How to Claim Social Security Survivor Benefits

The Social Security Administration sends survivor benefits to about 6 million Americans every month, directed to widows, widowers, and children who have experienced the loss of someone who has paid into the social security program. Read on to find out who is eligible to receive survivor benefits and how to collect them.

Who is Eligible to Receive Survivor Benefits?

If you were married to your spouse for at least nine months before their death, you are eligible for social security survivor benefits. (The one exception to this length-of-marriage stipulation is if you are caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 years old). Children of the deceased who are under 18 years old may also receive survivor benefits, as can disabled children under the age of 22. Finally, parents, stepparents, or adoptive parents who are at least age 62 and were dependent upon the deceased could potentially qualify for survivor benefits.

When Can You Begin Social Security Survivor Benefits?

Surviving spouses can begin collecting survivor benefits as early as age 60, but this will result in only about 70% of the amount the survivor could get if they wait until their survivor full retirement age, which is 66 for people born between 1945-1956 and gradually increases to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later. There are some exceptions to this as well: if you are disabled, you may begin collecting survivor benefits at age 50; any surviving spouse can collect a one-time death benefit payment of $255 at any age; and as noted above, survivors who are caring for a child of the deceased who is under age 16 can collect at any age.

How to Claim Social Security Widow and Widower Benefits

First, the death needs to be reported, which is a task that most funeral homes include as part of their service as long as the social security number of the deceased is provided. Documents needed to apply for Social Security survivor benefits include:

  • Proof of death for the deceased in the form of a death certificate
  • Social Security number of the deceased
  • Social Security numbers of the survivor and any dependent children
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your marriage certificate
  • Most current W-2 forms of the deceased
  • Bank information for direct deposit

Once everything is submitted, you’ll be notified of your eligibility to receive survivor benefits.

How Much Will You Receive?

The amount you receive is determined by the deceased’s earnings and whether or not the deceased was collecting benefits (either full or reduced) at the time of death. The basic breakdown looks like this:

  • For couples who hadn’t started receiving benefits: it’s recommended for the highest earner of the two to wait until age 70 to begin Social Security benefits. This generates a larger monthly benefit amount that becomes the survivor benefit if and when the first spouse passes away.
  • If both spouses had already started claiming: the higher benefit amount becomes the survivor benefit while the lesser of the two benefit amounts will stop.
  • If the deceased spouse had already begun benefits, but the survivor had not:

The surviving spouse will need to decide when they will claim survivor benefits in a way that is likely to give them more lifetime income.

In addition to whether or not either spouse was already receiving Social Security benefits at the time of death, the actual dollar amount a survivor receives will depend on how much money the deceased spouse paid into Social Security over their lifetime.

What to Do If You Owe Taxes to the IRS

What happens when you file your taxes and discover that you owe money to the IRS? What are your options? What about when the amount owed is greater than you can afford at the moment? Luckily, there are several options for both scenarios.

Before we get into the different options for making payments to the IRS, remember that your payment has to be received by the IRS no later than the April 15th tax deadline, or be prepared for IRS-issued tax penalties and interest. This deadline applies to those who filed for a tax extension as well.

Below are the different payment options available to pay the IRS.

Automatic Withdraw

If you have the funds available when you file, you can have them automatically withdrawn from your bank account when you e-file and choose the e-pay option. This is available whether you use tax preparation software or an accounting professional to do your taxes.

Direct Pay

The IRS has a “Direct Pay” service through its website, where you can pay from your checking or savings account at no cost. In order to track your payment, use the “Look Up a Payment” tool on the website or enable email notifications.

Credit or Debit

The IRS provides three third-party payment processors on its website through which you can pay your balance using a credit or debit card either online or by phone. They do charge a small service fee, which may be tax-deductible, and your credit card company may charge a fee as well.

Check or Money Order

Make checks payable to the United States Treasury and include your social security number or employer identification number, phone number, related tax form or notice number, and the tax year in the memo field. Send your check with a Form 1040-V, which is a payment voucher found on the IRS website, but don’t paperclip or staple your check to the voucher. You’ll find the correct mailing address for your check on page two of Form 1040-V.

