The majority of American taxpayers typically receive a refund from their federal tax returns, and in 2019 those refunds could increase by 26 percent, which is higher than previous years.
The jump in expected refunds is most likely a result of the recent tax overhaul that cut personal income tax rates so that workers can keep more of their income. Theoretically, such a change in taxes should prompt American workers to adjust their withholding rates accordingly through a Form W-4 with their employer. However, research shows that roughly 75 percent of tax payers, who historically over withhold from their paychecks anyway, only partially adjust those rates when new tax laws are introduced, or they don’t adjust them at all. This means that even more taxes are withheld from their paychecks than necessary, which results in a heftier refund.
The prospect of a bigger tax refund is enticing, and tax refunds are typically used to boost savings, pay down debt, and pay for vacations. But for those Americans who fall within the 75 percent of workers living paycheck to paycheck with little to no money in savings, over withholding is probably not the best move.
If Americans withhold more than necessary from their paychecks, they have less funds to apply to everyday expenses, financial goals, and life emergencies that pop up. If you are someone who might be over withholding and could benefit from an increase in your paycheck rather than waiting to see that money in your tax refund, see about submitting a new Form W-4 with your employer.
When you accept a new job with a new company, you need to decide what to do with the money in your 401(k) plan. Here are your options.
1. Leave the money in your former employer’s 401(k) plan
While this is typically an option, and your funds will continue to grow tax-deferred, it may not be the best option. For starters, once you move to your new place of employment, you’re no longer able to contribute to it. Another possible deterrent is the fact that your former employer could switch 401(k) providers or get bought out by a different company. Both scenarios would potentially leave you in the dark in regards to your account number or login information. However, if your new employer requires employees to work a certain length of time at the company before permitting them to partake in the 401(k) plan, leaving your 401(k) funds with your former employer temporarily might be a good game plan.
2. Roll your 401(k) to your new employer’s plan
If your new employer allows rollovers, you can have your 401(k) funds directly transferred to your new employer’s plan. This is called a “trustee-to-trustee” transfer: assets from one trustee or custodian of a retirement savings plan are transferred to the trustee or custodian of another retirement savings plan. By having your 401(k) funds directly transferred following federal rollover rules, you’ll avoid having federal income tax withheld, and your money will be easier to manage in one account. You can also have the funds transferred to a new or existing IRA.
3. Transfer your plan via an indirect rollover
Another possible alternative is to roll the funds over to another employer-sponsored retirement plan by having your 401(k) distribution check made out to you, and then depositing the funds to a new retirement savings plan. However, this particular move will require that 20 percent of the taxable portion of your distribution is withheld for federal income taxes. And if you wait beyond 60 days to redeposit the funds, the full amount of your distribution will be taxable.
Whichever way you choose to move forward with your 401(k) plan, you should be aware of rollover fees. Typically the fee is only a minimal one-time fee, but it’s worth checking in with your 401(k) provider to discuss this as well as any other questions you might have.
Although it might be difficult to imagine not claiming a tax refund, the IRS has estimated that nearly 1 million Americans have not claimed tax refunds from the 2014 tax year (filed in 2015), refunds that total over $1 billion. The IRS is also reminding taxpayers that they have until this year’s official tax day (April 17) to file those returns and receive their refund. The average refund owed from the 2014 tax year is $847 and taxpayers have three years from when they are supposed to file to claim a refund. After that time, the funds are considered property of the U.S. Treasury.
If you are owed a refund, there is no penalty for filing late, however, you must also have filed (or currently file) for your 2015 and 2016 returns. Refunds from 2014 will first be applied toward any money owed to the IRS or a state tax agency, and can also be used toward past due federal debts such as unpaid child support or student loans. Failing to file a return for 2014 could cost some taxpayers more than just an $850 refund; low or moderate income workers could be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which was worth as much as $6,143 in 2014.
So why did so many Americans fail to claim their refunds?
