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As much fun as it is to hold your tax refund check in your hands as you rub them together with glee, direct deposit is a simpler and faster method of receiving your refund. It may be safer as well. Not only will you be spared the possibility of someone stealing your check out of the mail, you will also be less tempted to spend it.

However, there is an even better way to avoid spending your refund. You can have it directly deposited into an individual retirement account (IRA) or purchase U.S. savings bonds with it. Some institutions may allow you to directly deposit your refund into other types of accounts such as 529 College Savings Plans or mutual funds.

IRS Form 8888, "Allocation of Refund," allows you to split your refund into a...

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MoneyTips

Caring for an elderly relative can be rewarding, but incredibly difficult – as well as expensive. However, it may be possible to recoup some of the costs through income tax savings.

There are two general approaches to tax savings on elder care costs – taking medical deductions that can be itemized and claiming a dependent care credit that can be subtracted directly from the taxes you owe.

First, you must determine if your elderly relative qualifies as a dependent. Full details are listed in IRS Publication 501, "Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," but the primary criteria are that they must be a relative, you must be providing over half of their support, and their gross 2020 income must be less than $4,300.

The definition of relatives includes stepparents and in-laws. They do not...

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MoneyTips

When you use your car for both personal and business reasons and you are not fully reimbursed through your employer for the business expenses, you can deduct those costs from your taxes. How do you go about claiming these deductions? Assuming that you itemize, you have two general paths:

  • Standard Mileage Method – The IRS prints flat rates of reimbursement per mile driven for each calendar year. For business use of your vehicle in tax year 2020, the standard mileage rate is 57.5 cents per mile, down from the 2019 value of 58 cents per mile.
  • Actual Expense Method – Rather than calculate an average based on miles, you can calculate the actual expenses related to the non-personal use including gas, oil, maintenance costs, depreciation, tolls, parking fees, insurance, and other applicable exp...

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MoneyTips

A stable income is critical to a comfortable retirement – as is limiting the amount of that income that you give to Uncle Sam. Maximizing retirement income and minimizing taxes requires advance planning – as illustrated in these seven tips.

1. Use a Roth IRA

Because Roth IRAs are funded with post-tax dollars, they are flexible retirement income sources and excellent for plugging retirement income gaps. You may draw contributions out at any time and earnings may be withdrawn tax-free if you are at least age 59½ and have had the account for at least five years.

Roth IRA contributions are less attractive when you are in higher-earning years where a high tax bracket applies. Contribute to a Roth IRA when tax conditions are favorable or convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in a year where your adjusted gross income (AGI) is low, taking the tax hit while you'r...

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MoneyTips

In general, deducting pet expenses on your tax return can get you into hot water with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Usually pet expenses will not hold up should the IRS audit you. However, specific cases exist that allow you to take legitimate tax deductions for spending on your pet.

Regardless of how you justify your pet deductions, make sure that you have receipts and documentation for all expenses you claim on your tax return or they will be disallowed.

Guard Pets

Guard animals could pass muster for a deduction for your business. If you consider deducting your pet as a guard animal, make sure that they actually perform guard duties. Your pet's breed should be one that is often considered that of a typical guard animal. For instance, a pit bull could be considered a guard dog while a Chihuahua probably would not.

It would be beneficial if you could pr...

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MoneyTips

What two words cause the most panic to Americans? There are probably a hundred funny responses running through your mind right now, but we were thinking of a less humorous response: "IRS audit."

Your odds of avoiding an audit are usually pretty good. The IRS reviewed 771,095 in fiscal year (FY) 2019, resulting in a low audit rate of 0.4%. Raising red flags in your return are likely to increase your odds of being audited. Some of these cannot be avoided, but others are essentially errors in judgment.

  • You Are Wealthy – The IRS disproportionately audits wealthier Americans. Why? As the famous bank robber Willie Sutton allegedly said, "Because that's where the money is." Think of it as a return on investment of IRS time. As Betterment Head of Tax Eric Bronnenkant puts it, "The IRS audits wealthy people because they're the ones who are the most likely to get an adjustment out of it."

    While there may be an element of ROI involved, the...

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MoneyTips

The Internal Revenue Service has plenty of ways to penalize you for mistakes on your tax return. Some of these potential penalties are so convoluted and complex that there may well be disagreement within the IRS on when they apply. However, most people accrue tax penalties for very simple mistakes. Below are some of the more common yet easily avoidable mistakes.

