Looking ahead: How the American Rescue Plan affects 2021 taxes, part 1

This is the first of two tax tips providing an overview of how the American Rescue Plan may affect some individual’s 2021 taxes.

Child and dependent care credit increased for 2021 only
The new law increases the amount of the credit and the percentage of employment-related expenses for qualifying care considered in calculating the credit, modifies the phase-out of the credit for higher earners, and makes it refundable for eligible taxpayers.

For 2021, eligible taxpayers can claim qualifying employment-related expenses up to:
• $8,000 for one qualifying individual, up from $3,000 in prior years, or
• $16,000 for two or more qualifying individuals, up from $6,000.

The maximum credit in 2021 increased to 50% of the taxpayer’s employment-related expenses, which equals $4,000 for one qualifying individual, or $8,000 for two or more qualifying individuals. When figuring the credit, a taxpayer must subtract employer-provided dependent care benefits, such as those provided through a flexible spending account, from total employment-related expenses. 

A qualifying individual is a dependent under the age of 13, or a dependent of any age or spouse who is incapable of self-care and who lives with the taxpayer for more than half of the year.

As before, the more a taxpayer earns, the lower the percentage of employment-related expenses that are considered in determining the credit. However, under the new law, more individuals will qualify for the new maximum 50% of employment-related expenses credit percentage rate. That’s because the adjusted gross income level at which the credit percentage starts to phase out is raised to $125,000.  Above $125,000, the 50% credit percentage goes down as income rises. It is entirely unavailable for any taxpayer with adjusted gross income over $438,000.

The credit is fully refundable for the first time in 2021. This means an eligible taxpayer can receive it, even if they owe no federal income tax.  To be eligible for the refundable portion of the credit, a taxpayer, or the taxpayer’s spouse if filing a joint return, must reside in the United States for at least half of the year.

Workers can set aside more in a dependent care FSA
For 2021, the maximum amount of tax-free employer-provided dependent care benefits increased to $10,500. This means an employee can set aside $10,500 in a dependent care flexible spending account, instead of the normal $5,000.

Workers can only do this if their employer adopts this change. Employees should contact their employer for details.

Childless EITC expanded for 2021
For 2021 only, more workers without qualifying children can qualify for the earned income tax credit, a fully refundable tax benefit that helps many low- and moderate-income workers and working families. That’s because the maximum credit is nearly tripled for these taxpayers and is, for the first time, available to younger workers and now has no age limit cap.

For 2021, EITC is generally available to filers without qualifying children who are at least 19 years old with earned income below $21,430; $27,380 for spouses filing a joint return. The maximum EITC for filers with no qualifying children is $1,502. 

Another change for 2021, allows individuals to figure the EITC using their 2019 earned income if it was higher than their 2021 earned income. In some instances, this option will give them a larger credit.


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Military members and their families may qualify for special tax benefits

With the filing deadline around the corner, the IRS reminders members of the military that they may qualify for special tax benefits. For example, they don’t have to pay taxes on some types of income. Special rules may lower the tax they owe or allow them more time to file and pay their federal taxes.

Here are some of these special tax benefits:

  • Combat pay exclusion: If someone serves in a combat zonepart or all of their pay is tax-free. This also applies to people working in an area outside a combat zone when the Department of Defense certifies that area is in direct support of military operations in a combat zone. There are limits to this exclusion for commissioned officers.
  • Other nontaxable benefits: Base allowance for housing, base allowance for subsistence and uniform allowances are among several government pay items excluded from gross income, which means they are not taxed.
  • Moving expenses: Some non-reimbursed moving expenses may be tax deductible. To deduct these expenses, the taxpayer must be a member of the Armed Forces on active duty and their move must be due to a military order or result of a permanent change of station.
  • Deadline extensions: Some members of the military – such as those who serve overseas – can postpone most tax deadlines. Those who qualify can get automatic extensions of time to file and pay their taxes.
  • Earned income tax credit: Special rules allow military members who get nontaxable combat pay to choose to include it in their taxable income. One reason they might do this is to increase the amount of their earned income tax credit. People who qualify for this credit could owe less tax or even get a larger refund.
  • Joint return signatures: Both spouses must normally sign a joint income tax return. However, if military service prevents that from happening, one spouse may be able to sign for the other or get a power of attorney. Service members may want to consult with their installation’s legal office to see if a power of attorney is right for them.
  • Reserve and National Guard travel: Members of a reserve component of the Armed Forces may be able to deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses on their return. To do so, they must travel more than 100 miles away from home in connection with their performance of services as a member of the reserves.
  • ROTC allowances: Some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty ROTC pay is taxable. This includes things like pay for summer advanced camp.

