10 States With the Highest Sales Taxes

Before you embark on a shopping spree in any of the 10 worst states for sales taxes featured here, you’ll want to make extra room in your budget. Our biggest offender clocks in at 9.55% once both state and local sales taxes are factored in (continue reading our round-up to find out which state is the priciest culprit).

However, retirees and other relocators shouldn’t judge a state by its sales tax alone. While this expense may be costlier in some areas, residents in states with a high sales tax may be able to reap the benefits of other tax-related perks, such as not having to pay state income tax.

Got your attention? Take a look at our list to find out which states will nickel-and-dime you the most on everyday purchases.

Sales tax values are for 2020 and were compiled by the Tax Foundation. Income tax brackets are for the 2020 tax year. Property tax values are for 2019.

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10. New York

The state of New York.The state of New York.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.875%, and the average combined rate is 8.52%, according to the Tax Foundation. In the New York City metro area, there is an additional 0.375% sales tax to support transit. Clothing and footwear that cost less than $110 (per item or pair) are exempt from sales tax. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt, too. Motor vehicle sales are taxable, though.

Income Tax Range: Low: 4% (on up to $8,500 of taxable income for single filers and up to $17,150 for married couples filing jointly); High: 8.82% (on taxable income over $1,070,550 for single filers and over $2,155,350 for married couples filing jointly).

Starting in 2021, the top rate is 10.9% on taxable income over $25 million (regardless of filing status).

New York City and Yonkers imposed their own income tax. A commuter tax is also imposed on residents of New York City, as well as on residents of Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, and Westchester Counties.

Property Taxes: In the Empire State, the median property tax rate is $1,692 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the New York State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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9. California

The state of California.The state of California.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 7.25% state levy. Localities can add as much as 2.5%, and the average combined rate is 8.68%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt from these taxes, but clothing and motor vehicles are taxed. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 1% (on up to $17,864 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $8,932 for those filing individually); High: 13.3% (on more than $1,198,024 for married joint filers and $1 million for those filing individually).

Property Taxes: If you’re planning to buy a home in the Golden State, the median property tax rate is $729 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the California State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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8. Kansas

The state of Kansas.The state of Kansas.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4%, and the average combined rate is 8.69%, according to the Tax Foundation. These rates also apply to groceries, motor vehicles, clothing and prescription drugs. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 3.1% (on $2,501 to $15,000 of taxable income for single filers and $5,001 to $30,000 for joint filers); High: 5.7% (on more than $30,000 of taxable income for single filers and more than $60,000 for joint filers).

Property Taxes: Kansans who own their homes pay a median property tax rate of $1,369 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Kansas State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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7. Illinois

The state of Illinois.The state of Illinois.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.25% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.75%, and the average combined rate is 8.82%, according to the Tax Foundation. Food and prescription drugs are taxed at only 1% by the state. Clothing and motor vehicles are fully taxed.

Income Tax Range: There is a flat rate of 4.95% of federal adjusted gross income after modifications.

Property Taxes: For homeowners in Illinois, the median property tax rate is $2,165 per $100,000 of assessed home value — the second highest in our round-up.

For details on other state taxes, see the Illinois State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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6. Oklahoma

The state of Oklahoma.The state of Oklahoma.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Not tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7%, and the average combined rate is 8.95%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt and motor vehicles are taxed at a rate of 1.25% (a 3.25% excise tax also applies). Grocery items and clothing are taxable at 4.5%, plus local taxes. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 0.5% (on up to $1,000 of taxable income for single filers and up to $2,000 for married joint filers); High: 5% (on taxable income over $7,200 for single filers and over $12,200 for married joint filers).

Property Taxes: For Oklahomans who own a home, the median property tax rate is $869 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Oklahoma State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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5. Alabama

Photo of AlabamaPhoto of Alabama

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7.5% to that, and the average combined rate is 9.22%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt. Groceries and clothing are fully taxable, while motor vehicles are taxed at a reduced rate of 2% (additional local taxes may apply).

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on up to $1,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $500 for all others); High: 5% (on more than $6,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and more than $3,000 for all others). 

Some Alabama municipalities also impose occupational taxes on salaries and wages.

Property Taxes: In Alabama, the median property tax rate is $395 per $100,000 of assessed home value — the lowest on our list.

For details on other state taxes, see the Alabama State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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4. Washington

The state of Washington.The state of Washington.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Municipalities can add up to 4% to that, with the average combined rate at 9.23%, according to the Tax Foundation. Grocery items and prescription drugs are exempt. Clothing is taxable, as are motor vehicles. However, there’s an additional 0.3% tax on sales of motor vehicles.

Income Tax Range: Washington has no state income tax.

Property Taxes: Home buyers in the Evergreen State can expect to pay a median property tax rate of $929 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Washington State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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3. Arkansas

The state of Arkansas.The state of Arkansas.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Mixed tax picture

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 5.125%, and the average combined rate is 9.51%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt. Grocery items are taxed at 0.125% (additional local taxes may apply). Motor vehicles are taxed if the purchase price is $4,000 or more (7% tax rate in Texarkana). However, starting in 2022, the rate on sales of used motor vehicles priced between $4,000 and $10,000 will only be 3.5%. Clothing is taxed at the standard rate.

