Category Archives: Financial Planning

5 Ways to Stay off The IRS Audit Radar

Millions of Americans filed their 2020 taxes and a handful of some will be picked out to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service.

In 2019,  0.45% of the individual tax returns were audited, according to agency data. The rate of audits per year has significantly dropped in the last decade due to staff and budget cuts. But certain red flags may make you more likely to fall into that unfortunate group, experts said.

If the IRS sends you an adjustment letter when you made a miscalculation or underreported small amounts of your income, this is not an audit. A correspondence audit — the lowest form of an audit and not a full examination — is performed via mail and may require you to provide additional information. But a correspondence audit can turn into an in-person audit if the issues become more complex.

Here are five ways to avoid tax scenarios that catch the IRS’s attention in the first place.

  1. Underreporting income – Underreporting income would be the first red flag. Unintentionally leaving out a small portion of your income may not get you audited. But if there’s a bigger discrepancy between the income you actually earned and what you reported on your return — and if it’s intentional — chances are higher that you may get audited.
  2. Overstating your tax deductions – Whether you’re claiming business tax deductions like meal and entertainment expenses or personal ones like charitable donations, you may hear from the IRS if the claimed amount seems off based on your income. The IRS system that roots out suspicious tax returns may flag a return that has deductions that are too high for the reported income level. Additionally, mixing business and personal expenses can be a red flag for the IRS. Some small business tax deductions that could pose a problem if disproportionate to your income are expenses for vehicles, home office, meals, and entertainment, among others.
  3. High-income earner – if you are in a higher income bracket, your chances of being audited increase. While the overall audit rate for 2018 was 0.6%, the chances of being audited was much higher for high-income earners. Taxpayers reporting income from $500,000 to $1,000,000 were almost twice as likely to be audited at 1.1%. That rate went up to 2.2% for taxpayers making from $1,000,000 to $5,000,000. Those earning $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 saw an audit rate of 4.2%, while those making above that threshold saw the highest rate of 6.7%.
  4. Claiming a dependent – Only one parent is allowed to claim a child on their taxes, even if the parents are filing their taxes separately. The IRS may send an audit letter to determine which taxpayer is entitled to claim the child as a dependent. A child can be claimed as a dependent if the child is under the age of 19 or is a full-time student under the age of 24 and lives with you for more than six months of the calendar year.
  5. Foreign accounts and income – Failing to report a foreign financial asset like a bank account, brokerage, or mutual fund may also bring the IRS knocking. If you hold foreign assets worth over $50,000 for a single filer and $100,000 for joint filers, you must fill out Form 8938, identifying the institution where the assets are held and the highest value of those assets in the last year. Additionally, if you take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion break, the IRS may carefully review your return for any discrepancies. U.S. citizens who are bona fide residents of a foreign country can exclude up to $107,600 of their 2020 income if they were in that country for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months.
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Roth Conversion in 2021?

Roth Conversion in 2021?In 2020, a year when all income brackets benefited from lower tax rates, the stock market took a nosedive at the beginning of the pandemic. For investors sharp enough to see the opportunity, this was an ideal time to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.

When you conduct a Roth conversion, the assets are taxed at ordinary income tax rates in the year of the conversion. So, the best time to do this is when your current income tax rate is low and when your IRA account balance loses money due to declining market performance. Once you convert the account to a Roth, those assets continue to grow tax free and are no longer subject to taxes when withdrawn later.

If you believe those stocks will rebound, you can direct the traditional and new Roth IRA custodians to move the shares as they are, rather than selling them for cash. Or, if you are converting the entire account and choose to remain with the same brokerage, you can simply instruct the custodian to change the account type. This way you can keep the same investments, pay applicable taxes on the account balance at the time of the conversion, and then never have to pay taxes on future gains.

While the stock market did recover in 2020, many market analysts believe equities are currently overpriced and could experience another correction this year. On top of that, with Democrats now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, many expect legislation that will increase income taxes, at least among wealthier households.

Therefore, in order to avoid higher taxes on a long-accumulated traditional IRA, 2021 might be a good year to conduct a Roth conversion. The key is to try to time that conversion with a market loss. By conducting a conversion before income taxes increase, you’ll pay a lower rate, and all future earnings can grow tax-free and be distributed tax-free. Bear in mind, too, that a Roth does not mandate required minimum distributions at any age. The full account balance of a Roth has the opportunity to continue growing for the rest of the owner’s life.