Special filing software. Miltax is free tax resource available for the military community, offered through the Department of Defense. There are no income limits. MilTax includes tax preparation and electronic filing software, personalized support from tax consultants and current information about filing taxes. It’s designed to address the realities of military life – including deployments, combat and training pay, housing and rentals and multi-state filings. Eligible taxpayers can use MilTax to electronically file a federal tax return and up to three state returns for free.

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IRS extends additional tax deadlines to May 17-No extension for Estimated tax due 4/15/2021.

Following the extension of the filing and payment deadline for individuals to May 17, 2021, the IRS announced other tax deadline extensions to the same date.

Here’s what’s affected:

Contributions to IRAs and health savings accounts

People now automatically have until May 17, 2021, to make 2020 contributions to their:

  • Individual retirement arrangements
  • Health savings accounts
  • Archer medical savings accounts
  • Coverdell education savings accounts

The deadline for reporting and paying the 10% additional tax on amounts included in gross income from 2020 distributions from IRAs or workplace-based retirement plans is now May 17, 2021. Lastly, the due date for Form 5498 series returns related to these accounts is now June 30, 2021,

2017 unclaimed refunds The law provides a three-year window to claim a refund. Normally, April 15, 2021, is the deadline to claim a refund from tax year 2017 but, the IRS has extended it to May 17, 2021. To get the unclaimed refund, a taxpayer must properly address and mail the tax return, postmarked by May 17, 2021. If a taxpayer doesn’t file a return within three years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury.

Foreign trusts and estates Foreign trusts and estates with federal income tax filing or payment obligations, who file Form 1040-NR, now have until May 17, 2021.

2021 Annual Filing Season Program application deadline Tax return preparers who’d like to participate in the Annual Filing Season Program for calendar year 2021 now have until May 17, 2021, to file their application with the IRS.

Tax professionals can learn more on the AFSP page on IRS.gov.

No extension for estimated tax payments April 15, 2021 is still the deadline to make first quarter estimated tax payments. Withholding is automatic for most employees, but some taxpayers’ income isn’t subject to income tax withholding. These taxpayers must generally make quarterly estimated tax payments. Income that may require estimated tax payments includes:

  • Self-employment
  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Alimony
  • Rentals

Taxpayers should review IRS Notice 2021-21 for more information about these extensions.

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IRS projects stimulus payments to non-filer Social Security and other federal beneficiaries will be disbursed later this week

WASHINGTON – As work continues on issuing millions of Economic Impact Payments to Americans, the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department announced today that they anticipate payments will begin to be issued this weekend to Social Security recipients and other federal beneficiaries who do not normally file a tax return, with the projection that the majority of these payments would be sent electronically and received on April 7.

After receiving data from the Social Security Administration on Thursday, March 25, the IRS began the multi-step process to review, validate, and test tens of millions of records to ensure eligibility and proper calculation of Economic Impact Payments. If no additional issues arise, the IRS currently expects to complete that work and to begin processing these payment files at the end of this week. Because the majority of these payments will be disbursed electronically – through direct deposits and payments to existing Direct Express cards – they would be received on the official payment date of April 7. 

