Key Retirement Savings Figures Unchanged for 2021

Here’s the reason some key retirement contribution figures didn’t change for 2021.

Once upon a time, inflation went hand-in-hand with tax increases. Wages and prices would rise while tax brackets and deduction limits remained unchanged. The same amount of real, inflation-adjusted income would produce a higher payment to the IRS. Taxpayers would fall behind while standing still.

Nowadays we get annual adjustments in most tax figures. Some of these numbers stay the same because of rounding rules, however. They may go up only when accumulated inflation is enough to push them over the next $500 increment, for example.

This is what happened to the key retirement savings figures for 2021. The IRA contribution limit remains at $6,000 ($7,000 if age 50 or older). The ceiling on contributions to 401k and similar plans, including the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees, stays at $19,500, with the 50-and-over catch-up contribution capped at $6,500. Inflation wasn’t enough to budge the $13,500 limitation for SIMPLE retirement accounts.

Aggressive savers will be disappointed to see these figures repeat for 2021. Look at the bright side, though. We’re stuck on these numbers because of historically tame inflation ⚊ and when it comes to retirement savings, that’s a Very Good Thing.

More retirement plan figures, and other inflation adjustments, are available in our Reference Room.

Three Things About That Special Charitable Contribution Deduction

For 2020 only, we have a special charitable contribution deduction, allowing up to $300 for those who don’t itemize. This allowance doesn’t follow the usual rules, though. Here are three things you’ll want to know about this charitable deduction.

Continue reading “Three Things About That Special Charitable Contribution Deduction”

A Tax Benefit Reserved for the Rich

Lincoln pennyAn extraordinary provision added by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act makes it possible for taxpayers to defer almost any kind of capital gain and potentially secure additional tax benefits if they invest in a qualified opportunity fund. (Proposed regulations make exceptions for gain from section 1256 contracts or offsetting positions.) You need to make this election during the 180-day period beginning on the day you have the gain, and then show on your tax return that you elect to invoke this provision. Your gain, up to the amount you invest, will not be taxable that year, but instead will become taxable when you sell this investment, or on December 31, 2026, if the investment remains unsold on that date.

Depending on how long you hold this investment, some of that gain may disappear. After five years your basis is increased by 10% of the amount that was deferred, eliminating 10% of the gain from the original sale. Another 5% of that gain disappears if your holding period stretches to seven years. As a final kicker, reaching the ten-year milestone lets you avoid paying tax on any gain from an increase in the value of this investment during your holding period.

A qualified opportunity fund has to be at least 90% invested in properties and businesses in certain low-income areas or adjoining areas. That’s the underlying idea: to revitalize these areas by attracting investment dollars. Those dollars are not targeted to particular types of projects, however. Funds will pursue properties and businesses that provide the highest returns for their investors.

As written in the law, this tax benefit is available to all taxpayers. Anyone who has a capital gain of almost any kind can defer reporting the gain by investing in one of these funds. Yet as of this writing,  these investments are available only to accredited investors—those who make over $200,000 per year (or $300,000 with their spouse), or have net worth, excluding their home, above $1,000,000. Members of the general public can’t buy in because the funds haven’t gone through the lengthy, expensive process of getting their offerings registered with the SEC. At least one firm has made an SEC filing that could lead it to become publicly traded as a qualified opportunity fund REIT, so this deferral benefit could eventually become available to all investors. For now, however, this extraordinary new tax benefit is reserved for the wealthy.

Shutdown Won’t Prevent Tax Refunds

Updated

Reversing course, the Trump Administration announced today that the government shutdown will not prevent the IRS from sending income tax refunds to taxpayers. The first posting of this item mentioned that a question had been raised as to whether it is legal to do so. In a subsequent information release, the IRS says Congress directed the payment of all tax refunds through a permanent, indefinite appropriation, and that the Office of Management and Budget, which had previously directed the IRS not to pay refunds during a budget impasse has reviewed the law and concluded that it may so so.

The release also sets January 28 as the date it will begin processing returns.

In their words: irs information release

AMT Repeal?

Reduction in number of AMT taxpayersHave you heard that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed the alternative minimum tax (AMT)? Probably not, because the AMT survived. Yet it’s been whittled down to a shadow of its former self. For nearly all taxpayers, AMT repeal is a practical reality.

featured article: AMT Repeal, for Most

Note: This article kicks off a series on the profound changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Shutdown May Delay Refunds

Update: as explained here, the IRS now says it will be able to pay refunds during the shutdown.

The 2019 tax season was already bound to be challenging. We can expect plenty of confusion in the first filing season under a law that made sweeping changes affecting taxpayers in all categories. Add to that a complete redesign of Form 1040, taking a modular, block-building approach and eliminating the 1040-EZ and 1040-A versions. The IRS is still scrambling to get its form instructions and information publications in final form, and has yet to announce a date for the start of the filing season.

Now the IRS faces these challenges under the handicap of a partial government shutdown. Essential functions at the agency continue, including — when they’re ready — accepting tax returns and payments. According to the Wall Street Journal, however, the IRS generally doesn’t pay refunds during a shutdown.

Any substantial delay in paying refunds would produce hardship for millions of Americans who depend on receiving a substantial check as early as possible in the year. Tax refunds, which total hundreds of billions of dollars, also boost retail sales and the general economy. A shutdown that delays those refunds would have consequences for all of us.

New Form 1040 Now Available

The IRS has completely redesigned Form 1040, using what they call a building block approach, where the form itself is much shorter but is supplemented as needed by up to six new schedules. As a result, the same form can be used by all taxpayers, from those with the simplest to the most complicated returns. The new form, its 117-page instructions, and the new schedules are available now: About Form 1040

Wash Sale Details

Articles on year-end tax planning for investors inevitably mention the opportunity to harvest losses from stocks and other securities that may have declined in value. Recent stock market declines have increased the potential value of this opportunity, along with the importance of understanding the wash sale rule, which can stand in the way of efforts to harvest losses while maintaining a consistent investment strategy. No doubt you’ve seen brief summaries of this provision, but there’s a lot more to the wash sale rule than meets the eye. Get the full details here:

details: Wash Sale Rule