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on taxable income from $4,500 to $8,899 for taxpayers with net income less than $22,200), 0.75% (on first $4,499 of taxable income for taxpayers with net income from $22,200 to $79,300), or 2% (on on first $4,000 of taxable income for taxpayers with net income over $79,300); High: 3.4% (on taxable income from $13,400 to $22,199 for taxpayers with net income less than $22,200), 5.9% (on taxable income from $37,200 to $79,300 for taxpayers with net income from $22,200 to $79,300), or 6.6% (on taxable income over $79,300 for taxpayers with net income over $79,300). Beginning in 2021, the top rate for taxpayers with net income over $79,300 will be 5.9% (on taxable income over $8,000).

A “bracket adjustment” of between $40 and $440 is subtracted from the amount of tax due for taxpayers with net income from $79,301 to $84,600.

Property Taxes: For homeowners in the Natural State, the median property tax rate is $612 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Arkansas State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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2. Louisiana

The state of Louisiana.The state of Louisiana.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4.45% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7%, and the average combined rate is 9.52%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt from the state’s sales tax, but localities may tax these. Clothing and motor vehicles are taxable.

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on $12,500 or less of taxable income for individuals, $25,000 for joint filers); High: 6% (on more than $50,000 of taxable income, $100,000 for joint filers). 

Property Taxes: The median property tax rate in Louisiana is $534 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Louisiana State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

 

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1. Tennessee

The states of TennesseeThe states of Tennessee

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 7% state levy. There’s also an additional state tax of 2.75% on sales of single items that applies to the portion of the sales price from $1,600 to $3,200. Localities can add up to 2.75%, with an average combined rate of 9.55%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries are taxed at 4% by the state, in addition to any additional local taxes. Clothing is taxed at the standard rate. Motor vehicles are taxed at the basic 7% rate, plus the additional 2.75% on purchases between $1,600 and $3,200. There’s no tax on prescription drugs. 

Income Tax Range: There’s no state income tax in Tennessee. However, dividends and some interest are subject to the Hall Tax at a 1% rate in 2020. The first $1,250 in taxable income for individuals ($2,500 for joint filers) is exempt. 2020 is the last year for this tax, which is being phased out. Also, the tax is waived if you’re over the age of 100.

Property Taxes: In Tennessee, the median property tax rate is $636 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Tennessee State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

Source: kiplinger.com

Why Today’s Retirees Need to Pursue Tax-Minimization Strategies

Today’s retirees face many obstacles, from an unpredictable market to a lack of guaranteed income in retirement. While these are important challenges to address, they would be remiss to ignore their future tax burdens. We’ll likely see increased taxes in the future, and this will affect today’s retirees more than tax increases have affected retirees in the past.

Retirement Then vs. Now

Today’s retirees are the first IRA generation: Whereas previous generations could primarily rely on Social Security benefits and pensions to cover their retirement expenses, many of today’s retirees find themselves having to fund a much larger portion of their retirement through their own pre-tax retirement accounts. And while retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs have significant benefits, they also come with downsides, namely that all of the withdrawals in retirement are taxable as ordinary income at the current tax rates in our country.

This means that if tax rates were to rise, the retiree living off of IRAs will have to pay more in taxes and therefore live off of less after-tax income. Previous generations saved their money in after-tax accounts, meaning if tax rates were to rise, it would not affect them the same way it will for this IRA generation. When we look at the history of taxes and the Biden administration’s tax-increasing proposals, it’s clear that retirees need to have a tax-minimization plan.

Could We See Taxes Increase?

We need to plan for the tax rates of the future, not the present. Previously, tax increases primarily affected wage earners. The Social Security payroll tax and income tax increases had little effect on Social Security beneficiaries and retirees who saved in after-tax accounts. However, those who take distributions from a tax-deferred retirement account and who invest in the market are affected by both income tax increases and new taxes.

These could include:

  • The possible elimination of the favorable long-term capital gains taxes rates for the wealthiest investors. This could mean those with incomes of $1 million or more might pay up to 39.5% on their gains, rather than the current top rate of 20%.
  • Lowering of the current standard deduction. Many retirees don’t itemize their deductions and rely on the standard deduction.  Therefore, if the current standard deduction is lowered, people’s taxes could go up.
  • Imposing the Social Security payroll tax on workers or households earning over $400,000 annually. This tax — in which employers and employees each pay 6.2% and the self-employed pay the full 12.4% — helps pay for Social Security benefits.
  • Lowering the federal estate tax exemption amount, which could affect estates above about $5 million.

Retirees should note that we may be experiencing tax rates at 100-year lows now, and that this could end in light of recent increased government spending. Our already large national debt increased during the pandemic, with the CARES Act of 2020 costing $2.2 trillion and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 costing $1.9 trillion. We will have to pay for this eventually, and retirees with large tax-deferred IRAs could be the ones to do it.

When we look at history, we see that after a period of increased government spending during World War II, income tax rates in the following decades were much higher than they are now. In 1944, the top rate peaked at 94%, and by 1964 it had only gone down to 70%. This doesn’t mean that an individual’s tax bracket will go from 22% to 70%, but there is a lot of room in between where retirees could feel the effects.

