How To File Your Taxes If You Received Unemployment Benefits In 2020
In 2020, at least 30 million Americans received unemployment benefits during the past year, with many of those recipients receiving benefits for the first time.
As tax season approaches, many of those Americans are facing the prospect of filing their income taxes, which will include their received unemployment benefits. Knowing how to do this correctly will help you avoid a lot of trouble with the IRS. Lets take a look.
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Exceptions To Ei Repayment Requirements
In some cases, you may earn above the threshold and still not be required to repay any of your benefits. Most significantly,if you have not earned any EI income during the 10 previous years, you do not have to repay any of your benefits. For example, if you report EI payments for the 2020 tax year and have not reported EI payments for any of the 10 previous years, you do not have to repay any of your EI payments, regardless of how high your income.
However, if you reported EI payments in any year between 2009 and 2019, as well as 2020, you are required to repay a portion of your benefits if your net income exceeds the threshold.
Tax Treatment Of Unemployment Compensation
Unemployment compensation is taxable. However, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allows an exclusion of unemployment compensation of up to $10,200 for individuals for taxable year 2020. In the case of married individuals filing a joint Form 1040 or 1040-SR, this exclusion is up to $10,200 per spouse. To qualify for this exclusion, your adjusted gross income must be less than $150,000. This threshold applies to all filing statuses and it doesn’t double to $300,000 if you are married and file a joint return. Any unemployment compensation in excess of $10,200 should still be included on the tax return as taxable income.
Why Withholding Makes Senseand How To Do It
You’re not required to have taxes withheld from your unemployment benefits check. But experts say it’s a good idea to go ahead and do so. Taking a hit upfront is better than finding out you owe the IRS at the end of the year. “I know people really need their money, but so there are no surprises at tax time, I would say request to withhold some of the money,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and TurboTax tax expert.
This is especially important if you’ve earned income already for the year or expect to be employed again, because then you’re likely to be in a higher tax bracket and may not qualify for as many credits to offset your earnings.
“Usually unemployment benefits are only a couple hundred bucks a week,” says Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a leading unemployment expert. It might feel easy to rationalize taking the money now and increasing your deductions when you get back to work. But with these generous unemployment benefits, that mindset could be a substantial liability, he says.
How To Prepare For Your Tax Bill
If you didn’t withhold taxes from your unemployment benefits, you may end up with an outstanding bill for 2020.
The U.S. tax system is pay-as-you-go, which means you owe taxes on income as you earn it throughout the year. If you dont pay enough, you could face a tax bill plus a penalty.
First, check whether you owe anything
Add up all of your income from 2020, such as wages, unemployment benefits, and retirement income. If its less than the standard deduction for your filing status, you might not need to file a tax returnand youre not on the hook for paying taxes on unemployment income. For the 2020 tax year, the standard deduction amounts are:
- $12,400 for single filers and married couples filing separately
- $18,650 for heads of household
- $24,800 for married joint filers
What if youre stuck with a tax bill?
If you end up owing the government, you should still file your income tax return by the deadline, which the IRS extended to May 17, 2021. However, your state return may be due as soon as April 15, so keep that in mind. Youre also required to pay your tax bill by the deadlineand if you dont, penalties and interest will start accruing on any unpaid balance after this date.
Next, go over your options. The IRS offers several types of payment plans:
Heres how the IRS calculates interest and penalties
If you cant pay your federal tax bill by the due date and you dont make arrangements with the IRS, here are the penalties and interest you could face:
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How To Prepare For Your 2020 Tax Bill
Contact your unemployment office immediately if you do owe tax on your unemployment benefits and are concerned about being able to pay. You can start having income tax withheld from your payments if you havent already done so and if youre still collecting.
If youre still collecting unemployment benefits, see if you can opt in to having federal and state taxes withheld, Capelli said.
It probably wont solve your whole problem with the 10% withholding cap in place, but it will somewhat defray the impact of those benefits being included in your income. Ask for Form W-4V, fill it out, and file it with your unemployment office.
State Vs Federal Taxation
Youll get even more relief if you live in a state that doesnt tax unemployment benefits. Otherwise, youll owe tax on your benefits to both the IRS and your state government.