Many federal beneficiaries who filed 2019 or 2020 returns or used the Non-Filers tool last year were issued Economic Impact Payments, if eligible, during the last three weeks. The update today applies to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) beneficiaries who did not file a 2019 or 2020 tax return or did not use the Non-Filers tool.

“IRS employees are working tirelessly to once again deliver Economic Impact Payments to the nation’s taxpayers as quickly as possible,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Our teams immediately began processing data we received last week for federal benefit recipients. We know how important these payments are, and we are doing everything we can to make these payments as fast as possible to these important individuals.”

The Get My Payment tool is updated for eligible individuals once their payment is processed. The IRS notes that the Get My Payment tool on IRS.gov will not be updated until the weekend of April 3-4 with information for federal beneficiaries expecting payments next week.

The IRS continues to review data received for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit recipients and expects to determine a payment date and provide more details soon. Currently, the IRS estimates that Economic Impact Payments for VA beneficiaries who do not regularly file tax returns could be disbursed by mid-April. VA beneficiary payment information will be available in the Get My Payment tool at a future date.

Federal benefit payments automatic; no action for most

Most Social Security retirement and disability beneficiaries, railroad retirees and recipients of veterans benefits who are eligible for an Economic Impact Payment do not need to take any action to receive a payment. These payments will be automatic. Like the previous Economic Impact Payments, Social Security and other federal beneficiaries will generally receive this third payment the same way that they receive their regular benefits.

Some federal benefit recipients may need to file a 2020 tax return, even if they don’t usually file, to provide information the IRS needs to send payments for any qualified dependent. Eligible individuals in this group should file a 2020 tax return to be considered for an additional payment for their qualified dependent as quickly as possible.

Some federal benefit recipients already have received an Economic Impact Payment

The IRS emphasizes that federal benefit recipients in these groups who file tax returns already started to receive Economic Impact Payments earlier this month, along with other taxpayers.

Because some federal benefit recipients do not file tax returns, the IRS did not have in its tax systems the current information needed to generate the Economic Impact Payments. Last year, the IRS took the unprecedented step to receive and review data from other federal agencies and use that data to deliver payments automatically to these recipients.  This action – which had never occurred in previous stimulus efforts – minimized risk and burdens for the American public during the pandemic. Due to regular changes in the federal benefits population, the IRS needed to receive updated information this month from other government agencies. With these critical updates, eligible federal benefit recipients who don’t normally file an income tax return will get a payment automatically in the next few weeks.

Making these automatic payments to federal beneficiaries involves a complex, multi-step process to handle recipient data from the other agencies. For the first round of Economic Impact Payments last year, recipients in these groups received payments within four to six weeks after the CARES Act was signed into law. For the American Rescue Plan signed March 11, the IRS projects that it is on track to deliver Economic Impact Payments to federal beneficiaries at the same or faster speed.

More details on this third round of Economic Impact Payments and federal benefit recipients will be available soon on IRS.gov.

Other work continues on Economic Impact Payments; watch mail for checks, EIP Cards

In addition to work for federal benefit recipients, the IRS also continues to prepare and deliver additional Economic Impact Payments for other eligible individuals – as well as deliver tax refunds.

For those receiving payments in the mail, the IRS urges these taxpayers to continue to watch their mail for these payments, which could include a paper Treasury check or a special prepaid debit card called an EIP Card.

Taxpayers should note that the form of payment for the third Economic Impact Payment, including for some Social Security and other federal beneficiaries, may be different than earlier stimulus payments. More people are receiving direct deposits, while those receiving payments in the mail may receive either a paper check or an EIP Card – which may be different than how they received their previous Economic Impact Payments.

Special reminder for those who don’t normally file a tax return

People who don’t normally file a tax return and don’t receive federal benefits may qualify for these Economic Impact Payments. This includes those experiencing homelessness, the rural poor, and others. For those eligible individuals who didn’t get a first or second Economic Impact Payment or got less than the full amounts, they may be eligible for the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit, but they’ll need to file a 2020 tax return. See the special section on IRS.gov: Claiming the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit if you aren’t required to file a tax return.

