing year.

Budgeting October 2020 2

QuickBooks Online supplies a budget template that already contains commonly used small business items.

The final field is labeled Subdivide by, which is optional. You can set up budgets that only include selected Customers or Classes, for example. Select the desired divider in that field, then choose who or what you want included in the next. Click Next or Create Budget in the lower right corner (depending on whether you used pre-filled data) to open your budget template. If you subdivided the budget, you’ll see a field marked View budget for. Click the down arrow and select from the options listed there.

To create your budget, you simply enter numbers in the small boxes supplied. Columns are divided by months or quarters, depending on what you specified, and rows are labeled with budget items (Advertising, Gross Receipts, Legal & Professional Fees, etc.). You simply enter numbers in the boxes that apply. When you click in a box, a small arrow appears pointing right. Click on this, and your number will automatically appear in the rest of that row’s boxes. When you’re done, click Save in the lower right. You can edit your budget at any time.

QuickBooks Online provides two related reports. Budget Overview displays all of the data in your budget(s). Budget vs. Actuals shows you how you’re adhering to your budget.

We know creating a budget can be challenging, but it’s so important – especially right now. We’d be happy to look at your company’s financial situation and see how QuickBooks’ budgeting tools—and its other accounting features—can help you get a better understanding of your finances.

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