A Roth conversion is not the best strategy for everyone. Consider the following scenarios that are not ideal for conversion.

  • An investor under age 59½ will be assessed a penalty on newly converted Roth funds withdrawn in less than five years, so this might not work for an early retiree who needs immediate income.
  • If you expect to be in a lower tax bracket during retirement, you should wait until then to pay taxes on distributions of your traditional IRA. Also, if you think you might relocate to a state with lower or no state income tax during retirement, not converting eliminates state taxes on that money entirely.
  • Watch out for a bump in income taxes on a Roth conversion. You might not want to convert if those assets put you in a higher tax bracket during the year of conversion.
  • Also note that if you convert after age 65, higher income reported that year could increase premiums for Medicare Part B benefits, as well as taxes on Social Security benefits.
  • If the non-spousal IRA beneficiary is likely to remain in a lower tax bracket than the owner, he might as well leave the assets in the traditional IRA. Otherwise, the owner will waste more of his estate’s assets to pay taxes on the conversion.
  • If you don’t have available cash outside the traditional IRA to pay the taxes on the conversion, the money will come out of the account and substantially drop the value. Consider whether or not your investment timeline is long enough to make up for that loss.
  • If your goal is to leave that IRA money to a charity, don’t bother to convert. Qualified charities are exempt from taxes on donations.

If you’re planning to leave a Roth IRA to your heirs, they also enjoy tax-free distributions as long as that Roth was opened and funded for at least five years before you pass away. This is another reason why it might be better to convert to a Roth IRA sooner rather than later.

SBA Extends Deferment Period for all COVID-19 EIDL and Other Disaster Loans until 2022

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced extended deferment periods for all disaster loans, including the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, until 2022.

  • All SBA disaster loans made in calendar year 2020, including COVID-19 EIDL, will have a first payment due date extended from 12-months to 24-months from the date of the note.
  • All SBA disaster loans made in calendar year 2021, including COVID-19 EIDL, will have a first payment due date extended from 12-months to 18-months from the date of the note.

Existing SBA disaster loans approved prior to 2020 in regular servicing status as of March 1, 2020, received an automatic deferment of principal and interest payments through December 31, 2020. This initial deferment period was subsequently extended through March 31, 2021. An additional 12-month deferment of principal and interest payments will be automatically granted to these borrowers. Borrowers will resume their regular payment schedule with the payment immediately preceding March 31, 2022, unless the borrower voluntarily continues to make payments while on deferment. It is important to note that the interest will continue to accrue on the outstanding balance of the loan throughout the duration of the deferment.

“Small Businesses, private nonprofits and agricultural enterprises, including those self-employed individuals, contractors and gig workers, continue to navigate a very difficult economic environment due to the continued impacts of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, as well as historic Severe Winter Storms in 2020,” SBA Administrator Tami Perrillo said.

“The COVID-19 EIDL program has assisted over 3.7 million of small businesses, including non-profit organizations, sole proprietors and independent contractors, from a wide array of industries and business sectors, through this challenging time,” continued Perrillo.

SBA continues to strive to make available all previously approved Coronavirus Pandemic stimulus funding and administer the new targeted programs related to provisions in the 2020 Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act (the Economic Aid Act) as quickly as possible.

“The American people and the nation’s Small Business owners need our tireless effort and dedication to get this essential funding to those in great need, and SBA will not rest until we implement President Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” and its’ additional targeted programs and funds allocated for America’s small business and nonprofit communities,” said SBA Senior Advisor Michael Roth.

COVID-19 EIDL loans are offered at very affordable terms, with a 3.75% interest rate for small businesses and 2.75% interest rate for nonprofit organizations, a 30-year maturity. Interest continues to accrue during the deferment period and borrowers may make full or partial payments if they choose.

In mid-February 2020, SBA reached a milestone in the success of the COVID-19 EIDL program, by approving over $200 billion in emergency funding in low-interest loans, providing working capital funds to small businesses, non-profits and agricultural businesses to survive the severe impacts of this catastrophic and historic period within the entire United States of America and its territories. SBA continues to approve over $500 million each week for the COVID-19 EIDL program.

Questions on SBA COVID-19 EIDL and disaster loan payments can be answered by email at DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov or by calling SBA’s Customer Service Center at1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339).

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The Impact of COVID on Life Insurance

If someone you know died from COVID-19 and had an existing life insurance policy, there should be no problem receiving the death benefit. The terms of a life insurance contract cannot be changed after purchase, so anyone with a policy before the pandemic will continue to be covered as long as premiums are paid.