When running a financial plan, retirees need to calculate how much taxable income they will have and how much of that will be left after taxes. If tax rates rise, retirees could need to withdraw more from their taxable retirement accounts to be left with the same amount of income, ultimately drawing down their savings faster.

RMDs

Taxes on retirement income can become more burdensome starting at age 72. Most retirees must take RMDs (required minimum distributions) from their traditional retirement accounts starting at age 72, and the amount they must withdraw is based on their age and account balance.

RMDs could force someone to withdraw more than they normally would from their tax-deferred retirement account, causing them to jump into a higher tax bracket. Retirees under the age 72 should look to do careful planning that may minimize this effect by the time they reach this age.  (Keep reading for an idea on how to help do that below.)

Taxes and Your Legacy Goals

RMDs can also potentially increase a beneficiary’s tax burden due to the SECURE Act passed in 2019. It ended the “stretch IRA,” which allowed beneficiaries to stretch out distributions from an inherited retirement account over their lifetimes. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must empty traditional accounts within 10 years of the original owner’s death.

Those who want to pass on their retirement accounts should consider tax minimization strategies when creating an estate plan. One possibility is a charitable remainder trust.

What Can Retirees Do Now to Prepare for Higher Taxes Later?

Those who will draw a significant portion of their retirement income from taxable retirement account should take note, and work to minimize their overall tax burden. There are many strategies they can employ, including converting part or all of their traditional 401(k) or IRA to a Roth IRA. This involves paying tax on the amount converted and eventually withdrawing it from the Roth tax-free. If we see taxes increase in the future, a Roth conversion at today’s rates could potentially be a good strategy for those whose tax burden won’t substantially decrease in retirement.

In addition to providing tax-free income, a Roth is also exempt from RMDs. This means that the money in a Roth IRA can continue to grow throughout the owner’s lifetime tax-free. When it’s inherited, the beneficiary will have to drain the account in 10 years, as with a traditional IRA. However, distributions from traditional IRAs, distributions from Roth IRAs are not taxable and will not incur an early withdrawal penalty as long as the account is at least five years old.

The Bottom Line for Retirees

Retirees who have both traditional and Roth IRAs can strategically withdraw from each to avoid going into a higher tax bracket, continue to reap the tax-advantage benefits of a retirement account after age 72, and pass on potentially tax-free wealth to their beneficiaries. Those who think tax hikes are on the horizon and who don’t plan to live on significantly less income in retirement should consider tax-minimization strategies such as a Roth conversion.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Epstein and White Financial LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.  Epstein & White Retirement Income Solutions, LLC is a licensed insurance agency with the state of California Department of Insurance (#0K53785).  As of March 31, 2021, Epstein and White is now a part of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an Investment Adviser with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. The information, suggestions and recommendations included in this material is for informational purposes only and cannot be relied upon for any financial, legal, tax, accounting, or insurance purposes.  Epstein and White Financial is not a certified public accounting firm, and no portion of its services should be construed as legal or accounting advice. Please consult with your own accountant and financial planning professional to determine how tax changes affect your unique financial situation. A copy of Epstein & White Financial LLC’s current written disclosure statement discussing advisory services and fees is available for review upon request or at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

Founder and CEO, Epstein and White Retirement Income Solutions

Bradley White is founder and CEO of Epstein and White. He’s a Certified Financial Planner™ and has a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State University. He’s an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) and an insurance professional.

Source: kiplinger.com

Paying taxes as a freelancer

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Paying taxes as a freelancer can be a bit more involved—and expensive—than paying taxes as a W-2 employee. When you’re a freelancer, you’re the boss. That’s great if you want some flexibility, but it also means you’re self-employed, so you are responsible for both the employer and employee parts of employment taxes.

When you work for someone else, your paycheck amount is your pay minus all appropriate deductions. That includes deductions for federal and state income taxes as well as Medicare and Social Security contributions.

But what you might not realize is that your employer covers part of the Medicare and Social Security amounts. As a self-employed individual, you have to pay the total amount yourself. That’s 12.4 percent for Social Security and 2.9 percent for Medicare—a total of 15.3 percent of your taxable earnings, not including federal and other income taxes.

When Do I Have to Start Paying Taxes as a Freelancer?

According to the Internal Revenue Service, if you earn $400 or more in a year via self-employment or contract work, you must claim the income and pay taxes on it. The threshold is even lower if you earn the money for church work. If you earn more than $108.28 as a church employee and the church employer doesn’t withhold and pay employment taxes, you must do so.

What Tax Forms Should I Know About?

Freelancers report their income to the IRS using a Form 1040, but they may need to include a variety of Schedule attachments, including:

  • Schedule A, which lists itemized deductions
  • Schedule C, which reports profits or losses from their freelancer business
  • Schedule SE, which calculates self-employment tax

These are only some of the forms that might be relevant to a freelancer filing federal taxes. Freelancers must also file a tax form for the state in which they live as well as with any local governments that require income tax payments.

If you’re planning to do your taxes on your own as a freelancer, it might be helpful to invest in DIY tax software. Look for options that cater specifically to home and business or self-employment situations. These software programs typically walk you through a series of questions designed to determine which forms you need to file and help you complete those forms correctly.