Free tax return preparation is available for qualifying people.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that the income levels in this new round of Economic Impact Payments have changed. This means that some people won’t be eligible for the third payment even if they received a first or second Economic Impact Payment or claimed a 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit. Payments will begin to be reduced for individuals making $75,000 or above in Adjusted Gross Income ($150,000 for married filing jointly). The payments end at $80,000 for individuals ($160,000 for married filing jointly); people with Adjusted Gross Incomes above these levels are ineligible for a payment.

Individuals can check the Get My Payment tool on IRS.gov to see the payment status of these payments. Additional information on Economic Impact Payments is available on IRS.gov.

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New Exclusion of up to $10,200 of Unemployment Compensation

If your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $150,000, the American Rescue Plan enacted on March 11, 2021, excludes from income up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation paid in 2020, which means you don’t have to pay tax on unemployment compensation of up to $10,200. If you are married, each spouse receiving unemployment compensation doesn’t have to pay tax on unemployment compensation of up to $10,200. Amounts over $10,200 for each individual are still taxable. If your modified AGI is $150,000 or more, you can’t exclude any unemployment compensation. If you file Form 1040-NR, you can’t exclude any unemployment compensation for your spouse.

The exclusion should be reported separately from your unemployment compensation. See the updated instructions and the Unemployment Compensation Exclusion Worksheet to figure your exclusion and the amount to enter on Schedule 1, line 8.  

When figuring the following deductions or exclusions from income, if you are asked to enter an amount from Schedule 1, line 7 enter the total amount of unemployment compensation reported on line 7 (unreduced by any exclusion amount) and if you are asked to enter an amount from Schedule 1, line 8, enter the amount from line 3 of the Unemployment Compensation Exclusion Worksheet. See the specific form or instructions for more information. If you file Form 1040-NR, you aren’t eligible for all of these deductions. See the Instructions for Form 1040-NR for details.

  • Taxable social security benefits (Instructions for Form 1040 or 1040-SR, Social Security Benefits Worksheet)
  • IRA deduction (Instructions for Form 1040 or 1040-SR, IRA Deduction Worksheet)
  • Student loan interest deduction (Instructions for Form 1040 or 1040-SR, Student Loan Interest Deduction Worksheet)
  • Nontaxable amount of Olympic or Paralympic medals and USOC prize money (Instructions for Form 1040 or 1040-SR, Schedule 1, line 8)
  • The exclusion of interest from Series EE and I U.S. Savings Bonds issued after 1989 (Form 8815)
  • The exclusion of employer-provided adoption benefits (Form 8839)
  • Tuition and fees deduction (Form 8917)
  • The deduction of up to $25,000 for active participation in a passive rental real estate activity (Form 8582)

If you have already filed your 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR, you should not file an amended return at this time. The IRS will issue additional guidance as soon as possible.

The instructions for Schedule 1 (Form 1040), line 7, Unemployment Compensation, are updated to read as follows.

Line 7

Unemployment Compensation

You should receive a Form 1099-G showing in box 1 the total unemployment compensation paid to you in 2020. Report this amount on line 7.

Caution. If the amount reported in box 1 of your Form(s) 1099-G is incorrect, report on line 7 only the actual amount of unemployment compensation paid to you in 2020.

Caution. When figuring any of the following deductions or exclusions, include the full amount of your unemployment benefits reported on Schedule 1, line 7 (unreduced by any exclusion amount): taxable social security benefits, IRA deduction, student loan interest deduction, nontaxable amount of Olympic or Paralympic medals and USOC prize money, the exclusion of interest from Series EE and I U.S. Savings Bonds issued after 1989, the exclusion of employer-provided adoption benefits, the tuition and fees deduction, and the deduction of up to $25,000 for active participation in a passive rental real estate activity. See the specific form or instructions for more information. If you file Form 1040-NR, you aren’t eligible for all of these deductions. See the Instructions for Form 1040-NR for details.