However, the life insurance industry is in a quandary right now when it comes to new applicants applying for policies.

Some insurers have placed an age limit on applicants to whom they will sell policies. Travelers who have recently visited countries with a significant outbreak and people currently infected with the virus are generally asked to wait until after they have quarantined or recovered to apply for life insurance. While the coronavirus has had a high fatality rate among people age 65 and older, the death rate has fluctuated among demographics over the past year as the virus spread from metropolitan areas to more rural parts of the country.

With this in mind, now is probably one of the most challenging times to apply for a life insurance policy. In the past, applicants have had to answer standard questions regarding their medical history. Today, most also will have to disclose if they have been treated for COVID-19. Bear in mind that even people who did not become severely ill could suffer medical conditions in the future resulting from the infection. However, it is best to answer that question honestly, because any future claims could be denied if it is found the applicant lied about his or her COVID experience on the application.

As the data continues to be assessed, it is likely that insurers will adjust their terms and rates in response to the recent pandemic. It is possible, in fact quite probable, that data pointing to enduring effects of COVID-19 will be included in life insurance underwriting standards in the future. This could increase premiums for COVID-19 survivors – or result in denial of coverage altogether.

In the past, there were life insurers that sold low-cost, low-payout policies without a medical exam or extensive health questions. But these days, given how quickly the coronavirus can take a life, applicants age 60 and older would be hard-pressed to qualify for one of those “guaranteed issue” policies.

In fact, pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma – which are highly susceptible to the ravages of the coronavirus – may undergo more scrutiny in the future. While pre-existing conditions are no longer a qualifying issue for health insurance, they are very much a part of the life insurance underwriting process and do increase individual premiums.

There is one silver lining for life insurance applicants: Some insurers have eliminated the normally required physical exam due to social distancing restrictions. Others have opted to postpone the in-person exam but offer immediate temporary coverage with a limited death benefit. A couple of life insurers in Connecticut and Massachusetts even offer a free, three-year term life policy to frontline workers in appreciation for their work during the pandemic. Eligible applicants include in-hospital personnel and first responders who have the greatest risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Anyone who has lost their income due to the pandemic and is in danger of not being able to pay life insurance premiums should call their carrier to see if there are options to continue coverage. Some companies have agreed to defer premiums for up to 90 days rather than cancel coverage for people likely to find employment soon. It’s a good idea to call and find out rather than miss payments and hope your insurance company chooses not to notice.

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While Many Suffer Financially, Some Manage to Profit off Pandemic

Billionaires in CovidThe Federal Reserve recently reported that the 50 richest people in the United States increased their net worth by $339 billion during the first half of 2020. There are two primary contributors to this near-unprecedented level of growth. The first is that many either owned or were heavily invested in tech companies that thrived during the pandemic. Increased technology demands for remote work, online shopping, streaming entertainment, and socially-distanced socializing created a lucrative COVID-19 economy in some sectors.

Another reason is that the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve proactively infused the economy with stimulus capital. That helped mitigate long-term market disruption that might have otherwise occurred.

The short explanation of how to leverage assets for greater wealth during a pandemic is to be well-capitalized and invested in the stock market. To wit, over 88 percent of the equity in corporations and in mutual fund shares is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. In other words, they’re not sitting on their cash; it is continually working for them.

In fact, nearly every tragedy has some form of silver lining investment opportunity. For example, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes are good for the construction and contracting industries. The pandemic is interesting because it has large and almost exclusively benefited technology companies – in as much as they serve other industries.

The obvious pandemic winners are streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix, but also consider the proliferation of video conference technologies, online financial services, and telemedicine. All of these innovations existed before COVID-19, but it took a global pandemic for them to become mainstream services. Moreover, it is unlikely that their popularity will wane once the virus is contained. After all, we love convenience, and few things are more convenient than being able to conduct daily activities – such as work and doctor’s appointments – from the comfort of your own home.

But just as the coronavirus boosted fortunes in many market sectors, it depressed others, such as cruise lines, movie theaters, and airline stocks, as well as oil prices. Unless you have a crystal ball, it’s always a good idea to diversify your portfolio across a variety of asset classes and market sectors. That way losses in some investments are likely to be offset by gains in others.