Six Tips for Doing Your Taxes as a Freelancer

As a freelancer, chances are you spend a lot of your time attending to clients and getting production work done. You may not have a lot of time for business organization tasks such as accounting. But a proactive approach to paying taxes as a freelancer can help you prepare to do your taxes and pay what can be a surprisingly big bill each year.

Here are six tips for handling taxes as a freelancer.

1. Keep Track of Your Income

Track your income so you know how much you may need to pay in taxes every year. Keeping track of your numbers also helps you understand whether your business is profitable and how you’re doing with income compared to past years.

You can track your income in a number of ways. Apps and software programs such as QuickBooks and Wave let you manage your freelance invoices and track income and expenses. Some also help you generate financial reports that might be helpful come tax time.

Alternatively, you can track your income in an Excel spreadsheet or even a notebook, as long as you’re consistent with writing everything down.

2. Set Money Aside in Advance

It’s tempting to count every dollar that comes in as money you can use. But it’s wiser to set money aside for taxes in advance. Depending on how much you earn as a freelancer, you could owe thousands in federal and state taxes by the end of the year, and if you didn’t plan ahead, you might not have the money to cover the tax bill.

That can lead to tax debt that comes with pretty stiff penalties and interest—and the potential for a tax lien if you can’t pay the bill.

3. Determine Your Business Structure

Make sure you know what your business structure is. Many freelancers operate as sole proprietorships. But you might be able to get a tax break if you operate as an LLC or a corporation. Talk to legal and tax professionals as you set up your business to find out about the pros and cons of each type of organization.

4. Know About Relevant Deductions

As a freelancer, you may be able to take certain federal tax deductions to save yourself some money. Tax deductions reduce how much of your income is considered taxable, which, in turn, reduces how much you owe in taxes. Here are a few common deductions that might be relevant to you as a freelancer.

Home Office

You can take the home office deduction if you’ve set aside a certain area of your home for use by the business. The IRS does have a couple of stipulations.

First, you have to regularly use the space for your business, and it can’t be something you use regularly for other purposes. For example, you can’t claim your dining room as a home office just because you sometimes work from that location.

Second, the home has to be your principal place of business, which means it’s where you do most business activity. You can’t claim the deduction if you normally work outside the home but sometimes answer work emails while you’re in the living room.

Equipment and Supplies

You can also deduct the cost of equipment and supplies that you buy for your business. That includes software purchases and relevant subscriptions, such as if you pay monthly for Microsoft 365 or annually for a domain name.

Make sure you have backup documentation for any business expenses you deduct. That means keeping receipts that show what you purchased so you can prove that the expenses were for business. You also have to be careful to keep business and personal expenses separate—art supplies for your child’s school project, for example, wouldn’t typically be considered valid business expenses.

Travel and Meals

Meals and travel expenses that are related to your business may be tax deductible. If you stay in a hotel, book a flight or incur other travel expenses that are necessary for the running of your business, you can claim them as a deduction. The same is true for 50 percent of the value of meals and beverages that you pay for as a necessity when doing business.

The IRS does set an “ordinary and necessary” rule here. For example, if you’re traveling to meet with a client and you need to eat lunch, that is likely to be considered necessary. But if you opt for a very lavish meal for no other purpose than to do so, it might not be allowed under the “ordinary” part of the rule.

Business Insurance

If you carry liability or similar insurance for your business, you can deduct it as a cost of doing business. You may also be able to deduct the cost of other insurance policies if they are necessary for your trade.

5. Estimate Your Taxes Quarterly

The IRS offers provisions for estimating your employment taxes on a quarterly basis. Self-employed individuals, including freelancers, can make these estimated tax payments, too. Paying as you go means you won’t owe a large sum every April, and if you overestimate, you may get a tax refund.

Quarterly payments are due in April, June, September and January. They can be mailed or made online. Depending on how much you earn, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid a penalty at the end of the year.

6. Consult a Tax Professional

As you can see just from the basic information and tips above, paying taxes as a freelancer can get complicated quickly. Consider talking to a tax professional to understand what all your obligations are and how best to reduce your tax burden using legal deductions. You might be missing a major deduction every year that could save you a lot of money.

And remember that as a freelancer, you’re running your own small business. That means paying attention to all your finances, including your credit report. If you ever want to take out a business loan or seek other funding to grow your business, you might need to rely on your good credit score.

Check your credit score, and if you find inaccurate negative information making an impact on your score, contact Lexington Law to find out how to get help disputing it.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

The Consequences of Gray Divorce

Divorce rates overall are increasing but it is notable that the number of divorces for those over age 65 has tripled in the last 25 years.

The term “gray divorce” was coined by the AARP to describe adults 50 and up who are going through a separation. Rising gray divorce rates can be attributed to several factors: Being divorced is no longer stigmatized as it may have been in the past; people are living longer; family circumstances and relationship dynamics have changed; and people have different in lifestyle expectations.

Divorce is difficult for both parties, but unfortunately, gray divorces often have more difficult outcomes for women rather than men. Regardless of gender, divorce deals a financial blow to both spouses. For those over 50, it can be more difficult to rebuild financially because you don’t have several decades of work ahead. Likewise, if one spouse has been out of the workforce for many years to care for children, he or she may not have the same career progress or earning potential. Additionally, although you likely don’t have custody issues for minor children to consider in a gray divorce, your grown children may get involved and perhaps might even take one side or the other.