As of 2020, the states that dont tax unemployment benefits are:
New Hampshire has an income tax, but only on investment income, so youll pay less tax if you live in that state, too. And two more statesIndiana and Wisconsinmay tax only a portion of your benefits, Capelli said, but he warned that some cities and counties have local income taxes that will apply to unemployment compensation as well.
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Finding Out If You Have To Pay Taxes On Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment remains high and is still in the double digits in some states, but many Americans are filing taxes while unemployed for the first time. Tax laws are governed by the state of the economy, and the government makes amendments from time to time mainly with a view to giving relief to tax payers. But does the government assist those who are unemployed?
Even if you have been unemployed for more than a year you still need to file a federal income tax return. It is important to remember that all unemployment compensation is taxable. In addition, because you may be in a lower income bracket than when you were working, you may qualify for more deductions or different types of credits than you have in the past. Also, keep in mind that certain job search expenses can be deductible for some taxpayers.
If You Cant Pay Your Taxes On Time
If you do end up owing the government money and cant pay your taxes on time, the IRS offers several payment plan options that can help you.
But be aware that not paying the full amount you owe by the filing deadline will mean youll pay interest and possibly penalties on the unpaid amount even if you arrange a payment plan with the IRS.
Irs: Unemployment Compensation Is Taxable Have Tax Withheld Now And Avoid A Tax
IR-2020-185, August 18, 2020
WASHINGTON With millions of Americans now receiving taxable unemployment compensation, many of them for the first time, the Internal Revenue Service today reminded people receiving unemployment compensation that they can have tax withheld from their benefits now to help avoid owing taxes on this income when they file their federal income tax return next year.
Withholding is voluntary. Federal law allows any recipient to choose to have a flat 10% withheld from their benefits to cover part or all of their tax liability. To do that, fill out Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and give it to the agency paying the benefits. Don’t send it to the IRS. If the payor has its own withholding request form, use it instead.
If a recipient doesn’t choose withholding, or if withholding is not enough, they can make quarterly estimated tax payments instead. The payment for the first two quarters of 2020 was due on July 15. Third and fourth quarter payments are due on September 15, 2020, and January 15, 2021, respectively. For more information, including some helpful worksheets, see Form 1040-ES and Publication 505, available on IRS.gov.
Its Never Been More Important To Estimate Your Taxes
Becoming unemployed changes almost everything about your tax situation your total income, your withholding, and all the tax calculations based on those numbers.
You may qualify for tax benefits for which you made too much money when you were working. You may need to have more or less income tax withheld.
Instead of guessing, be sure to use TaxAct to estimate your tax liability for the year as closely as possible.
When your finances change, hopefully for the better, estimate them again. Money is usually tight when people are unemployed.
Its the worst possible time to have too much income tax withheld, reducing your monthly income, or too little so you fall behind on your tax liability.
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You May Need To Adjust Your Spouses Income Tax Withholding
One way you can increase your current after-tax income, if you and your spouse were both working, is to have your spouse adjust his or her income tax withholding.
If your spouses withholding is based on the assumption you both earned an income, he or she is almost certainly having too much withheld for your current circumstances.
The working spouse should file a new Form W-4 with his or her employer to adjust the amount of income tax withheld.
Earned Income Tax Credit
The earned income tax credit, or EITC, is a federal income tax credit for working people with low to moderate income. If you earned money through wages or self-employment work before losing your job, you might qualify for this credit in the tax year in which you had eligible income.
But unemployment benefits dont count as earned income for the purpose of the EITC, so if you didnt have any earned income in the tax year, you wont be able to claim this credit. Eligibility also depends on other factors, including your filing status, the number of qualifying children you can claim, and the amount of your earned income.
The credit is refundable, meaning that, in addition to reducing the amount you owe, it could give you a refund over the amount of tax you paid in.
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How Do You Claim Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment benefits are offered at the state level. You’ll need to contact your state’s unemployment insurance program and follow its instructions for applying. In general, you’ll need to complete an application that explains your situation and details where you worked, how long you worked there, how much you made, and why you’re no longer employed. Your state’s unemployment program will review your application and approve it, request additional information or an interview, or deny it. You can appeal if your claim is denied.