In recent years, the wealthy also have benefited from generous tax breaks provided by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. To diversify gains achieved during the pandemic, they may take advantage of provisions from this legislation, such as the conservation easement charitable deduction. This can be claimed when purchasing land with strong development potential and then donating it to a land trust or government agency. This might create a higher tax deduction based on the appraised value. A similar approach can be used with the Opportunity Zone tax break. This eliminates taxes on capital gains earned from long-term investments in businesses or developments in specific low-income areas of the country.

Rest assured, while vaccines will lead the way to recovery from the pandemic, other crises will follow – as will opportunities to make money on them. Some of them are even easy to predict. After all, the exacerbation of climate change is evident in the increase and severity of extreme weather events. This offers two avenues for an investment opportunity. The first is reactive, such as rebuilding what has been damaged or destroyed. The second is preventive, which means investing in renewable energy resources that reduce carbon emissions, such as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy solutions.

It is important to recognize, however, that we can’t always predict what type of crisis will happen next. Therefore, it is inadvisable to try to time the market for investments, particularly when saving for a long-term goal such as retirement. Instead, consider aligning your assets with investments that help build a stronger society, such as sustainable energy, technology advances, and healthcare innovation.

The biggest takeaway here is that the key to crisis opportunism is to be well-capitalized with liquid assets that can repositioned quickly. It is no accident that economic declines are often most advantageous to the extremely wealthy. If you were able to save more money during the pandemic due to less opportunity to travel or spend on other indulgences, consider using this windfall to position your investment portfolio for crisis opportunism in the future.

EIDL Loan and Advance Programs Reopen to All Eligible Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced it has reopened the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance program portal to eligible businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses can receive long-term, low-interest loans and emergency grants. This will help them recover from the disruptions that took place in their businesses. They can use the loan for paying rent, mortgage, vehicle leases, payroll, and other bills.

The second round of COVID-19 EIDL assistance also comes with improvements to the application and loan closing process. This includes deploying new technology and automated tools. The application process has been streamlined and the SBA says it should take you two hours and ten minutes or less to complete. Some $197 billion is available through the EIDL for working capital funds to small businesses.


 

  • With the EIDL businesses can borrow up to $2 million to provide working capital for expenses such as fixed debt and payroll costs. Eligible applicants can also get up to $10,000 ($1,000 per employee) in funds of emergency economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing temporary hardships.
  • The loans have an interest rate of 3.75% for small businesses. And to keep payments affordable they come with long repayment terms of up to a maximum of 30 years. This includes the deferment of the first payment for one year.
  • With EIDL businesses can borrow up to $200,000 without a personal guarantee.
  • First-year tax returns are not required, and approval can be based on credit score.
  • Loans of $25,000 or less require no collateral. For loans above $25,000, you can use general security interest in business assets. Collateral can be machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, and others.

More Covid-19 Relief in the Future?

Since the declaration of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the SBA has approved over 3.6 million loans through the EIDL program in the first round.  The deadline for the second round of EIDL runs till December 31, 2021. A further COVID-19 relief assistance amounting to $1.9 trillion is undergoing debate in Washington. This follows Congress’ previous passing of a $900 billion relief measure.

Alert!!! Secure Act

January 13, 2021
Dear WZ Clients, Business Associates and Friends,
ALERT!!!

SECURE ACT ALLOWS FOR QUALIFIED RETIREMENT PLANS TO BE SET UP IN 2021 FOR 2020

When reviewing your business’ 2020 tax position, a tax- deductible retirement plan contribution is an effective way to lower your taxable income. If your business has not already adopted a qualified retirement plan, we wanted to inform you that the SECURE Act has changed the timing rules for the establishment of these plans. You are NOW able to adopt a new qualified plan for the prior calendar year up to your tax filing deadline, and this includes extensions. This change in timing, means there is still time in 2021 to adopt a plan that is effective for 2020 that will enable you to make a contribution that is tax deductible against your 2020 income. WZ is here to assist you so please do not hesitate to call us.
AS ALWAYS, WAGNER & ZWERMAN IS HERE TO ANSWER ALL OF YOUR QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.
STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY
** IF YOU HAVE MISSED ANY PREVIOUS WZ COMMUNICATION IN REGARDS TO COVID-19, PLEASE REFER TO OUR WEBSITE
Best,
WZ Partners

Wagner & Zwerman LLP

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What To Know About Filing For Bankruptcy

About one million Americans file for personal bankruptcy each year, with one in 10 households having filed at some point. Given the loss of jobs, reduced income, and the coronavirus recession in 2020, those numbers could increase this year if the economic recovery is not both swift and omnipresent.