- As mentioned, many taxpayers fail to apply for the EITC. To qualify, your income must have been below $46,997 (or below $52,427 if married filing jointly) and you claimed three or more qualifying children; $43,756 for those with two qualifying children ($49,186 married filing jointly); $38,511 for taxpayers with one qualifying child ($43,941 married filing jointly); and $14,590 for people with no qualifying children ($20,020 married filing jointly).
- If you make under a certain amount annually, you do not have to file taxes. In 2014, single Americans over the age of 65 who earned less than $11,500, singles under 65 who earned $10,000 or less, or those married filing jointly who made less than $20,000 did not have to file. However, even though they did not have to file does not mean taxes were not taken out of their paychecks, which means those taxpayers could be owed a refund. Those who made estimated tax payments that year could also have overpaid in taxes, earning them a refund.
- Many students or their parents fail to claim the American Opportunity Education Credit, which allows education-related expenses such as course books, room and board, tuition and other education supplies and equipment to be deducted. In 2014, the credit maxed out at $2,500.
- Some individuals move and do not update their addresses correctly, which means refund checks and sent back to the IRS and left unclaimed. Other individuals simply forget.
How can I claim my money?
If you did not file for the 2014 tax year, and you think you may be owed a refund, the IRS suggests that you find applicable tax documents such as your W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 tax years. If you are unable to find these forms or get them from your employer, act quickly and request a wage and income transcript from the IRS on their website or by phone at 800-908-9946, as transcripts can take between 5-10 days to be received in the mail.
For some employees, simply opening a Roth IRA or another retirement account independent of your employer may be sufficient and necessary. But many employees should consider digging into the details of why your employer does not offer a retirement savings plan. And if you think your company is one of the few who doesn’t offer one, unfortunately, nearly half of U.S. companies don’t provide their employees with a 401(k).
When it comes to smaller firms, many avoid the offering simply due to high start-up costs and time commitments, as administering the plan and ensuring it meets regulatory requirements can take serious time and attention. Retirement offerings also present significant liabilities for firms, including civil or criminal penalties for plan administrators if legal and regulatory compliance is not met. According to the Census Bureau, the combination of fees, time and risk may be why over 90% of small businesses do not offer a 401(k). Others may simply not be aware their employees desire a plan.
Like your company, but want help saving for retirement?
If you would like to see your company add a 401(k) plan, the first step is talking to other employees to determine the collective interest in a plan and how many individuals would “buy in” if offered one. Your employer may not be persuaded by one employee’s desire for a plan, but a group request will likely garner more weight. Remind your employer they would also reap benefits from a business standpoint (lowering taxes) and a personal standpoint (their own retirement savings).
Step two involves doing your homework. Is your boss concerned about the risks involved? There are plans whose providers will share legal responsibilities, so research plans and present several options to your supervisor. Is time or added work/stress the issue? Talk amongst your co-workers and determine a strategy for divvying up duties so one person isn’t burdened with added responsibilities. Supportive plan providers can also help companies create a structured strategy to manage the extra work
Overcoming hurdles to a company 401(k)
What if cost is my employer’s biggest concern? Plan start-up fees can sound daunting to small firms, but consider the company’s spending and ways those costs could be mitigated or offset, such as through tax savings or by redistributing the holiday party budget to cover expenses. Inform your employer that many employees might prefer or expect a 401(k) over a holiday party, so using those funds could attract and retain quality employees.
Being prepared and showing your boss that the added time and effort is advantageous will go a long way. Offering a 401(k) can grow their business, supplement their goals and maintain and engage new employees, which is critical in today’s job market. Taking the time to research beforehand and help whoever is in charge throughout the process may seem like the last item you want to add to your plate, but the benefits are twofold for you as well. Not only will you be able to start saving for retirement in a tax-advantaged way, but your employer may also notice your strategic drive, organization and initiative, which could benefit you as new company opportunities or initiatives arise.
Millennials and Roth IRA’s: Why the Two Make a Perfect Pair
As of December 20, 2017, the new tax laws were officially signed into law, ushering in a variety of cuts and changes for individuals and businesses alike. While there has been much talk around how the new laws will impact individual taxpayers and families of all income levels, it is also vital to consider how small businesses, startups and corporations will be affected.
