Federal Law Changes that Will Affect Your Tax Return – Part 3

Yesterday and Tuesday I published the first 2 posts of a 3-part series about some of the questions people are asking with respect to recent federal legislation. Specifically, those questions are:

  1. Was Obamacare really declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?
  2. Were the required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 ½ from your retirement plan really eliminated?
  3. And how about the threshold for writing off medical expenses–was that also tossed away?

I answered question #1 in Tuesday’s blog post, question #2 in yesterday’s blog post, and will answer question #3 today.

Not everyone knows or understands about the medical expense deduction that can be taken when filing your federal income tax return. Obviously, if you’re in good health and you spent little or no money on medical expenses, it’s not something you would know about. But for people with serious and/or ongoing conditions, and for the self-employed, the costs of medical expenses can be quite high.

The IRS has long allowed individuals who itemize their tax deductions on their federal income tax returns to deduct expenses for medical and dental care for themselves, their spouses, and their dependents. (See the most current IRS Publication 502, or Tax Topic 502 on the IRS website.)

Before the ACA was enacted, the amount of expenses that could be deducted was the total that exceeded 7.5% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Example:

  • Taxpayer’s AGI was $50,000
  • Total medical and dental expenses paid by the taxpayer for himself and his family during the tax year was $10,000
  • The amount the taxpayer could deduct is $6,250
    • 50,000 x 7.5% threshold = $3,750
    • Deductible amount is the amount OVER $3,750, or $10,000 – $3,750 = $5,250

When the ACA was enacted, the medical expense deduction threshold was increased to 10%, although it didn’t apply to anyone over age 65 until tax year 2017. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act contained a provision that said the increase in the medical expense deduction threshold would not apply to anyone in tax years 2017 and 2018. This meant the threshold remained at 7.5% for all taxpayers through 12/31/2018.

The recently enacted Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act extended the lower 7.5% threshold for medical expense deductions for the 2019 tax year. Clearly, if you don’t itemize on your tax return, this doesn’t affect you. But it does affect many Americans, especially those who are older and have chronic medical conditions.

I hope this series has provided information you can use or pass along. Feel free to reach out to me if there are any other topics you’re interested in learning more about.


Federal Law Changes That Will Affect Your Tax Return – Part 2

Yesterday, I began a 3-part series about some of the questions people are asking about recent federal legislation. Specifically, those questions are:

  1. Was Obamacare really declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?
  2. Were the required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 ½ from your retirement plan really eliminated?
  3. And how about the threshold for writing off medical expenses–was that also tossed away?

I answered question #1 in yesterday’s blog post and will answer question #3 in tomorrow’s blog post. Here’s my answer about the changes the SECURE Act brought to required minimum distributions (RMD).

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act went into law in December 2019 as part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. The SECURE Act deals primarily with retirement plans–and a number of changes to those plans, especially to qualified plans.

A qualified retirement plan is established with money that has not been taxed. Examples include an employee depositing money into an IRA or 401(k) with salary before payroll taxes are deducted, or an employer depositing matching funds.

The IRS has long required individuals to begin withdrawing funds from qualified accounts at a specific age. Why? So it can collect taxes on that money! If a person establishes an IRA, or begins contributing to a 401(k) at age 40, the government doesn’t collect any taxes on the funds in these qualified plans until the account holder begins withdrawing the funds. A person can easily build an account with hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime of working.

The required beginning date of a retirement account is the date the account holder MUST begin making withdrawals–withdrawals that will be taxed by the IRS. These withdrawals are called required minimum distributions, or RMDs. For people who turn age 70 ½ on or before January 1, 2020, RMDs must be taken no later than April 1 of the year after the account holder turns age 70 ½.

For example:

  • If my 70th birthday was March 3, 2018, I turned 70 ½ on September 3, 2018. I had to make my first RMD no later than 4/1/2019.
  • If my 70th birthday was October 9, 2018, I turned 70 ½ on April 9, 2019. I have to make my first RMD no later than 4/1/2020.

Per the SECURE Act, the required beginning date was changed to 72 because many people are working longer. But it only changed for those who turn 70 ½ after 1/1/2020. People who turn 70 ½ after 1/1/2020 must begin their RMDs no later than April 1 of the year after they turn age 72. For example, if my 70th birthday is February 21, 2020, I will have to take my first RMD by April 1 of 2023 because that is the year after I turn age 72.

One of the issues concerning this age change is the fact that some people won’t have to make any RMDs in 2020. Here’s a Forbes article that explains this issue in more detail.

One final thing about RMDs. Before the SECURE Act, individuals could not begin a traditional IRA after age 70 ½, nor could they make contributions to it after that age. Now, so long as a person is working and earning income, he or she can open and make contributions to a traditional IRA at any age.

Check back tomorrow for the third and final part of this blog post series: the medical expense deduction threshold.


Federal Law Changes that Will Affect Your Tax Return – Part 1

Was Obamacare really declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court? Were the required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 ½ from your retirement plan really eliminated? And how about the threshold for writing off medical expenses–was that also tossed away?

These are some of the questions people are asking in light of recent federal legislation. I’m going to answer these questions and clear up the misunderstandings most people have about the subjects in a 3-part series of blog posts.

Today, let’s talk about the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–what many people call “Obamacare.” The ACA contains a provision referred to as the individual mandate; this provision requires most Americans to purchase and keep in place a particular form of health insurance to avoid paying a tax (the individual shared responsibility payment) when they file their federal income tax returns.

