IRS offers new COVID-19 flexibility for employee healthcare benefits – Lexington Law

A family plays with their dog.

Disclosure regarding Lexington Law’s editorial content.

As COVID-19 swept the globe and the country, it put stress on all types of supply chains and industries. It has also put stress on the financial and health situations of many Americans.

If you’re looking back to whenever your last healthcare benefits enrollment period was and grimacing at the choices you made, you’re in luck—you might have the chance to change them. In addition to extending the tax deadline for 2020, the IRS has issued a rule modification in light of the pandemic that might allow you to change your elections mid-year instead of waiting for the next open enrollment period.

Find out more about these changes and what they might mean
for you here.

Key Points

  • You may be able to switch to a different healthcare
    plan if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to drop employer-sponsored
    coverage if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to change contributions to a
    flexible spending account (FSA) if your employer allows it.
  • Employers may voluntarily extend the grace
    period for using 2019 FSA funds.

A Potential Mid-Year Open-Enrollment Period

The IRS rule change allows mid-year enrollment in a
different plan that your employer offers. This means employees may be able to
make new elections to better use their income and protect themselves against healthcare
expenses.

However, employers are being given the choice of whether
they want to offer these options. The answers to the questions below all depend
on whether your employer elects to allow changes.

Can I drop my healthcare insurance altogether?

Yes, you can elect to end healthcare insurance coverage through your employer. The caveat is that you must replace that coverage with a qualifying plan through the health insurance marketplace, a spouse’s benefits or another option.

Can I switch healthcare plans?

If the employer allows it, yes, you can switch healthcare
plans outside of the normal open enrollment. This is true even for people who
have not had a qualifying event such as a job loss or a change in marital
status.

Can I get health insurance if I didn’t have it before?

Yes, if your employer allows an open enrollment period mid-year, you can elect benefits even if you previously declined them. This allows more people to get insurance that they may now want or need in light of the pandemic.

If I change plans, will I lose what I’ve paid toward my out-of-pocket deductible?

It’s probable that changing plans will reset all
benefits-related counters. That includes deductibles and out-of-pocket
expenses. If you’re considering making a change, weigh how much you’ve already
contributed toward your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. In some cases, it
might be more financially beneficial to stick with the plan you have if you’re
close to or have already met your maximum.

Changes to FSAs

The IRS also provides a rule change that addresses flexible spending accounts. Again, these changes are dependent upon the employer choosing to participate.

If the employer does choose to participate, employees can make mid-year changes to their FSA elections. For example, you might have elected not to fund an FSA or to fund it very minimally. But in light of the health crisis, you may now want to put more money into your account to cover medical expenses. You may be able to do so.

Alternatively, perhaps your spouse lost his or her job due to COVID-19, and you’d previously elected to fund your FSA with a large amount. You might now need that money to pay for non-FSA-approved expenses. You may be able to elect to reduce your contributions.

Changes to Dependent Care Assistance Programs

The same rule change applies to section 125 cafeteria
plans used to help cover the cost of childcare programs. If your employer
allows it, you can elect to increase or decrease the contributions you’re
making to these programs.

For example, you might have previously elected to contribute enough money to pay for your children’s daycare expenses. This allows you to pay those costs with pretax dollars.

However, during the pandemic, your daycare might have closed, leaving your kids at home with you. Those contributed dollars are going nowhere and you risk losing them. If your employer allows it, you can change your contribution to stop adding money into your cafeteria plan. You can then use those funds to cover expenses related to your children being home.

Healthcare Coverage for COVID-19

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act instituted some exemptions to help ensure high-deductible plans and other insurance plans covered more services related to COVID-19. For example, the plan includes a specific exemption for telehealth services to help allow insurance providers to cover necessary telehealth treatments and appointments.

The IRS rule change allows those exemptions to be applied
retroactively up to January 1, 2020. That means if you sought telehealth or
other COVID-19-related care in the past months, you may be able to have those
claims adjudicated by your insurance plan at this time.