There are two main types of personal bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7, which is the more common option, will liquidate the filer’s assets in order to discharge all or a portion of the outstanding debt. People generally choose this route because they are in way over their heads and do not earn enough income to pay their debts in any type of normal time frame.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, provides some immediate breathing room while helping the filer develop a payment plan based on a reduced percentage of the debt. This percentage is determined by how much he makes and what he can feasibly pay each month. While a Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains on your credit report for 10 years, while Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a bit less punitive staying on record for only seven years. As the filer works to pay down his debt and sticks to his plan, his credit score will gradually improve over time. In some cases, the debtor may be able to apply for an FHA, VA, or USDA home loan a year after his bankruptcy filing, or two to four years if applying for a conventional mortgage.

Bankruptcy can provide immediate relief from creditors calling and threatening to evict, foreclose, repossess, shut off, or garnish wages. However, be prepared for some level of pain, such as the bankruptcy court seizing property to be sold to pay your creditors, and/or your credit cards being canceled.

You may see television ads to get debt relief without having to file bankruptcy. Be aware that while these programs may negotiate a debt settlement to something you can better afford, they will not skirt the wrath of the dreaded credit rating agencies. Any time an entity negotiates a reduction in your debt, this will show up as a negative factor on your credit score, and will likely remain that way for many years. A more recent issue that not everyone is aware of is that some employers have started checking the credit reports of job applicants. This makes it all the more difficult to pay off your debt if you can’t get a job because of your past payment history. Your best option is to secure a reliable income before you work with a debt relief agency or file for bankruptcy.

Before entering any type of debt relief program, it’s a good idea to consult with a qualified, non-profit credit counseling agency for a free debt analysis. Don’t go to just anyone; make sure it is a legitimate resource which, by law, is required to serve your best interest. Shady debt counseling vendors are inclined to recommend a debt solution that works out better for the agency than their clients.

If you do decide to file for bankruptcy, be aware that court fees cost about $300, plus lawyer fees tend to run between $1,000 and $3,000 for a Chapter 7 filing and approximately $3,000 to $6,000 for a Chapter 13 filing.

2021 Social Security Tax and Benefit Increases Announced

December, 2020

The Social Security Administration recently announced 2021 increases to both benefits and the taxable wage base for FICA taxes.

Increases Announced for 2021

Workers are facing a 3.7 percent increase in the taxable wage base subject to Social Security taxes, increasing the amount from $137,700 up to $142,800. This means high earners who make as much as or more than the taxable wage base will pay $8,853.60 of the employee withholding portion or $17,707.20 in total for the self-employed – who pay both employee and employer portions of the tax.

Retirees receiving benefits will only garner a 1.3 percent cost-of-living (COLA) raise in 2021, resulting in a raise of $20 per month for the average single beneficiary and $33 per month for the average retired couple. COLA increases for beneficiaries have been low for a long time, with several years seeing zero increases in the past decade or so. You can see the historic trend of COLA increases in the chart below, going back to 1975.

Historical Social Security COLA Increases1
Year Increase Year Increase
2020 1.3% 1997 2.1%
2019 1.6% 1996 2.9%
2018 2.8% 1995 2.6%
2017 2.0% 1994 2.8%
2016 0.3% 1993 2.6%
2015 0.0% 1992 3.0%
2014 1.7% 1991 3.7%
2013 1.5% 1990 5.4%
2012 1.7% 1989 4.7%
2011 3.6% 1988 4.0%
2010 0.0% 1987 4.2%
2009 0.0% 1986 1.3%
2008 5.8% 1985 3.1%
2007 2.3% 1984 3.5%
2006 3.3% 1983 3.5%
2005 4.1% 1982 7.4%
2004 2.7% 1981 11.2%
2003 2.1% 1980 14.3%
2002 1.4% 1979 9.9%
2001 2.6% 1978 6.5%
2000 3.5% 1977 5.9%
1999 2.5% 1976 6.4%
1998 1.3% 1975 8.0%

Medical Expenses Outpacing COLA increases

Low COLA increases are putting pressure on retirees’ finances as medical expenses are rising at a much faster pace, with some believing they are given too little weight in the COLA calculation. Moreover, retirees need to consider Medicare Part B and Part D premiums.