  • Failing to File – Do you really think the IRS will forget about the fact that you did not file your tax return? It may take some time, but the IRS will eventually catch up with you. Expect little sympathy if you do not file. The IRS is willing to work with people to make payments, but if you make no effort at all, you are subject to the non-filing penalties of 5% per month of the due taxes, up to 25% of your unpaid tax bill.

    Many people simply put off filing until it is too late, and then think that doing nothing is better than attempting to file a potentially wrong return. You ca...

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  • Updated

If you feel like keeping up with the news can be exhausting, you’re not alone. When you only have a few minutes to spare, try these tips to sa…

MoneyTips


By Eric Olsen, Executive Director, HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm

At this time of year, creditors sometimes send out what is called a Form 1099-C. They email it to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and copy the person who owes them debt. The form tells the IRS that they, the company who is owed the debt, has tried (unsuccessfully) to collect and the unpaid debt is now "written off."

Seniors are often told by their tax preparers that they now have to pay taxes on the debt contained in the 1099-C, as it is now considered income they received. This is almost always NOT the case and I shudder to think of all the taxes that have been paid because of a 1099-C when it wasn't necessary. Often, you don’t have to pay if you know what to do.

The rule is that to the extent a person is insolvent, meaning their debts exceed their assets, they DO NOT OWE TAX. IRS Form 9...

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MoneyTips

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 gave most Americans a break on their upcoming taxes – but you don't need legislation to cut your taxes even further with sound investment strategies that focus on tax optimization.

Here are a few ways to help yourself at Uncle Sam's expense.

1. Shift Toward Capital Gains – The TCJA narrowed the gap between individual tax rates and capital gains taxes, but it's still preferable from a tax perspective to have investments that rely on price appreciation for returns instead of income generation. Returns on the former are taxed at the capital gains rate (15-20%, with a few exceptions) while returns on the latter are taxed per the standard income brackets.

2. Qualified Pass-Through Income – The TCJA also handed a huge, albeit temporary, gift to many small-business owners by allowing a 20% tax d...

Tax-Loss Harvesting 101

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MoneyTips

Does your ability to pass on your wealth to your heirs depend on where you live ... and die? Indeed, it does. Federal estate taxes apply no matter where you live within the U.S., but eighteen states subject their citizens to estate taxes or inheritance taxes. The difference between the two is that estate taxes are subtracted from an estate before it is dispersed to the heirs, while the inheritance tax applies to the heirs — even if they live in a different state than the deceased.

Inheritance taxes only apply in six states: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. All of these states completely exempt spouses from paying inheritance tax, and New Jersey exempts domestic partners, too. Children and siblings are also often exempted. Nebraska and Pennsylvania are the only states where children and grandchildren...

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  • Updated

MoneyTips

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you should receive 1095 forms along with the W-2, 1099, and other tax forms that you receive from employers and financial institutions. The 1095 forms verify your health care insurance status for tax purposes. 1095-A forms debuted in 2015, while taxpayers received 1095-B or 1095-C forms for the first time in 2016.

All You Need to Know About the ObamaCare Tax Forms

Form 1095-A is issued through the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace for those who purchased health insurance through the marketplace. Effectively, it is your proof of insurance if you are receiving insurance outside of an employer. All consumers who received cost assistance through the marketplace need the 1095-A form to be able to file their taxes properly.

Forms 1095-B and 1095-C are complementary forms...

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Q: I just watched one of your YouTube videos about 1031 exchanges. We are a family of investors and have done quite a few 1031 exchanges. How do we facilitate the change of ownership on a property that was acquired through a 1031? My parents want to transfer the ownership of a few of their properties to me and my siblings.

MoneyTips

Let's assume that you drew the short straw on the 2020 tax cuts, and you owe Uncle Sam this year. How do you plan to pay? There are plenty of ways other than the old-fashioned check submitted with a paper tax return.

If you file electronically, why not pay electronically? Electronic Funds Withdrawal (EFW) is available whenever you e-file your taxes.

When you e-file your taxes through commercial software, a paid tax preparer, or the IRS Free File program, simply submit an EFW payment request. You'll provide bank account information so funds may be withdrawn from your account directly. If you e-file early, you can schedule the funds to be paid at a later date (but before the due date for your return).