Reach Out to Your Employer’s Benefits Office

Understanding benefits and how they can impact your entire financial life can be difficult. Start by reaching out to your employer’s HR or benefits office to understand whether they’re going to offer the option for mid-year elections and whether they can provide information about how the options work.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

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

IRS offers new COVID-19 flexibility for employee healthcare benefits

A family plays with their dog.

Disclosure regarding Lexington Law’s editorial content.

As COVID-19 swept the globe and the country, it put stress on all types of supply chains and industries. It has also put stress on the financial and health situations of many Americans.

If you’re looking back to whenever your last healthcare benefits enrollment period was and grimacing at the choices you made, you’re in luck—you might have the chance to change them. In addition to extending the tax deadline for 2020, the IRS has issued a rule modification in light of the pandemic that might allow you to change your elections mid-year instead of waiting for the next open enrollment period.

Find out more about these changes and what they might mean
for you here.

Key Points

  • You may be able to switch to a different healthcare
    plan if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to drop employer-sponsored
    coverage if your employer allows it.
  • You may be able to change contributions to a
    flexible spending account (FSA) if your employer allows it.
  • Employers may voluntarily extend the grace
    period for using 2019 FSA funds.

A Potential Mid-Year Open-Enrollment Period

The IRS rule change allows mid-year enrollment in a
different plan that your employer offers. This means employees may be able to
make new elections to better use their income and protect themselves against healthcare
expenses.

However, employers are being given the choice of whether
they want to offer these options. The answers to the questions below all depend
on whether your employer elects to allow changes.

Can I drop my healthcare insurance altogether?

Yes, you can elect to end healthcare insurance coverage through your employer. The caveat is that you must replace that coverage with a qualifying plan through the health insurance marketplace, a spouse’s benefits or another option.

Can I switch healthcare plans?

If the employer allows it, yes, you can switch healthcare
plans outside of the normal open enrollment. This is true even for people who
have not had a qualifying event such as a job loss or a change in marital
status.

Can I get health insurance if I didn’t have it before?

Yes, if your employer allows an open enrollment period mid-year, you can elect benefits even if you previously declined them. This allows more people to get insurance that they may now want or need in light of the pandemic.

If I change plans, will I lose what I’ve paid toward my out-of-pocket deductible?

It’s probable that changing plans will reset all
benefits-related counters. That includes deductibles and out-of-pocket
expenses. If you’re considering making a change, weigh how much you’ve already
contributed toward your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. In some cases, it
might be more financially beneficial to stick with the plan you have if you’re
close to or have already met your maximum.

Changes to FSAs

The IRS also provides a rule change that addresses flexible spending accounts. Again, these changes are dependent upon the employer choosing to participate.

If the employer does choose to participate, employees can make mid-year changes to their FSA elections. For example, you might have elected not to fund an FSA or to fund it very minimally. But in light of the health crisis, you may now want to put more money into your account to cover medical expenses. You may be able to do so.

Alternatively, perhaps your spouse lost his or her job due to COVID-19, and you’d previously elected to fund your FSA with a large amount. You might now need that money to pay for non-FSA-approved expenses. You may be able to elect to reduce your contributions.

Changes to Dependent Care Assistance Programs

The same rule change applies to section 125 cafeteria
plans used to help cover the cost of childcare programs. If your employer
allows it, you can elect to increase or decrease the contributions you’re
making to these programs.

For example, you might have previously elected to contribute enough money to pay for your children’s daycare expenses. This allows you to pay those costs with pretax dollars.

However, during the pandemic, your daycare might have closed, leaving your kids at home with you. Those contributed dollars are going nowhere and you risk losing them. If your employer allows it, you can change your contribution to stop adding money into your cafeteria plan. You can then use those funds to cover expenses related to your children being home.

Healthcare Coverage for COVID-19

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act instituted some exemptions to help ensure high-deductible plans and other insurance plans covered more services related to COVID-19. For example, the plan includes a specific exemption for telehealth services to help allow insurance providers to cover necessary telehealth treatments and appointments.

The IRS rule change allows those exemptions to be applied
retroactively up to January 1, 2020. That means if you sought telehealth or
other COVID-19-related care in the past months, you may be able to have those
claims adjudicated by your insurance plan at this time.