Note. If your modified adjusted income (AGI) is less than $150,000,the American Rescue Plan enacted on March 11, 2021, excludes from income up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation paid to you in 2020. For married taxpayers, you and your spouse can each exclude up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation. For example, you file jointly with your spouse and your modified AGI is less than $150,000. You were paid $20,000 of unemployment compensation and your spouse was paid $5,000. Report the $25,000 (the total amount of your unemployment compensation) on line 7 and report $15,200 on line 8 as a negative amount (in parentheses).  The $15,200 excluded from income is all of the $5,000 unemployment compensation paid to your spouse, plus $10,200 of the $20,000 paid to you. If your modified AGI is $150,000 or more, you can’t exclude any unemployment compensation. Use the Unemployment Compensation Exclusion Worksheet to figure your modified AGI and the amount to exclude. If you file Form 1040-NR, you can’t exclude any unemployment compensation for your spouse.

If you made contributions to a governmental unemployment compensation program or to a governmental paid family leave program and you aren’t itemizing deductions, reduce the amount you report on line 7 by those contributions. If you are itemizing deductions, see the instructions on Form 1099-G.

Caution. Your state may issue separate Forms 1099-G for unemployment compensation received from the state and the additional $600 a week federal unemployment compensation related to coronavirus relief. Include all unemployment compensation received on line 7.

If you received an overpayment of unemployment compensation in 2020 and you repaid any of it in 2020, subtract the amount you repaid from the total amount you received. Enter the result on line 7. Also enter “Repaid” and the amount you repaid on the dotted line next to line 7. If, in 2020, you repaid more than $3,000 of unemployment compensation that you included in gross income in an earlier year, see Repayments in Pub. 525 for details on how to report the payment.

Tip. If you received unemployment compensation in 2020, your state may issue an electronic Form 1099-G instead of it being mailed to you. Check your state’s unemployment compensation website for more information.

Unemployment Compensation Exclusion Worksheet – Schedule 1, Line 8

  1. If you are filing Form 1040 or 1040-SR, enter the total of lines 1 through 7 of Form 1040 or 1040-SR. If you are filing Form 1040-NR, enter the total of lines 1a, 1b, and lines 2 through 7.
     
  2. Enter the amount from Schedule 1, lines 1 through 6. Don’t include any amount of unemployment compensation from Schedule 1, line 7 on this line.
     
  3. Use the line 8 instructions to determine the amount to include on Schedule 1, line 8, and enter here. Do not reduce this amount by the amount of unemployment compensation you may be able to exclude.
     
  4. Add lines 1, 2, and 3.
     
  5. If you are filing Form 1040 or 1040-SR, enter the amount from line 10c. If you are filing Form 1040-NR, enter the amount from line 10d.
     
  6. Subtract line 5 from line 4. This is your modified adjusted gross income.
     
  7. Is the amount on line 6 $150,000 or more?
     a. [ ] Yes. Stop You can’t exclude any of your employment compensation
    b. [ ] No. Go to line 8
     
  8. Enter the amount of unemployment compensation paid to you in 2020. Don’t enter more than $10,200.
     
  9. If married filing jointly, enter the amount of unemployment compensation paid to your spouse in 2020. Don’t enter more than $10,200. If you are filing Form 1040-NR, enter -0- .
     
  10. Add lines 8 and 9 and enter the amount here. This is the amount of unemployment compensation excluded from your income.
     
  11. Subtract line 10 from line 3 and enter the amount on Schedule 1, line 8. If the result is less than zero, enter it in parentheses. On the dotted line next to Schedule 1, line 8, enter “UCE” and show the amount of unemployment compensation exclusion in parentheses on the dotted line. Complete the rest of Schedule 1 and Form 1040, 1040-SR, or 1040-NR.

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