Individual taxpayers will see a decrease in their income tax rate, a reduction of itemized deductions, a doubling of the standard deduction, and changes to elder care, child and business taxes. The Alternative Minimum Tax will remain for individuals and corporations alike, but the affected income bracket has been raised: $70,300 for single filers and $109,400 for joint filers.
So the question remains, will businesses stand to reap tax benefits for the new code? Undoubtedly. The real unknown is what businesses will do with the benefits they may reap.
What tax deductions can businesses expect then? A main provision of the plan is the lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% in 2018, as well as lowering the income tax at almost every level for now. Corporations will be able to deduct state and local taxes, and estate tax exemptions will double, assisting the 1% who pay estate taxes while providing roughly 17 billion in taxes. For small business owners, they will be able to deduct the cost of depreciable assets in a single year rather than amortizing them over several years, which will hopefully stimulate investment and growth.
Under our current tax system, multinational taxpayers are taxed on any income earned overseas when those profits are brought back to the United States. But, the new system will not tax foreign profit. The intent here is to motivate those business owners to bring that money back overseas, reinvesting it in the US economy rather than allowing it sit overseas and aid another nation’s economy.
The new code is operating under a supply-side economics theory, which strives to invigorate economic growth across the nation for both consumers and businesses. The objective is to provide various tax deductions, placing more money in consumer’s wallets and ideally stimulate spending. The combination of lower taxes and a swell in spending on products and services is designed to allow employers to strengthen their workforce and create more jobs.
If business owners do reap benefits from the changes, any increased income or an improvement in sales should be viewed as an opportunity to develop, diversify and enhance their businesses, which would support the greater American economy and our nation.
In the midst of identity scams and credit card hacking, the IRS has warned against another scam, this time targeted at businesses and employers. There is a growing W-2 email scam threatening sensitive tax information and the IRS wants to alert payroll and human resources officials so they can be on their guard.
A simple email beginning with a casual greeting has quickly become one of the most dangerous phishing attacks. Hundreds of employers fell victim to the scheme last year, which left thousands of employees vulnerable to tax-related identity theft.
Since there have been significant improvements made in curbing stolen identity refund fraud, criminals are now seeking more advanced personal information in order to fraudulently file a return. W-2’s contain a wealth of detailed taxpayer income and withholding information, which is exactly what frauds are searching for and why they are targeting employers to acquire such information.
The scam has only grown larger in recent years, attacking a variety of businesses, from public universities and hospitals to charities and small businesses. The IRS wants to educate employees and employers, particularly payroll and HR associates who are often targeted first, to hopefully limit the number of successful attacks.
The scammer will likely spoof the email of someone high up in the organization or business, sending an email to someone with W-2 access using a subject line similar to “review” or “request.” The “request” will likely be a list of all the employees and their W-2 forms, potentially even specifying the file format. Since the employee believes they are corresponding with an executive of some sort, they may send the information without question, meaning weeks could go by before it is even evident they have been scammed. This gives frauds plenty of time to file numerous fake returns.
Because this scam poses such a major tax threat at both the local and state level, the IRS has set up a specific reporting process to alert the proper individuals, which is outlined briefly below:
- Email email@example.com to notify the IRS of a W-2 data loss and provide contact information. Type “W2 Data Loss” into the subject line so that the email can be routed properly and do not attach any employee personally identifiable information.
- Email the Federation of Tax Administrators at StateAlert@taxadmin.org to get state specific information on reporting victim information.
- Businesses or payroll service providers should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov). They may be asked to file a report with local law enforcement as well.
- Notify employees so they are able to take protective steps against identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission website, www.identitytheft.gov, provides guidance on steps employees should take.
- Forward the scam email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond just educating employees, payroll officials and HR associates about the scam, employers are encouraged to set up policies or practices to avoid being hacked. Suggested policies include requiring verbal communication before sending sensitive information digitally, or requiring two or more individuals to receive and review any sensitive W-2 information before it can be sent out. The IRS is fighting diligently to protect taxpayers and lower the number of tax-related scams, so employers are encouraged to be on the defense as well and safeguard their own tax paying employees.