Reach Out to Your Employer’s Benefits Office

Understanding benefits and how they can impact your entire financial life can be difficult. Start by reaching out to your employer’s HR or benefits office to understand whether they’re going to offer the option for mid-year elections and whether they can provide information about how the options work.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

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

How to Get Free Meals for Kids While School’s Out

A little boy recieves food in a bag from a bus driver.

A student picks up food in Fayette, Miss. With the school year ending soon, there are federal programs to help keep kids fed through the summer. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo

Millions of families struggle with food insecurity every summer when school is out. Income loss due to the pandemic has only exasperated the situation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not have enough to eat.

If you’re worried about how to put food on your family’s table, help is out there.

How to Get Free Meals for Kids This Summer: 3 Federal Programs

The American Rescue Plan — the coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021 — provided funding to expand several USDA programs aimed to reduce child hunger.

1. Pandemic EBT

Families with children eligible for free or reduced lunch and those who qualify for SNAP benefits can receive extra money for food via the Pandemic EBT program, which is being extended through the summer to make up for missed school meals.

The USDA standard benefit amount is $375 per eligible child over the course of the summer. Those living in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands have a higher standard benefit.

You’ll need to enroll in the Pandemic EBT program through your individual state, as funds are disbursed at the state level. Currently, 40 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have been approved to operate Pandemic EBT programs.

Money is generally distributed in two or three disbursements throughout the summer.

2. USDA Summer Meals

All families with children 18 and under can participate in the USDA’s summer meal programs, which partners with local agencies including libraries, community centers, parks, churches and schools to distribute meals.

Program rules have been loosened so that meals can be distributed in bulk packages to cover multiple days and so parents can pick up the food without having their children present.

This interactive map helps you find local meal distribution sites. You can also locate a nearby site by texting “Summer Meals” to 97779 or calling 1-866-348-6479.

3. USDA National Hunger Hotline

The USDA National Hunger Hotline can help families seeking food assistance. Call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. E.T. to reach the hotline. If you need assistance in Spanish, call 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273).

Free Meals Next School Year

Even after summer comes to an end, families will still be able to get a financial break when it comes to feeding their kids.The USDA is extending its National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option so that students can receive universal free lunch throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Waivers will also be given to provide free meals for kids in daycare and preschool programs.

If students are still learning virtually, you’ll be able to pick up meals for children to eat at home. Check with your child’s school or child care provider to see if they are participating in this program.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Micro Wedding Is Sign of the Times

Micro weddings have become ultrachic in the time of coronavirus. These smaller weddings allow you and your future spouse to exchange your vows, enter into a legal relationship and get access to each other’s health insurance all while living through these socially-distanced times.

What Are Micro Weddings?

A micro wedding is generally a wedding with less than 50 guests. In the before times, micro weddings were often a cost-cutting measure as the most effective way to cut your budget is to cut your guest list.

When you cut your guest list, you’re cutting down on the amount of space you’ll need at the venue. Simultaneously, you’re cutting down on the costs of food, alcohol and favors.

During the time of Coronavirus, micro weddings are helpful to your health as well as your wallet. You may even want or be required to cut your guest list further than the normal standard of 50 guests.

Planning a Micro Wedding

When you’re planning a micro wedding the first thing you’ll want to start with is your guest list. You may only want your closest friends and family there for your big day. Or, in this time of pandemic, you may only want it to be the two of you and the officiant. In some states, you can even eliminate the officiant via a self-uniting marriage.

Whether you have a handful of guests or just the couple at your micro wedding, venues and vendors across the wedding industry have many ways to help you share your big day while saving money.

Get Creative with the Venue

Because you have a smaller guest list, your venue doesn’t need to be nearly as large. Your favorite art gallery might be renting out space, or you might be able to book a private room at your favorite restaurant. If a venue had a minimum guest count prior to 2020, those minimums have likely been reduced or eliminated altogether.

If you are absolutely set on having a larger wedding despite the pandemic, you could book your local park or another outdoor venue to make the event safer. Be sure to remind your guests that they still need to wear masks and observe the 6-foot rule even though the event will be taking place outside.