If you are going through a divorce at any age, you need to carefully consider the financial issues involved. But if you are experiencing a gray divorce, there are some issues that merit specific attention:

  1. Division of assets. At this stage of life, it is likely that your financial situation is complicated. You should consider consulting a financial adviser, particularly one with specialized divorce certifications, such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® professional, to help you understand how the division of retirement assets works and to help you separate marital assets from non-marital assets.
  2. Social Security. It is very important to know your options for drawing on your Social Security benefits. In many cases, it is more advantageous for one spouse to consider drawing off the higher earning spouse’s benefits, but there are specific requirements to be able to do so.
  3. Health insurance. If you are not yet 65, you will not qualify for Medicare and may have been covered under a spouse’s employer-sponsored health insurance. If that is the case, you need to plan for the gap in years until you qualify for Medicare and understand how COBRA benefits, the cost of individual health coverage and the policy coverage limits apply to your personal health insurance needs. You may also consider whether you need long-term care insurance if you are single, as many married people assume their spouse would handle caregiving if needed.
  4. Estate planning. After a divorce, you need to create an updated estate plan and draw up new documents to replace those that you had in place with your former spouse. It is important to make sure you have updated your beneficiaries and named those that should now have your powers of attorney for financial and health care matters. If you remarry, you will need to review and revise again to be sure your plans reflect your wishes at that time, as well.
  5. Tax considerations. Alimony may be part of a gray divorce settlement, and the tax consequences for both the payor and the payee need to be understood. In general, the receiver of the alimony will owe income tax on the payment and there is no longer a tax deduction for the payor. Additionally, it is important to understand the tax implications of the assets that are being divided in settlement discussions. A home worth $500,000 that has appreciated in value by $100,000 has different tax treatment than an investment account worth $500,000 with a $100,000 capital gain. Again, a qualified financial adviser and tax professional are very helpful in understanding the tax treatment of your proposed asset split and future income tax expectations.

Divorce at any age can be devastating, but having a clear vision of what you want your next chapter in life to look like – along with a trusted financial adviser – will help you avoid mistakes that could lead to financial heartbreak. The good news is, the AARP survey that first identified the gray divorce phenomenon also noted that 76% of people who divorced late in life felt they had made the right choice for a fresh start.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is the parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. Content, research, tools and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) owns the CFP® certification mark, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification mark, and the CFP® certification mark (with plaque design) logo in the United States, which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Managing Director of Client Experience, Mercer Advisors

Kara Duckworth is the Managing Director of Client Experience at Mercer Advisors and also leads the company’s InvestHERs program, focused on providing financial planning to serve the specific needs of women. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®. She is a frequent public speaker on financial planning topics and has been quoted in numerous industry publications.

Source: kiplinger.com

Adoption Tax Credits (Federal & State) – Requirements & Eligibility

The decision to adopt a child is a big one for any prospective parent, and one of the concerns often has to do with costs. Adoption-related expenses can vary widely depending on whether you work with an agency, adopt from foster care, work directly with the birth parents, or adopt internationally.

Fortunately, there are federal and state assistance programs that minimize financial obstacles to adoption.

Federal Adoption Tax Credit and Adoption Assistance Programs

The U.S. Tax Code provides two separate assistance programs for prospective adoptive parents. Both programs help cover qualified adoption expenses, which the IRS defines as:

  • Reasonable and necessary adoption fees
  • Court costs and attorney fees
  • Traveling expenses (including meals and lodging while away from home)
  • Other expenses directly related to the legal adoption of a child

To qualify, you must pay the expense to adopt a child under the age of 18 or someone of any age who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care. Qualified expenses don’t include expenses paid to adopt a stepchild.

Adoption Tax Credit

The federal adoption tax credit is worth up to $14,300 per child for the 2020 tax year.

Parents who adopt a “special needs” child automatically qualify for the maximum credit, regardless of their actual adoption expenses. The IRS’s definition of a special needs adoption might differ from definitions used elsewhere.

The adoption must meet all three of the following criteria to qualify as a special needs adoption:

  1. The child was a citizen or resident of the U.S. or its possessions when the adoption effort began.
  2. The state determined that the child can’t or shouldn’t return to their parent’s home.
  3. The state determined that the child probably wouldn’t be adoptable unless it assists the adoptive family financially.

Based on those criteria, foreign adoptions aren’t considered special needs. Also, U.S. children with disabilities might not be regarded as special needs if the state doesn’t consider them difficult to place for adoption.

Income Limitations

However, the amount of the federal adoption tax credit phases out for high-income taxpayers. It begins to phase out once your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) reaches $214,520 and phases out entirely at $254,520.

The credit phases out proportionally if your income is between $214,520 and $254,520.

So if your income is $234,520 — the midpoint of the phase-out range — the amount of your credit is cut in half. If your income is $224,520 — one-quarter of the phase-out range — the amount of your credit is reduced by 25%.

The income limits apply whether you’re single or married and file a joint tax return with your spouse. The adoption tax credit isn’t available if your filing status is married filing separately.

Refundability

The adoption tax credit is nonrefundable. In other words, if it reduces your tax liability for the year below zero, you won’t receive the excess as a tax refund.