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MoneyTips

Social Security is generally considered a tax-free benefit, but that is not always the case. Depending on the amount of alternate income that you have in retirement and your filing status, you could owe taxes on up to 85% of your Social Security benefits.

If you receive Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) income, you will also receive a Form SSA-1099 from the government. This form tells you the total amount of your benefits but does not tell you if any of your benefits are taxable, or at what percentage.

You can IRS Free File to e-file your return (if you make no more than $72,000), and the software will figure the taxable component of your benefits for you. However, you can get a reasonable estimate by combining half of your Social Security benefits with all other income (includi...

How To Increase Your Social Security Payments After You've Retired

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MoneyTips

With businesses and individuals taking steps to return to normal living, there's a lot of pent up consumer demand to spend. The new term "revenge shopping" implies that consumers will be making up for lost time with a boom in products and experiences they couldn't purchase during the lockdown.

The National Retail Federation estimates that retail sales will increase between 6.5 to 8.2 percent this year over last year to a total of $4.4 trillion, exceeding the 4.4 percent average during the previous five years. Of those who plan to indulge in a few revenge purchases, the 2021 McKinsey consumer sentiment report found that around half of consumers admit to being pandemic-fatigued and intend to splurge on things like high-end fashion, beauty, and electronics.

Though an occasional splurge won't completel...

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MoneyTips

It is an exciting time when you start your new business. You have so many things to think of that you may forget one of the most important aspects — taxes. Before you dive into the business world, take a few minutes to consider the tax aspects of your new business.

Your tax obligations are strongly affected by the type of business structure you choose. Typical business structures include sole proprietorships, partnerships, C Corporations, S Corporations, or Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs).

Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs are reported using personal tax returns because profits are passed through to the owners. Other corporate structures require filing a corporate tax return. Corporate structures generally shield personal accounts from business debt but come with varying levels of tax reporting and compl...

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MoneyTips

You have just received an inheritance. What do you do now? You could spend it on some extravagance, but you would be better off doing two things first: assessing the tax ramifications and thinking about some investment options.

"Death taxes" are somewhat misunderstood, as people can find the two types of death taxes confusing. Estate taxes apply to the front end of the wealth transfer process and are subtracted from the overall value of the estate. They only apply to huge estates and reduce the size of your inheritance upfront; you have no further tax obligation. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) increased the estate tax lifetime exemption amounts to $11.58 million for single filers and $23.16 million for married couples filing jointly in tax year 2020.

Inheritance taxes, where they exist, apply to recipients. There are no federal inheritance tax...

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MoneyTips

The last few years have been difficult ones for the IRS with respect to security issues, and the agency is determined to improve security during this year's filing. Electronic filing is particularly vulnerable because of the speed of the process — it is a favorite method among thieves who steal information from taxpayers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name.

As Bankrate.com Senior VP and Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride points out, "Tax ID fraud is one of those things where somebody can have your Social Security number and they could have been sitting on it for a while, and you would have no idea until they go and file a bogus tax return under your Social Security number. You only find out at the point where your legitimate return gets rejected." Protect your credit – protect your identity – protect yourself with a Tax Identity Theft

Tax Identity Theft Lower But Still A Problem

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MoneyTips

Chances are that if you have student loans, you need every bit of extra cash that you can get. Did you realize that your student loans might be able to generate some cash for you?

Under certain circumstances, you may be able to save on your tax bill by deducting the interest that you pay on your student loan. The total deduction from your taxable income could be as much as $2,500. As a final bonus, you do not have to itemize to claim this deduction.

To be eligible for the deduction, your loan must meet certain qualifications. It must have been made to cover qualified education expenses as defined in IRS Publication 970, including tuition, fees, and most room and board charges. The loan cannot have come from a relative or via a qualified employer plan, and the e...

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MoneyTips

Taxpayers tend to shy away from taking the home office deduction, assuming that they will be targeted for increased scrutiny from the IRS. That is certainly possible, especially if your deductions are unusually large – but if you truly were entitled to the deduction, why wouldn't you take it?

You may feel that you have less incentive to itemize as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) did away with many itemized deductions and nearly doubled the standard deduction. However, many self-employment deductions remain in place.

Assuming you reviewed IRS Publication 587, "Business Use of Your Home," and determined that you qualify, what are the home office expenses you can write off? They are covered in IRS Form 8829, "

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