Newly weds get married as hot air balloons are released all around them on top of a mountain.
Getty Images

Destination Weddings

You may have a bit of pent up wanderlust, dreaming of a destination wedding. Destination weddings are usually micro weddings. Because you or your guests will have to pay for extra expenses like hotel rooms and travel costs, the number of people who can attend usually becomes inherently smaller.

There are certainly some Caribbean destinations that are allowing Americans to visit during the pandemic, and some of the resorts are offering great deals. But despite more and more Americans getting vaccinated, many people are still avoiding air travel. Be prepared for some guests to decline your invitation if air travel is involved.

Instead of air travel, you can either commit to a long road trip through locales where the infection rate is low, or pick a venue within convenient driving distance. Traveling in your car with other members of your bubble is a far safer way to get from point A to point B.

Remember that even if you’re fully vaccinated, there is still potential for you to spread the virus to your guests, your hosts and anyone else you may come into contact with. The more the virus spreads, the more likely it is to harm the unvaccinated, even if those unvaccinated people aren’t in your immediate circle.

Allowing the virus to spread like this also provides it with increased opportunities to mutate into vaccine-resistant variants, which could force us all into lockdown again until boosters for new strains are available.

Invest in Quality Videography

Maybe you never dreamt of having a micro wedding. You might even be upset that you can’t have a huge party with your family and friends.

One way to help soften the blow of having a micro wedding during the pandemic is to share your big day with quality videography. You can either livestream your ceremony or hire a videographer to document the celebration.

Because business has been slower and videography has new importance during the pandemic, some venues and videographers are offering discounts on these services.

Curbside Tastings

The mere fact that you’re feeding less people at your micro wedding means you can spend less on your wedding cake and any catering your micro wedding may require.

During the pandemic, some bakeries, restaurants and caterers are offering curbside tastings to ensure everyone’s safety.

Drive-By Wedding Visits

Maybe in normal times, your sister would have been your matron of honor, but she has a disabled child who is high-risk. Even though you are both vaccinated, her child is not. She can’t risk exposing herself to even asymptomatic cases of the virus as she could unknowingly pass them on to her child.

You still want her to be a part of your big day. If she lives within driving distance, you could schedule a drive-by visit prior to the micro wedding ceremony. Either she and hers could drive by your place, where you’d be on display in your gown or tux, or you could drive by her place, stepping just outside the car to show her how good you look while keeping a masked distance of well over six feet.

It’s not the same. It’s still incredibly sad that she can’t be there, and you might even want to consider postponing your wedding until she can attend. But if the show must go on, these drive-by visits can still provide you both with a special memory from your special day.

Include Remote Readings

If you’re having a Zoom micro wedding, even those who cannot attend can participate in your ceremony. In the case of your sister, she may perform a reading or conduct a prayer through the screen. You can customize your ceremony any way you see fit, using your creativity and the power of the internet to make your micro wedding all that much bigger.

Micro Wedding Ideas for a Smaller Guest List

When planning a micro wedding, you may find that you have a bit of a budget surplus because of these cut costs. Both the budget surplus and the fact that you’ll have far fewer guests at your wedding allow you to get creative and a little more personal with the finer details of micro wedding planning.

Hand sanitizer and face masks are set out for guests to use during a wedding reception.
Getty Images

Wedding Favors

The following are a few favor ideas you might consider for your micro wedding, depending on your budget and your wedding’s theme. The dollar signs are meant to show you the relative expense but the exact dollar amount of each is based on your own budget.