Pay in Person

If you want to be absolutely sure that your payment is getting to the IRS on time, you can pay in person at your local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center, which can be located on the IRS website. You will need to schedule an appointment before you go.

Wire Service

Check with your bank to see if they offer same-day wire transfer payable to the IRS. Be sure to ask about cut-off times and fees for this service.

What if you don’t have the full amount now? Luckily, the IRS offers two installment plans – a short-term plan and a long-term plan – which you can apply for online with the Installment Agreement Request (Form 9465). Which plan you qualify for depends on how much you owe and your specific tax situation. There is an application fee, and once approved the IRS can void the agreement if you don’t stay on schedule with payments.

Another option is to request a temporary delay from the IRS. You might have to fill out a Collection Information Statement and provide transparent information on your personal finances, and penalties and interest will factor in until the amount is paid in full.

Finally, you can offer to settle for a smaller amount than what’s owed, but the IRS encourages taxpayers to consider all other options before submitting an offer to settle. If you decide to go this route, you will need to be current on your tax filings and not involved in an open bankruptcy proceeding. To determine if you qualify, the IRS will take into account your income, expenses, ability to pay, and asset equity.

Essential Money Moves to Make Before the Year’s End

The end of 2018 is quickly approaching, but there are a few key money moves you should make before the new year, especially in light of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The higher standard deduction means more Americans will ditch itemizing their 2018 federal tax returns.

That means you should probably focus on year-end tax strategies that first lower taxable income, rather than maximize tax deductions. Here are a few key items to tackle before the ball drops on the new year.

Take Stock of Losses

If you follow the stock market, you know that the last few months have been volatile, so there’s a good chance that some of your investments have become losses. That might sound bad, but any losses that are in a taxable account, such as an investment account, bank account, or money market mutual fund, can be sold to offset other taxable investment gains in the same year. Furthermore, if your losses exceed your gains, you can apply up to $3,000 to offset ordinary taxable income from this year.

Max Out Retirement Savings

As close as possible, that is. The more money you put into your 401(k), the more financial security you’ll have in the long run, but a lot of these contributions also reduce your taxable income. At this point you probably only have one or two more paychecks from which to have funds withheld, but even a few hundred dollars more can provide some near-term tax relief as well as bolster your retirement savings.

Fund Your HSA

You have until the 2018 tax-filing deadline to fully fund your health saving account (HSA) in order to get a bigger deduction. The maximum limits are:

  • Individuals: $3,450
  • Families: $6,900
  • 55 or older: an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution

These accounts can roll over indefinitely, so they’re a smart way to save for future medical expenses. HSAs also have a triple tax benefit: contributions are tax-deductible (even if you don’t itemize), earned interest is tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they’re used to pay for qualified medical expenses.

Use Up Your FSA

The funds in a flexible spending account typically don’t roll over to the next calendar year. However, some employers allow $500 to carry over into the new year or grant employees until March to spend FSA funds. Even so, now is a good time to use the pretax dollars for doctor appointments, flu shots, and even some “everyday” drugstore items, such as non-prescription reading glasses, contact lenses and solutions, and reading glasses.

Maximize Deductions

If you’re wondering whether you should itemize your 2018 tax returns or take the standard deduction, here are a few last things to keep in mind:

  • Medical treatment: If you spend more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income this year on medical expenses, you can deduct those costs.
  • Property taxes: If you paid less than the $10,000 limit for state and local taxes, your state may allow you to prepay 2019 property taxes. This way you’ll get the most from the state and local taxes deduction.
  • Mortgage Interest: Provided you’re not near the cap on the mortgage interest deduction, which is $750,000 after the new tax law, you can make your January mortgage payment in December to boost the amount of interest you paid during the 2018 tax year.
  • Charitable donations: If you routinely give to charities, double up on contributions and make your 2019 donation before year’s end. If you put the double donation into a donor advised fund, which is like a charitable investment account, you’re eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. That means you can take the deduction for 2018 while your funds are invested for tax-free growth, allowing you to make distributions to charity next year or beyond.