However, you can carry any unused credit forward for up to five years, using it to offset your tax liability in the future.

When You Can Claim the Credit

The rules for claiming the credit depend on whether the adoption is domestic or foreign.

Domestic Adoptions

If you adopt a U.S. child, you can claim adoption expenses for the tax year following the year of payment, even if you never finalize the adoption. However, any costs you used to claim the credit on an unsuccessful adoption will reduce the amount you can claim for a subsequent adoption.

For example, say you started the adoption process in 2018, but the adoption fell through. You used $3,000 of expenses to claim the adoption tax credit on your 2019 return.

In 2020, you made another attempt to adopt, spending $10,000, and successfully finalized the adoption that year. When you claim the adoption credit on your 2020 tax return, you can only claim $7,000 of expenses ($10,000 – $3,000).

Foreign Adoptions

If you adopt a child who isn’t yet a citizen or resident of the U.S. or its possessions, you can only claim the credit in the year the adoption becomes final.

For example, say you start adopting a child from Ukraine in 2019 and spend $5,000 that year. You cannot claim the adoption tax credit in 2019 because you didn’t finalize the adoption.

In 2020, you spent another $8,000 and finalized the adoption. You can use all $13,000 of expenses to calculate the credit on your 2020 tax return.

You can claim the federal adoption tax credit by completing Form 8839 and attaching it to your federal income tax return, Form 1040.

Employer-Provided Adoption Benefits

Some employers reimburse employees for adoption expenses. The IRS offers a tax break for these benefits as well, as long as the adoption assistance program meets the following criteria:

  • The program benefits all eligible employees, not just highly compensated employees.
  • The program doesn’t pay more than 5% of its benefits to shareholders or owners (or their spouses or dependents).
  • The employer must give reasonable notice of the plan to eligible employees.
  • Employees must provide reasonable substantiation (such as receipts or other documentation) to show that the payments or reimbursements are for qualifying expenses.

If the program meets that criteria, then the payments or reimbursements don’t count as taxable income on the employee’s federal income tax return, and the employer doesn’t have to withhold federal income tax from the payment. However, the employer must still withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Adoptive families can take advantage of both the adoption tax credit and the income exclusion. However, you can’t claim the exclusion and the credit on the same expenses, and the maximum dollar limit ($14,300 for 2020) still applies.

For example, say you have $15,000 of qualified adoption expenses in 2020, and your employer’s adoption assistance program reimburses a maximum of $9,000. You can use the remaining $5,300 of expenses to calculate your adoption tax credit on your 2020 tax return.

That’s the $14,300 maximum dollar limit, minus the $9,000 of expenses already reimbursed by your employer. You won’t get any tax benefits for the remaining $700 of expenses ($15,000 – $14,300).


State Adoption Tax Credits

Many states offer tax credits for families who adopt children from the public child welfare system. Here’s a summary of tax credits available in each state as of the 2020 tax year:

State Tax Credit Amount
Alabama Yes Up to $1,000
Alaska No income tax
Arizona No
Arkansas Yes Up to 20% of the federal adoption tax credit claimed
California Yes Up to $2,500
Colorado No
Connecticut No
Delaware No
District of Columbia No
Florida No income tax
Georgia Yes Up to $2,000
Hawaii No
Idaho No
Illinois No
Indiana Yes The lesser of $1,000 or 10% of your claimed federal adoption tax credit
Iowa Yes Up to $5,000
Kansas Yes 25% of the adoption tax credit claimed on your federal tax return (up to $1,500)
Kentucky No
Louisiana No
Maine No
Maryland No
Massachusetts Yes Income exemption for adoption fees paid to a licensed adoption agency
Michigan No
Minnesota No
Mississippi Yes Up to $2,500
Missouri Yes Up to $10,000
Montana Yes Up to $1,000
Nebraska No
Nevada No income tax
New Hampshire No tax on wages
New Jersey No
New Mexico Yes Up to $1,000
New York No
North Carolina No
North Dakota No
Ohio Yes Up to $1,500
Oklahoma Yes Tax deduction for up to $20,000 of expenses
Oregon No
Pennsylvania No
Rhode Island No
South Carolina Yes Tax deduction for up $2,000 of expenses
South Dakota No income tax
Tennessee No tax on wages
Texas No income tax
Utah Yes Up to $1,000
Vermont No
Virginia No
Washington No income tax
West Virginia Yes Up to $4,000
Wisconsin Yes Up to $5,000
Wyoming No income tax

The rules for claiming adoption tax breaks vary by state and can change from year to year, so talk to your tax advisor to make sure you qualify.


Final Word

Adopting a child can strain family finances, but tax credits can help offset the costs.

And once you’ve finalized the adoption, remember you may be able to take advantage of several more tax breaks for parents. This includes claiming your adopted child as a dependent and claiming the child tax credit and the child and dependent care credit.

Source: moneycrashers.com

7 Ways Biden Plans to Tax the Rich (And Maybe Some Not-So-Rich People)

President Biden’s latest economic “Build Back Better” package – the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan – isn’t kind to America’s upper crust. It would provide a host of perks and freebies for low- and middle-income Americans, such as guaranteed family and medical leave, free preschool and community college, limits on child-care costs, extended tax breaks, and more. But to pay for all these goodies, the Biden plan also includes a long list of tax increases for the wealthiest Americans (and, perhaps, some people who aren’t rich).