  • Masks. ($-$$) Masks can be custom-printed with names and wedding date, nodding to the extraordinary times we’re all living in while giving your guests a functional gift they’ll be able to use in their day-to-day lives. You may even want to make these favors available to guests upon arrival rather than at the end of the celebration. That way if anyone forgot to bring their mask, they’ll literally be covered.
  • Hand sanitizer. ($) You can find plenty of beautiful yet affordable options for custom-printed hand sanitizer right now. Instead of the “Germ-X” label, your label will include your names, the wedding date and perhaps some adorable quote about love. This is another good favor to make available to your guests upon arrival.
  • Fauci-approved smooches. ($) Want to DIY your micro wedding favors? One cute idea is to get a glass jar, fill it with Hershey Kisses, and affix a label that reads “Social Distance Kisses.”
  • Flip flops. ($-$$) If you plan on driving to the beach for your destination wedding, flip flops can make a great wedding favor. If guests forget about the sand and wear fancy shoes to your celebration, they’ll appreciate the option to switch to beach-friendly attire upon arrival. Because your guest count is small, you can ask each guest for their shoe size beforehand so everyone is accurately accounted for. You can also go the extra mile and order custom flip flops with your names and wedding date printed on them.
  • Custom luggage tags. ($$$) This option is a little more expensive, but if you find yourself with extra padding in your wedding budget you may decide they’re worth it. Luggage tags can serve as a token of hope that life will go back to normal soon and we won’t have to stress as heavily should we have to get on a plane and traipse through the airport.

Guest Book

Similarly, because micro weddings have so few people in attendance, you can use creative ideas for a non-traditional guest book. Your guest book can then be integrated in your day-to-day married life.

Here are some ideas that can be customized to any micro wedding budget:

  • Picture frame. ($-$$$) When you get your wedding pictures back from the photographer, there’s likely to be one photo that just blows you away. Before the wedding, purchase a frame where you can display that much-anticipated picture. Buy a frame with a removable mat. Then, you can have your guests sign the mat in lieu of a guestbook on your wedding day. Their well-wishes can be displayed in your home alongside your favorite wedding photo.
  • Ornaments. ($-$$$) Have you ever known someone who has a tradition of picking up a Christmas ornament on every vacation? Their tree then reminds them of all the journeys they’ve enjoyed. You can do a similar thing for your wedding day — especially if you have a small guest list. Instead of a guestbook, provide ornaments and paint pens coordinated with your wedding colors. Each guest will sign one. Every year, you can display your wedding-day memories on your tree, remembering those who were there with you.
  • Tiles or stepping stones. ($-$$$) Are you and your soon-to-be spouse remodeling? Or doing some landscaping work? If so, you can integrate your wedding day into your design plans. For instance, if you’re doing interior repairs and plan to lay tile, you can put out some tiles at your micro wedding in lieu of a guest book. Each guest would then sign one, and you could integrate your guest book into your home. If you’re doing outside work, you could have each guest sign a wet stepping stone, even adding their handprint if they want to. You can then integrate these stepping stones into your garden.

Stationary

Things are a lot more hopeful right now with somewhat improved vaccine distribution, but there are still so many unknowns. As you plan your micro wedding during uncertain times, you might want to familiarize yourself with some Corona-era additions to the wedding stationary world:

  • Change-the-date announcements. Change-the-date cards are now incredibly common for wedding postponements. Just like wedding invitations, these cards range from cute and witty all the way to incredibly formal. You can look for a template that matches the tone of your wedding day.
  • Virtual wedding invitations. Maybe you’re doing your part by giving the virus as few opportunities to mutate as possible. That’s why you’re doing a Zoom micro wedding with just the two of you plus your officiant. Paper invitations to your wedding are still a beautiful touch, but the most convenient way to invite your guests to livestream the event is through a virtual invitation. With virtual invitations, your guests will have access to a clickable link where they can participate in your ceremony live.
  • Elopement announcements. Whether you elope or simply choose not to announce to anyone but your micro wedding guests that you’re getting married, after-the-fact wedding announcements are a good way to include family and friends. Prior to the pandemic, these were commonly used for elopements, so you can find plenty of templates online even if they predate 2020. But you can also find pandemic-specific announcements whether you eloped or did, indeed, plan and have a few guests. Ideally, this announcement will contain a link to a wedding website where friends and family can view either pictures or video of your celebration after the fact.

It can be hard to break it to family or friends that they are either not invited or are uninvited to your wedding. But you are not the only one going through this situation. The silver lining is that because so many couples have faced the same circumstances, there are plenty of templates online and professionals who have worded the same sentiment for numerous clients. You don’t have to stress about the wording on your own.

Brynne Conroy is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. She blogs at Femme Frugality.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

3 Easy Ways to Get Free Meals for Kids While School’s Out

A little boy recieves food in a bag from a bus driver.