While the official 2021 premiums are not announced yet, there are estimates out there that Part B premiums (covering doctor and outpatient services) will raise $9 per month, or approximately 6.2% percent, from $144.30 to $153.30. These are just average figures, as there are income-related surcharges that apply to both Part B and Part D drug premiums. During 2020, for example, individuals making more than $87k per year and couples filing jointly making over $174k per year began paying higher premiums for Part B and Part D than other recipients, with those at the top of the surcharge paying almost $1,000 per month for Part B premiums alone.

Income Caps on Working Beneficiaries

Finally, there are new earnings limits for workers below full retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954). In 2021, those who are not at full retirement age will lose $1 in Social Security benefits for every $2 they earn over $1,580 a month ($18,960 per year). After reaching one’s full retirement age, there are no earning thresholds that will impact benefits.

Conclusion

The 2021 COLA increase continues the recent trend of coming in low and putting pressure on retirees’ finances, while medical expenses continue to rise at much faster rates. As a result, retirees will see less disposable income from their benefits, while high-earning workers will see continued tax increases that outpace benefit payouts. This puts pressure on all beneficiaries of the system.

1 Starting in 1975, Social Security benefit increases have been based on cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Pre-1975, the benefit increases were set by legislation.

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Last Minute Financial Moves for Year’s End

There are certain year-end financial transactions that must clear by Dec. 31 to be reported on the 2020 tax return. It’s important to take a good look at your financial portfolio in light of the plethora of unusual events that occurred this year. Now is a good time to see if you have fallen off track and reposition your portfolio for better opportunities in 2021.

Investment Portfolio

Despite the dramatic stock market drop that accompanied the outbreak of COVID-19 on our shores, markets have recovered remarkably well. This means the traditional strategy of harvesting gains and losses at year-end could be appropriate for many investors. When your capital losses are more than your capital gains for the year, you can claim up to $3,000 to reduce your taxable income and even carry over remainder losses on next year’s tax return.

Harvesting is also a good way to rebalance your asset allocation strategy, so you are well-positioned to meet long-term goals starting in the New Year. If you are interested in selling winners and losers to mitigate your 2020 tax liability, make sure, these transactions are fully completed by Dec. 31.

Tip: Some investors might be tempted to sell shares for a loss and then buy back into that position. However, take pains to avoid running afoul of the “wash rule,” which is when an investor purchases a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of a loss sale. Doing so diminishes the losses you can claim on your taxes, even if you buy it back in January. This also can occur inadvertently through automatic dividend and capital gains reinvestment purchases – so monitor your holdings and make sure there’s a 30-day lag between sale and reinvestment.

Retirement Accounts

For workers who invest in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, you have until the end of the year to defer up to $19,500 ($26,000 if you’re age 50 or older) from your paycheck. If you’d like to stash away more money, the combined annual limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $6,000 ($7,000 for age 50+) for 2020. Note, however, that contributions for these accounts may continue to be made up until you file your 2020 tax return.

Tip: Given the potential for higher taxes under the new administration, it might be wise to max out after-tax Roth IRA contributions while taxes are low. When taxes are higher, traditional IRAs and 401(k)s tend to be more valuable because tax-deferred contributions help reduce current income. You also might want to convert a portion of traditional IRA funds to a Roth this year to take advantage of the lower tax environment. Convert only a strategic portion to avoid tipping your current income into a higher tax bracket.

Retirement Plan Withdrawals

You have only until year-end to withdraw up to $100,000 without penalty from a retirement plan if you have been directly affected by COVID-19 this year. Note, too, that subsequent income taxes on this withdrawal either can be spread out over a three-year period or avoided entirely if you re-contribute the funds over the next three years.

Tip: Legislation passed early in the year permits retirees to skip taking required minimum distributions in 2020. However, because the stock market has recovered nicely, and in light of higher taxes in the future, it might be a good idea to go ahead and take this distribution before year-end.

Education Savings Accounts

If your college student received a tuition refund this year because the class experience moved online, be aware that any refunds of College Savings 529 plans must be deposited back into that account. Otherwise, that money is considered a distribution for non-qualified expenses. Make that deposit back into the 529 account by year-end to avoid any taxes or penalties.

Tip: Parents and grandparents can reduce their estates by making a year-end gift to a student’s 529 plan. You may gift up to $15,000 ($30,000 for married couples) per beneficiary without incurring gift taxes or affecting your lifetime gift tax exemption ($11.58 million).