Whether any of the president’s proposed tax increases ever make it into the tax code remains to be seen. Republicans in Congress will push back hard on the tax increases. And a handful of moderate Democrats will probably join them, too. So, don’t be surprised if a fair number of the plan’s revenue raisers are dropped or amended during the congressional sausage-making process…or even if some new tax boosts are added.

While we don’t know yet which – if any – of the proposed tax increases will survive and be enacted into law, wise taxpayers will start studying the plan now so that they’re prepared for the final results (any changes probably won’t take effect until next year). To get you going in that direction, here’s a list of the 7 ways the American Families Plan could raise taxes on the rich. But even if you’re not particularly wealthy, make sure you read closely to see if you might be caught up in any of the proposed tax hikes, since a few of them could snare some not-so-rich people in addition to the one-percenters.

1 of 7

Increase the Top Income Tax Rate

picture of a calculator with buttons for adding or subtracting taxespicture of a calculator with buttons for adding or subtracting taxes

The 2017 tax reform law signed by former President Trump lowered the highest federal personal income tax rate from 39.6% to 37%. According to the White House, this rate reduction gave a married couple with $2 million of taxable income a tax cut of more than $36,400. President Biden wants to reverse the rate change and bring the top rate back up to 39.6%.

For 2021, the following taxpayers will fall within the current 37% tax bracket:

  • Single filers with taxable income over $523,600;
  • Married couples filing a joint return with taxable income over $628,300;
  • Married couples filing separate returns with taxable income over $314,150; and
  • Head-of-household filers with taxable income over $523,600.

(For the complete 2021 tax brackets, see What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2021 vs. 2020?)

President Biden has said many times that he won’t raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 per year. But there have always been questions and a lack of clarity as to what this exactly means. For instance, does it apply to each individual or to each tax family? We still haven’t received a crystal-clear answer to that question. As a result, we’re not entirely sure if the president wants to adjust the starting point for the top-rate bracket to account for his $400,000 threshold. According to a report from Axios, an unnamed White House official said the 39.6% rate would only apply to single filers with taxable income over $452,700 and joint filers with taxable income exceeding $509,300. That would satisfy the president’s promise for single people, but it’s a bit trickier for married couples filing a joint return.

If the 39.6% rate kicks in on a joint return when taxable income surpasses $509,300, a married couple could end up being taxed at that rate even if both spouses earn well under $400,000 per year. For example, if Spouse A makes $270,000 and Spouse B makes $260,000, their combined income ($530,000) is over the $509,300 threshold. Using the 2021 tax brackets, they wouldn’t even make it into the 37% bracket (they’d be in the 35% bracket). So, each spouse would face a tax increase under the Biden plan, even though neither one of them earn over $400,000 per year.

To be fair, this type of “marriage penalty” exists for the current 37% tax bracket, since the minimum taxable income for joint filers is less than twice the minimum amount for single filers. However, the current brackets weren’t set up with a pledge not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 per year in the background. Perhaps the Biden administration will recognize this and eventually adjust the brackets to fix the marriage penalty issue.

2 of 7

Raise the Capital Gains Tax

picture of computer screen with stock market charts showing market increasespicture of computer screen with stock market charts showing market increases

The American Families Plan also calls for an increase in the capital gains tax rate for people earning $1 million or more.

Currently, gains from the sale of stocks, mutual funds, and other capital assets that are held for at least one year (i.e., long-term capital gains) are taxed at either a 0%, 15%, or 20% rate. The highest rate (20%) is paid by wealthier taxpayers – i.e., single filers with taxable income over $445,850, head-of-household filers with taxable income over $473,750, and married couples filing a joint return with taxable income over $501,600. Gains from the sale of capital assets held for less than one year (i.e., short-term capital gains) are taxed at the ordinary income tax rates.

Under the Biden plan, anyone making more than $1 million per year would have to pay a 39.6% tax on long-term capital gains – which is almost double the current top rate. As noted above, that’s also the proposed top tax rate for ordinary income (e.g., wages). So, in effect, millionaires would completely lose the tax benefits of holding capital assets for more than one year. Plus, there’s the existing 3.8% surtax on net investment income, which would bump the overall tax rate up to 43.4% for people with income exceeding $1 million.

[Note: A summary of the American Families Plan states that application of the 3.8% surtax is “inconsistent across taxpayers due to holes in the law.” It then states that the president’s plan would apply the surtax “consistently to those making over $400,000, ensuring that all high-income Americans pay the same Medicare taxes.” No further details are provided, but this could mean expanding the surtax to cover certain income from the active participation in S corporations and limited partnerships.]

3 of 7

Eliminate Stepped-Up Basis on Inherited Property

picture of a last will and testamentpicture of a last will and testament

There’s another capital gains-related tax increase in the American Families Plan – eliminating the step up in basis allowed for inherited property. Under current law, if you inherit stock, real estate, or some other capital asset, your basis in the property is increased (“stepped up”) to its fair market value on the date that the person who previously owned it died. This increase in basis also means you can immediately sell the inherited property and avoid paying capital gains tax, because there’s technically no gain to tax. Why? Because gain is generally equal to the amount you receive from the sale minus your basis in the property. Assuming you sell the property for fair market value, the sales price will equal your basis…which results in zero gain (e.g., $1,000 – $1,000 = $0).

