Every tax-filing season seems full of complexities and consternation.
But the one we’re now in is especially fraught, due to the pandemic: Stimulus checks. Unemployment benefits. Working from home tax issues. New COVID-19 rules for 401(k) and Individual Retirement Account (IRA) hardship withdrawals and loans.
Frankly, it’s all pretty taxing.
In a recent story on NextAvenue.org, Richard Eisenberg, the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch, shares advice for this tax season.
In a recent podcast “Friends Talk Money” co-hosts Terry Savage, Pam Krueger and Eisenberg discuss 2020 taxes with the help from Wendy Barlin, Los Angeles CPA and tax strategist at the About Profit tax and accounting advisory firm.
Barlin’s cautionary tip, due to the pandemic: “Even if you have the most basic return, it is still likely you won’t see your refund in five days (typical time for banks to deposit refunds in customer accounts), as you have in prior years.”
Savage, the nationally syndicated personal finance columnist and author of The Savage Truth on Money, laid out what you need to know about taxes and any COVID-19 stimulus checks you received (or should have received).
“If you received a stimulus check, that’s all tax-free income,” Savage explained. “It does not get reported anywhere on your 2020 tax return.”
But if you didn’t get the stimulus check you were due — technically known as an Economic Impact Payment — or got a smaller one than you should have, Savage said, you can claim it as a refundable tax credit on line 30 of the Form 1040 or the 1040-SR (for people 65 and older.)
The tax form calls it “recovery rebate credit.”
“The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get the money back,” Savage added.
It’s especially important to file your return electronically. That will help you get any stimulus refund faster than if you file a paper tax return.
If your 2020 income was under $72,000, Savage noted, you can file your return fee electronically using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Free File program.
The IRS also offers free one-on-one tax filing assistance and advice through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. VITA is for taxpayers who generally make $57,000 or less or have disabilities or are limited English-speaking. The TCE service is geared to taxpayers 60 and older and specializes in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues.
Krueger, co-host of MoneyTrack on public television and founder of Wealthramp.com, offered advice for anyone who took advantage of the 2020 CARE Act’s rules offering more flexibility for people taking 401(k) or IRA hardship withdrawals due to COVID-19.
“The CARES Act allowed you to withdraw as much as a hundred thousand dollars from any 401(k) or IRA without having to pay the early-withdrawal penalty,” Krueger said. That’s the 10% tax penalty for people under 59 ½.
“But don’t forget,” Krueger said, “you still have to pay tax on that early withdrawal. The good news is that the CARES Act says you have up to three years” to pay those taxes.