A Jefferson County School District student receives several bags with meals, Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in Fayette, Miss. As one of the most food insecure counties in the United States, many families and their children come to depend on the free meals as the only means of daily sustenance. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo

Millions of families struggle with food insecurity every summer when school is out. Income loss due to the pandemic has only exasperated the situation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not have enough to eat.

If you’re worried about how to put food on your family’s table, help is out there.

How to Get Free Meals for Kids This Summer: 3 Federal Programs

The American Rescue Plan — the coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021 — provided funding to expand several USDA programs aimed to reduce child hunger.

1. Pandemic EBT

Families with children eligible for free or reduced lunch and those who qualify for SNAP benefits can receive extra money for food via the Pandemic EBT program, which is being extended through the summer to make up for missed school meals.

The USDA standard benefit amount is $375 per eligible child over the course of the summer. Those living in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands have a higher standard benefit.

You’ll need to enroll in the Pandemic EBT program through your individual state, as funds are disbursed at the state level. Currently, 40 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have been approved to operate Pandemic EBT programs.

Money is generally distributed in two or three disbursements throughout the summer.

2. USDA Summer Meals

All families with children 18 and under can participate in the USDA’s summer meal programs, which partners with local agencies including libraries, community centers, parks, churches and schools to distribute meals.

Program rules have been loosened so that meals can be distributed in bulk packages to cover multiple days and so parents can pick up the food without having their children present.

This interactive map helps you find local meal distribution sites. You can also locate a nearby site by texting “Summer Meals” to 97779 or calling 1-866-348-6479.

3. USDA National Hunger Hotline

The USDA National Hunger Hotline can help families seeking food assistance. Call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. E.T. to reach the hotline. If you need assistance in Spanish, call 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273).

Free Meals Next School Year

Even after summer comes to an end, families will still be able to get a financial break when it comes to feeding their kids.The USDA is extending its National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option so that students can receive universal free lunch throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Waivers will also be given to provide free meals for kids in daycare and preschool programs.

If students are still learning virtually, you’ll be able to pick up meals for children to eat at home. Check with your child’s school or child care provider to see if they are participating in this program.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.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

10 States with the Highest Gas Taxes

Road trips are fun until you have to stop and get gas. Fortunately for drivers, the federal government’s gas tax hasn’t budged from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. However, states and the District of Columbia levy their own gas taxes. 

And thanks to the pandemic, folks have been using their cars a lot more since public transportation and flying are viewed as hot-spots for COVID-19. But if you’re traveling cross-country, filling up in certain states can cost you more than others. Here are the 10 states with the highest gas taxes, including a look at how the states do on other big tax metrics, such as sales tax. (A reminder, though: U.S. gas taxes are still among the world’s lowest.)

Gas and diesel prices are from the American Petroleum Institute. Sales taxes are from the Tax Foundation and, when listed as “average,” represent a population-weighted value meant to capture local option taxes. Tobacco and vapor taxes are from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as well as individual state tax websites.

1 of 10

Indiana

picture of man at gas pumppicture of man at gas pump

State Fuel Tax: 42.16¢  per gallon of gasoline, 52¢ per gallon of diesel

State Sales Tax: 7% state levy. No local taxes.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes: $1 per pack
  • Snuff: $0.40 per ounce
  • Other tobacco products: 24% of wholesale price
  • Vapor products: Starting July 1, 2022, 15% of gross retail income

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

2 of 10

Florida

picture of man at gas pumppicture of man at gas pump

State Fuel Tax: 42.46¢ per gallon of gasoline, 35.27¢ per gallon of diesel (both gasoline and diesel taxes will increase by 0.3¢ per gallon in 2021)

Average Sales Tax: 6% state levy. Localities can add as much as 2.5%, and the average combined rate is 7.08%, according to the Tax Foundation.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes: $1.34 a pack
  • Cigars: no tax
  • All other tobacco products: 85% of the wholesale price