Taxes Deductions And Tax Forms For Unemployment Benefits
Youre responsible for paying federal and state income taxes on the unemployment benefits you receive. The Department of Unemployment Assistance does not automatically withhold taxes, but you may request that taxes be withheld from your weekly benefits when you file your claim.
Your weekly benefits may also be reduced if you have a child support order or if you receive an overpayment on your weekly benefit.
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How Much Should You Withhold From Unemployment Benefits
Individuals receiving unemployment benefits should include the benefits as part of their gross income. The taxes owed on benefits are due when individuals file their next income tax return. Most people who receive unemployment benefits are in a difficult financial position and need money to survive. However, not accounting for taxes on unemployment benefits could lead to more financial struggles and a large tax payment later.
Many experts recommend that individuals submit a request for federal and state tax authorities to withhold taxes on unemployment benefits. Individuals can file a Form W-4V, which is also called a Voluntary Withholding Request. A federal tax rate of 10 percent can be withheld from each payment of unemployment benefits. The advantage of paying taxes upfront is that you avoid paying a big lump-sum amount at the end.
Another option is to make estimated tax payments quarterly on unemployment benefits. You can calculate the amount you owe or get an estimate from an accountant. However, you will have to pay a penalty if your estimate was lower than what you actually owe. In contrast, you will receive a tax refund if you paid more than what you owe. Form 1099-G, which is also called Certain Government Payments, reflects total unemployment benefits and the tax withheld on the benefits.
Wait Unemployment Is Taxable
In most years, yes. The federal government considers unemployment benefits to be taxable income, although taxes are not automatically withheld from benefits payments, the way an employer might take taxes out of your paycheck. Instead, unemployment recipients must request that taxes be withheld from their benefits, and the withholding is limited to 10%.
This led to confusion and angst for the unprecedented number of workers who received jobless benefits for part of 2020 and filed their taxes for the year only to find their typical refund reduced or in some cases to be told they owe money.
Michigan resident Bridget Harwood was furloughed from her medical assistant job for three months last year when many businesses in her city closed. The unemployment benefits she received during that time also resulted in a smaller tax refund this year. Instead of the roughly $1,500 refund she typically receives, she got just $72 back.
“It was definitely a shock,” Harwood said.
It was even worse for Harwood’s eldest daughter, who worked at a fast-food restaurant before the pandemic pushed her into unemployment. Harwood filled out her daughter’s tax return and found that she owed $1,000 in federal and state taxes. When Harwood explained the situation to her daughter who had been expecting a refund to put toward a new car she “started to cry,” Harwood said.
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Making Estimated Tax Payments
You might be required to make payments directly to the IRS as quarterly estimated tax payments if you elect not to have taxes withheld from your unemployment benefits. This works out to a payment once every three months. You can elect to do this instead of having 10% withheld from every unemployment check, giving yourself a little bit of wiggle room when money is tight.
You might even have to make quarterly payments in addition to withholding from your benefits. You’re obligated to make estimated payments if you expect that you’ll owe at least $1,000 after accounting for all taxes withheld from all your sources of income, and if you expect that your withheld taxes plus any refundable tax credits you’re eligible for will be less than 90% of what you’ll owe, or 100% of the total taxes you paid last year.
You might want to consult with a tax professional because the whole equation can be complicated. You could accrue additional penalties if you don’t pay enough tax, either through withholding or estimated tax payments.
Will States Waive Taxes Too
Some states are expected to change their tax law to follow the federal guidance. States such as Alabama, California, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia already exempt unemployment benefits from taxation. Other states that usually tax unemployment may decide not to do so this year.
ExtendPUA.org is pushing for all states to follow the federal government’s lead and exempt unemployment benefits from taxation, Freed said.
“I’m a New Yorker and I still have a significant tax bill from state and local taxes,” she said. “A lot of states follow federal guidance so they will include that forgiveness, but there’s about 12 that don’t. New York is one of them and it has some of the highest taxes in the country.”
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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.
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