President Biden wants to change this result. Although details are scarce at this point, the president’s plan would nullify the effects of stepped-up basis for gains of $1 million or more ($2 million or more for a married couple) – perhaps by taxing the property as if it were sold upon death. There would be exceptions to the new rules for property donated to charity and family-owned businesses and farms that the heirs continue to operate. Other yet-to-be-determined exceptions could also be added, such as for property inherited by a spouse or transferred through a trust.

This is one of the tax changes that could impact Americans making less than $400,000 per year – perhaps only indirectly. Anyone, regardless of their own income level, can inherit property. If the heir’s basis is not adjusted upward any longer, that in essence is a tax increase on him or her. If the capital gains tax is levied before the property is transfer, that could mean there’s less to inherit – which could be considered an indirect tax on the person receiving the property. It can be a bit tricky, but there’s certainly the potential for someone inheriting property who makes less than $400,000 per year getting the short end of the stick because of this Biden proposal.

4 of 7

Tax Carried Interest as Ordinary Income

picture of investment fund manager looking at several computer screenspicture of investment fund manager looking at several computer screens

In certain case, an investment fund manager can treat earned income as long-term capital gain. Known as the “carried interest” loophole, this lets the fund manager take advantage of the long-term capital gains tax rates, which are usually lower than the ordinary income tax rates he or she would otherwise have to pay on the income.

The American Families Plan calls for the elimination of the carried interest rules. The Biden administration sees this change as “an important structural change that is necessary to ensure that we have a tax code that treats all workers fairly.”

For a fund manager, this change would result in a potential tax increase on the affected income of up to 19.6%. For example, assuming the income is high enough, he or she could go from a rate of 23.8% (20% capital gain rate + 3.8% surtax on net investment income) to 43.4% (39.6% ordinary tax rate + 3.8% surtax on NII).

One would think that most, if not all, fund managers earn at least $400,000 per year. But if there are any of them out there making less than that amount, then this change could raise taxes on someone making less than Biden’s $400,000 per year threshold. Yeah, it’s not likely…but it’s theoretical possible.

5 of 7

Curtail Like-Kind Exchanges

picture of several office buildings with a for sale sign in front of thempicture of several office buildings with a for sale sign in front of them

If you sell real property used for business or held as an investment and then turn around and buy other business or investment property that is the same type, you’re generally not required to recognize gain or loss for tax purposes under the “like-kind” exchange rules. Properties are of “like-kind” if they’re of the same nature or character. For example, an apartment building would generally be like-kind to another apartment building. This is true even if they differ in grade or quality.

The Biden plan would end this special real estate tax break for gains greater than $500,000. Since there are no income thresholds for the taxpayer, this change could potentially prevent someone making less than $400,000 per year (the $500,000 gain could be offset by other tax deductions, exemptions, or credits). Again, in most cases, wealthier people would be impacted by this change, but it’s possible that someone making less than $400,000 could also end up with a higher tax bill if this proposal became law.

6 of 7

Extend Business Loss Limitation Rule

picture of worried businessman looking at bad financial statementspicture of worried businessman looking at bad financial statements

Under the 2017 tax reform law, individuals operating a trade or business can’t deduct losses exceeding $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) on Schedule C. The excess losses may, however, be carried forward to later tax years. This rule is currently set to expire in 2027 (it was also generally suspended by the CARES Act for the 2018 to 2020 tax years).

President Biden’s American Families Plan calls for this business loss limitation rule to be made permanent. According to the plan summary, 80% of the affected business loss deductions would go to people making over $1 million. But, once again, someone making less than $400,000 could also incur a large business loss that wouldn’t be deductible after 2026 if the Biden proposal is adopted.

7 of 7

Increase Enforcement Activities

picture of yellow road sign saying "IRS Audit Ahead"picture of yellow road sign saying "IRS Audit Ahead"

Biden wants to increase tax enforcement activities aimed at high-income Americans – and give the IRS an extra $80 billion over a 10-year period to do it. While this really isn’t a tax increase, it certainly could result in wealthier Americans pay more in taxes. The idea is to “increase investment in the IRS, while ensuring that the additional resources go toward enforcement against those with the highest incomes, rather than Americans with actual income less than $400,000.” The IRS would also focus resources on large corporations, other businesses, and estates. The audit rate for Americans making less than $400,000 per year wouldn’t increase under the president’s plan.

The American Families Plan summary also states that financial institutions would be required to “report information on account flows so that earnings from investments and business activity are subject to reporting more like wages already are.” The income of wealthier Americans disproportionately comes from investments and small businesses, which are harder for the IRS to verify than other sources of income like wages. As a result, the Treasury Department estimates that up to 55% of taxes owed on some of these less visible income streams goes unpaid. And more of that unpaid tax is owed by people with higher incomes. The proposal would funnel additional information to the IRS about the hard-to-verify income without burdening taxpayers.

All-in-all, the White House claims that the increased tax enforcement efforts would raise $700 billion in revenue over a 10-year period.

Source: kiplinger.com