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

3 of 10

New York

picture of cars at gas pumppicture of cars at gas pump

State Fuel Tax: 42.7¢ per gallon of gasoline, 43.43¢ per gallon of diesel

Average 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.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes and little cigars: $4.35 per pack (in New York City, an extra $1.50 per pack)
  • Snuff: $2 per container one ounce or less, $2 per ounce for larger containers
  • Cigars and other tobacco products: 75% of the wholesale price
  • Vapor products: 20% of retail price

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

4 of 10

Hawaii

picture of gas stationpicture of gas station

State Fuel Tax: 46.84¢ per gallon of gasoline, 49.55¢ per gallon of diesel

Average Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 0.5%, but the average combined rate is only 4.44%, according to the Tax Foundation.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes and little cigars: $3.20 per pack
  • Large cigars: 50% of the wholesale price
  • Other tobacco products: 70% of the wholesale price

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

5 of 10

Washington

picture of gas stationpicture of gas station

State Fuel Tax: 49.4¢ per gallon of gasoline, 49.4¢ per gallon of diesel

Average 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.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes and little cigars: $3.03 per pack
  • Cigars: 95% of sale price, with a cap of $0.75 per cigar
  • Moist snuff: $2.53 per 1.2-ounce container
  • Other tobacco products: 95% of sale price
  • Vapor products: Closed products, $0.27 per ml. Open containers greater than 5 ml, $0.09 per ml

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

6 of 10

Nevada

Las Vegas sign at night with via of stripLas Vegas sign at night with via of strip

State Fuel Tax: 50.48¢ per gallon of gasoline, 28.56¢ per gallon of diesel

State Sales Tax: 6.85% state levy. Localities can add as much as 1.53%, and the average combined rate is 8.23%, according to the Tax Foundation.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes: $1.80 per pack
  • Other tobacco products: 30% of wholesale price
  • Vapor products: 30% of wholesale price

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

7 of 10

New Jersey

picture of gas stationpicture of gas station

State Fuel Tax: 50.7¢ per gallon of gasoline, 57.7¢ per gallon of diesel

State Sales Tax: 6.625% state levy. That rate is cut in half (3.3125%) for in-person sales in designated Urban Enterprise Zones located in disadvantaged areas. Salem County, which borders no-tax Delaware, also charges the reduced 3.3125% rate.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes: $2.70 per pack
  • Moist snuff: $0.75 per ounce
  • Other tobacco products: 30% of the wholesale price
  • Vapor products: $0.10 per ml for closed containers. Bulk nicotine liquid is taxed at 10% of retail price.

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

8 of 10

Illinois

picture of gas stationpicture of gas station

State Fuel Tax: 52.16¢ per gallon of gasoline, 59.98¢ per gallon of diesel

Average 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.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes and little cigars: $2.98 per pack, Cook County has an additional tax of $3. Three localities, all in Cook County, add to that. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a pack purchased in Chicago has the highest total tax in the country: $7.16.
  • Snuff: $0.30 per ounce
  • Other tobacco products: 36% of the wholesale price
  • Vapor products: 15% of wholesale price; localities have additional taxes

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

9 of 10

Pennsylvania

picture of gas stationpicture of gas station

State Fuel Tax: 58.7¢ per gallon of gasoline, 75.2¢ per gallon of diesel

Average Sales Tax: 6% state levy. Philadelphia has a local sales tax of an additional 2%, and Allegheny County (Pittsburgh’s home county) adds a local sales tax of 1%, and the combined rate is 6.34%, according to the Tax Foundation.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes and little cigars: $2.60 per pack. The City of Philadelphia levies an additional $2 local tax per pack of cigarettes
  • Other tobacco products: 55 cents per ounce. Additional taxes due in Philadelphia.
  • Vapor products: 40% of wholesale price

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

10 of 10

California

picture of car at gas stationpicture of car at gas station

State Fuel Tax: 63.05¢ per gallon of gasoline (63.65¢ effective July 1, 2021), 83.06¢ per gallon of diesel (83.46¢ effective July 1, 2021)

Average 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.

Tobacco Taxes:

  • Cigarettes: $2.87 per pack
  • All other tobacco products: 56.93% of manufacturer’s price
  • Vapor products: $0.05 per ml of consumable product

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

Source: kiplinger.com