26 Jan 2021 2020 COVID Relief Affecting Individual Taxpayers
Tax Season is here. Before you gather and submit your 2020 tax information, here are a few things you need to know. Below is an overview of key provisions in the recent COVID relief legislation that affect individuals. The legislation is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
$250 educator expense deduction applies to PPE, other COVID-related supplies. The Act provides that eligible educators (i.e., kindergarten-through-grade-12 teachers, instructors, etc.) can claim the existing $250 above-the-line educator expense deduction for personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectant, and other supplies used for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 that were bought after March 12, 2020. IRS is directed to issue guidance to that effect by Feb. 28, 2021.
7.5%-of-AGI “floor” on medical expense deductions is made permanent. The Act makes permanent the 7.5%-of-adjusted-gross-income threshold on medical expense deductions, which was to have increased to 10% of adjusted gross income after 2020. The lower threshold will allow more taxpayers to take the medical expense deduction in 2021 and later years.
Mortgage insurance premium deduction is extended by one year. The Act extends through 2021 the deduction for qualifying mortgage insurance premiums, which was due to expire at the end of 2020. The deduction is subject to a phase-out based on the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.
Above-the-line charitable contribution deduction is extended through 2021; increased penalty for abuse. For 2020, individuals who don’t itemize deductions can take up to a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash contributions to “qualified charitable organizations.” The Act extends this above-the-line deduction through 2021 and increases the deduction allowed on a joint return to $600 (it remains at $300 for other taxpayers).
Extension through 2021 of allowance of charitable contributions up to 100% of an individual’s adjusted gross income. In response to the COVID pandemic, the limit on cash charitable contributions by an individual in 2020 was increased to 100% of the individual’s adjusted gross income. (The usual limit is 60% of adjusted gross income.) The Act extends this rule through 2021.
EXCLUSIONS FROM INCOME
Exclusion for benefits provided to volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders made permanent. Emergency workers who are members of a “qualified volunteer emergency response organization” can exclude from gross income certain state or local government payments received and state or local tax relief provided on account of their volunteer services. This exclusion was due to expire at the end of 2020, but the Act made it permanent.
Exclusion for discharge of qualified mortgage debt is extended, but limits on amount of excludable discharge are lowered. Usually, if a lender cancels a debt, such as a mortgage, the borrower must include the discharged amount in gross income. But under an exclusion that was due to expire at the end of 2020, a taxpayer can exclude from gross income up to $2 million ($1 million for married individuals filing separately) of discharge-of-debt income if “qualified principal residence debt” is discharged. The Act extends this exclusion through the end of 2025, but lowers the amount of debt that can be discharged tax-free to $750,000 ($375,000 for married individuals filing separately).
Extension of exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans. Qualifying educational assistance provided under an employer’s qualified educational assistance program, up to an annual maximum of $5,250, is excluded from the employee’s income. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act, PL 116-136, 3/27/2020) added to the types of payments that are eligible for this exclusion, “eligible student loan repayments” made after Mar. 27, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2021. These payments, which are subject to the overall $5,250 per employee limit for all educational payments, are payments of principal or interest on a qualified student loan by the employer, whether paid to the employee or a lender. The Act extends the exclusion for eligible student loan repayments through the end of 2025.
Individuals may elect to base 2020 refundable child tax credit (CTC) and earned income credit (EIC) on 2019 earned income. If an individual’s child tax credit (CTC) exceeds the taxpayer’s tax liability, the taxpayer is eligible for a refundable credit equal to 15% percent of so much of the taxpayer’s taxable “earned income” for the tax year as exceeds $2,500. And the earned income credit (EIC) equals a percentage of the taxpayer’s “earned income.” For both of these credits, earned income means wages, salaries, tips, and other employee compensation, if includible in gross income for the tax year. But for determining the refundable CTC and the EIC for 2020, the Act allows taxpayers to elect to substitute the earned income for the preceding tax year, if that amount is greater than the taxpayer’s earned income for 2020.
Nonbusiness energy property credit extended by one year. A credit is available for purchases of “nonbusiness energy property”—i.e., qualifying energy improvements to a taxpayer’s main home. The Act extends this credit, which was due to expire at the end of 2020, through 2021.
Residential energy-efficient property (REEP) credit extended by two years, bio-mass fuel property expenditures included. Individual taxpayers are allowed a personal tax credit, known as the residential energy efficient property (REEP) credit, equal to the applicable percentages of expenditures for qualified solar electric property, qualified solar water heating property, qualified fuel cell property, qualified small wind energy property, and qualified geothermal heat pump property. The REEP credit was due to expire at the end of 2021, with a phase-down of the credit operating during 2020 and 2021. The Act extends the phase-down period of the credit by two years—through the end of 2023; the REEP credit won’t apply after 2023.
DISASTER-RELATED CHANGES IN RETIREMENT PLAN RULES
10% early withdrawal penalty does not apply to qualified disaster distributions from retirement plans. A 10% early withdrawal penalty generally applies to, among other things, a distribution from employer retirement plan to an employee who is under the age of 59½. The Act provides that the 10% early withdrawal penalty doesn’t apply to any “qualified disaster distribution” from an eligible retirement plan. The aggregate amount of distributions received by an individual that may be treated as qualified disaster distributions for any tax year may not exceed the excess (if any) of $100,000, over the aggregate amounts treated as qualified disaster distributions received by that individual for all prior tax years.
Increased limit for plan loans made because of a qualified disaster. Generally, a loan from a retirement plan to a retirement plan participant cannot exceed $50,000. Plan loans over this amount are considered taxable distributions to the participant. The Act increases the allowable amount of a loan from a retirement plan to $100,000 if the loan is made because of a qualified disaster and meets various other requirements.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA, 2021) – Gear Up Summary- Used with permission from Federal Tax Updates © 2020 Thomson Reuters/Tax & Accounting. All Rights Reserved.