During the current economic downturn, many people may be having difficult times financially. There can be a tax impact to events such as job loss, debt forgiveness or tapping into a retirement fund. Here are some “What if” scenarios and the possible tax impact:
The loss of a job may create new tax issues. Severance pay and unemployment compensation are taxable. Payments for any accumulated vacation or sick time also are taxable. You should ensure that enough taxes are withheld from these payments or make estimated tax payments to avoid a big bill at tax time. Public assistance and food stamps are not taxable. The IRS has updated a helpful publication which lists a number of job-loss related tax issues.
Unemployment compensation you received under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a state must be included in your income. It is taxable income. If you received unemployment compensation, you should receive Form 1099-G showing the amount you were paid and any federal income tax you elected to have withheld. For more information, see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.
There are many tax credits that are subject to income limitations. If you had a reduction in income this year you may be eligible for some credits or deductions. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit is available for working families and individuals. Eligibility is determined by income and family size. You must file an income tax return in order to claim EITC.
You may be able to deduct certain expenses you incur while looking for a new job, even if you do not get a new job. Expenses may include travel, resume and outplacement agency fees. Moving costs for a new job at least 50 miles away from your home may also be deductible.
Your employer must provide you with a Form W-2 showing your wages and withholdings for the year by Jan. 31 of the following year. For example, if you were employed during 2010, your employer should provide you with a W-2 for 2010 by Jan. 31, 2011. You should keep up-to-date records or pay stubs until you receive your Form W-2. If your employer or its representatives fails to provide you with a Form W-2, contact the IRS and we can help by providing you with a substitute Form W-2. If your employer is liquidating your 401(k) plan, you have 60 days to roll it over to another qualified retirement plan or IRA.
If your business is no longer operating, you still are responsible for filing all required tax returns for your business by the due dates. In addition, if you had employees, you must file all required employment tax returns, including Forms 940, 941, 943 or 944. Both business and employment taxes should be paid when due.
Generally, early withdrawal from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) prior to age 59½ is subject to being included in gross income plus a 10 percent additional tax penalty. There are exceptions to the 10 percent penalty, such as using IRA funds to pay your medical insurance premium after a job loss.
Generally, you cannot claim a capital gains loss on your retirement accounts that already are receiving favorable tax treatment. The only time you would have a loss is when you receive a distribution that had previously been taxed.
Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, taxpayers generally can exclude income from the discharge of debt on their principal residence or mortgage restructuring. This exception does not apply to second homes or vacation homes. In some cases, you may be able to file an amended tax return for previous tax years.
Losses from the sale of personal–use property, such as your home or car, are not deductible. It is not eligible for the capital gains loss of up to $3,000 annually.
The tax impact of debt forgiveness or cancellation depends on your individual facts and circumstances. Generally, if you borrow money from a commercial lender and the lender later cancels or forgives the debt, you may have to include the cancelled amount in income for tax purposes. The lender is usually required to report the amount of the canceled debt to you and the IRS on a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt. There are several exceptions to the taxability of cancelled debt, such as insolvency or bankruptcy.
A taxpayer is insolvent when his or her total liabilities exceed his or her total assets. The forgiven debt may be excluded as income under the “insolvency” exclusion. Normally, a taxpayer is not required to include forgiven debts in income to the extent that the taxpayer is insolvent. The forgiven debt may also qualify for exclusion if the debt was discharged in a Title
11 bankruptcy proceeding or if the debt is qualified farm indebtedness or qualified real property business indebtedness.
Debts discharged through bankruptcy are not considered taxable income. If you are an individual debtor who files for bankruptcy under chapter 7 or 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, a separate “estate” is created consisting of property that belonged to you before the filing date. This bankruptcy estate is a new taxable entity, completely separate from you as an individual taxpayer. Please note, however, that some tax debts are not dischargeable in a bankruptcy action.