This is How Retirement Contribution Limits Are Changing for 2019

The Treasury Department has announced retirement plan contribution limits, which are adjusted annually, for 2019. Because inflation has gone up a bit recently, contribution limits are also going up, which means you can save more money next year.

The maximum pre-tax contribution limit for an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is increasing to $6,000 in 2019 after a six-year stall at $5,500. An extra $500 may not seem like a big deal, but the investment will compound over time, making the increase especially valuable for younger workers. For example, an investment of $500 annually will amount to an extra $100,000 in retirement savings over 35 years.

Employees who participate in a 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan can expect an increase from $18,500 in 2018 to $19,000 in 2019. That limit will also apply to 403(b), the Federal Government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), and most 457 plans. As a result of this change, workers can defer paying income tax on approximately $42 more per month.

For those 50 years old and over, catch-up contribution limits remain the same for 2019: $6,000 for workplace plans and $1,000 for IRAs. All of this combined means that savers over 50 have the potential to stash away $32,000 in 2019.

The maximum amount of annual compensation that can be taken into account when determining employer and employee contributions is increasing in 2019 from $275,000 to $280,000. However, highly compensated employees may face additional limits on contributions. Earning more than $120,000 in 2018 may qualify you as highly compensated for 2019 contribution limits, and earning more than $125,000 in 2019 may qualify you as highly compensated for 2020 contribution limits.

If you have any questions or would like to review your retirement plan contribution amounts together, please give me a call at 317.549.3091 or email me to schedule an appointment.

How to Determine if Your Taxes Will Increase for the 2019 Tax-Filing Season

President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December of last year, but the income tax credits, deductions, and individual tax rates aren’t applicable until the 2019 tax-filing season. Various factors, such as your tax bracket, can influence whether your taxes will increase under the new tax code. Below are some indicators that could signal an increase on your tax bill.

Do You Have a Large Family?

The new tax code eliminated personal and dependent exemption deductions, which was estimated to have been $4,150 each in 2018 under previous law. However, standard deductions were nearly doubled. For 2018-2025 the deductions are as follows:

  • $12,000 for single (previously $6,350)
  • $24,000 for joint-filing marries couples (previously $12,700)
  • $18,000 for heads of households (previously $9,350)

The elimination of dependent exemptions hurts some families and benefits others. Large families, who don’t benefit from increased standard deductions, will be hit the hardest.

Are You an Average Taxpayer?

If you have a conventional job, file a W-2, and don’t own a lot of property or foreign investments, your taxes won’t likely increase. Instead, you should see a modest decrease as a result of lower tax rates, increased standard deduction, and an increased child tax credit. Despite this, however, there are thousands of potential tax situations that could affect the average taxpayer differently (i.e. a wealthier couple with children who itemize state and local taxes would be limited to a $10,000 deduction under the new law – a loss of $20,000 in deductions – and would likely have higher taxes under the new tax code).

Are You Withholding Enough from Your Paycheck?

The IRS changed the tax withholding tables back in February. The tables are calculated by how much income you earn and the number of allowances you claim. If you aren’t withholding enough from your paycheck, you could end up owing taxes. Check the tax withholding tables on IRS.gov to determine how much income tax should be withheld from your paycheck.

Do You Have Older Children?

The new tax code increases the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child under the age of 17. Taxpayers with children over 17 only receive a $500 tax credit.

Do You Have High Property Taxes?

Under prior law you could claim an itemized deduction for an unlimited amount of personal state and local income and property taxes. So, a big property tax bill could be completely deducted if you itemized. However, under the new tax code, itemized deductions for personal state and local property taxes and personal state and local income taxes are capped at $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separate status).

Even considering the above factors, with the myriad of potential tax circumstances and the complexity of the changes implemented by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it’s difficult to predict how your taxes will be affected until you run the numbers.

If you have any questions about how to plan for your 2018 tax return, please feel free to contact me at jmiller@mkrcpas.com.