In 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced that tax to $0. Immediately after the TCJA went into effect, opponents of the ACA filed litigation, claiming the individual mandate was no longer constitutional. Their basis was the Supreme Court’s original ruling that the individual was constitutional because it contained a tax that met four requirements. Well, after the court case wended its way through the judicial system, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with those filing suit.

Specifically, the court ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional because it no longer contained a tax provision. Why? Because the individual shared responsibility payment no longer produced income to the federal government, was no longer paid by taxpayers, could no longer be determined by a taxpayer’s tax return, and was no longer enforced or collected by the IRS.

As of this writing, you will not be charged a tax if you didn’t have health insurance last year. And it’s looking like that is how it will be moving forward–at least with respect to the tax.

With respect to the rest of the ACA’s provisions, that’s anyone’s guess. Part of the case heard by the court of appeals related to whether the individual mandate could be severed from the ACA. Some want to strike the entire ACA unconstitutional because that was the fate of the individual mandate. However, the federal court has sent that portion of the case back to the district court for review. The Supreme Court just recently rejected a recent request for the process to be accelerated, so many believe the issue won’t be resolved until the fall of this year.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of this series: required minimum distributions (RMDs) and the age 70 1/2 threshold.


Good Advice for Setting up Your New Computer

I bought my first computer in1986 and, since then, I’ve learned a lot. Mostly what NOT to do, but still…

I recently had a desktop built to do exactly what I want it to do. When I received it, I had to set it up so it would replicate my current system–and not only use the same software, but also be able to play music through my stereo speakers when I present a live webinar, automatically backup certain files to the cloud, and sync my Outlook calendar and tasks with my iCloud account–to name just a few things.

At the end of this piece, I’ll share some of the online resources I used. Basically, here are the steps I compiled from my online resources and then confirmed with my son-in-law (who is the head of the IT department for a public utility in a nearby state). My resources all agreed about the steps, and the order in which they should be carried out. I followed their advice precisely. After the fact, the only thing I did out of order was install my password manager earlier in the process–it made my life a whole lot easier when I had to download software and/or login to it.

Disclaimer: This process does not include the stuff you absolutely MUST do before you get to this point:

  • Backup the data and important files from your old computer to an external hard drive
  • Make sure your network adapter/modem is attached to your computer before powering it up
  • All the other things they say in the resource articles I referred to (and that are listed below)

Here are the steps for setting up your computer out of the box (or after you begin working with one that’s been reformatted and hasn’t been personalized). Note: My desktop has a Windows 10 operating system.

  1. Once you connect the monitor(s)/keyboard/mouse and fire that baby up, go right to Windows Update in your PC Settings and do all the updates that are required. The advice I was given said this could take some time, and boy, was that advice right. My PC was built on January 3rd, I received it on January 9, and I set it up on January 10. The process took nearly 30 minutes. If you buy a PC that was manufactured 7 months ago instead of 7 days ago, it’s going to take a while.
  2. Install your favorite browsers. I prefer Firefox because it is supposed to be the most secure, but I have to use Chrome and Internet Explorer for certain apps and websites. In addition, with Windows 10, Microsoft Edge is recommended. So, yeah, install as many browsers as you think you might need. (Remember: if you can’t get something done on a website, switching the browser might accomplish what you need to do.) DON’T login to or use them yet, just install them.
  3. Check your computer’s Device Manager in PC Settings for any flags/warnings about your drivers. For example, my new PC did not have a driver installed for my VGA monitors–it was built with a Display port. (Translation: my monitors are old, my new PC is not.) Therefore, when I fired up my PC, neither of my monitors worked. I had to purchase a DVI to HDMI cable to connect one monitor to the PC (it translated my monitor’s analog signal to a digital one–the only type my new PC understands). Once that worked, I was able to connect the other monitor with the VGA to USB connector and the driver for that downloaded automatically. (FYI, I didn’t know this when I started. After 30 minutes of chatting with computer support–which was frustrating, I called my son-in-law–which I should have done first thing. His solution worked; theirs didn’t.)
  4. If you use one, install your Password Manager. (I inserted this step here, to make it easier to do all the following steps.)
  5. INSTALL YOUR SECURITY SOFTWARE. I can’t stress how important this is. I spend $69.99 per year for unlimited devices and download software to all my devices and those of people in my family. Yes, that subscription price protects multiple PCs, laptops, iPads, and smartphones–9 of them. Some software limits the number of devices, other software is more costly. Here’s a link to an article that compares multiple types of software. PICK ONE OF THEM, whichever works best for you. Now! (Yes, the software I use is on the list.)
  6. If you use cloud storage, install/download the software and set it up. I have four different cloud storage accounts and use them for different kinds of files: iCloud, OneDrive personal, OneDrive for business, and Dropbox. Each of the software vendors provides good online tutorials about how to set them up and use them. If you’ve never done this before, be sure to read several tutorials first (you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration, take it from me).
  7. Install/download your software and apps, and adjust your computer’s personalization settings. Of course, you’re going to forget some of these and, once you’re up and running, will have to stop in the middle of a project to attend to it. These are the things I forgot to add to my list (the one I prepared before I started setup):
    • Enable the speakers on my PC so I could play music through my computer’s speakers when I teach live webinars
    • The iCloud AddIn for Outlook (duh)
    • My time tracking software (double duh)

Here are those online resources I promised for verifying the steps I listed above:

Let me know if there’s something I forgot or should have included. Happy computing!