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Tea & Tax Talk

2020 Last-Minute Year-End Tax Strategies for Marriage, Kids, and Family

On the 10th day of Christmas, the IRS gave to me, tax benefits for changes in my family?! Sounds weird, I know, but it’s true. If you are thinking of getting married (or divorced) before December 31st, there may be some last minute tax planning strategies that you can take advantage of.

Perhaps relationship changes aren’t on your list of 2020 changes. Do you (or did you) give money to family or friends (other than your children, who are subject to the kiddie tax)? If so, the zero-taxes planning strategy may be for you.

And last but certainly not least, consider your children who are under age 18. Have you paid them for work they’ve done for your business? If so, have you paid them the a tax advantageous way?

Here are five strategies to consider as we near the end of 2020.

1. Put Your Children on Your Payroll

If you have a child under the age of 18 and you operate your business as a Schedule C, sole proprietor or as a spousal partnership, you absolutely need to consider having that child on your payroll. Why?

First, neither you nor your child would pay payroll taxes on the child’s income.

Second, with a traditional IRA, the child can avoid all federal income taxes on up to $18,400 in income (this assumes up to $12,400 of wages and IRS contributions of $6,000 for 2020).

If you operate your business as a corporation, you can still benefit by employing the child even though both your corporation and your child suffer payroll taxes.

Things to Note: You still need to abide with state labor laws (so if your state law requires that minors are at least 14yrs old before working, and can only work 20hrs per week, then you need to operate within those guidelines). Your child must also actually be performing work (and able to work). Has your 16yr old already been helping with filing, following up with clients and other administrative tasks? Then this is a great opportunity to pay them wages that are commensurate with their job description (versus tossing random amounts of cash their way). Is your 2yr old capable of typing memos? Absolutely not, and this won’t pass the sniff test, so we certainly wouldn’t recommend that.

2. Get Divorced after December 31

The marriage rule works like this: you are considered married for the entire year if you are married on December 31.

Although lawmakers have made many changes to eliminate the differences between married and single taxpayers, in most cases the joint return will work to your advantage.

Warning on alimony! The Tax Cuts & Job Act (TCJA) changed the tax treatment of alimony payments under divorce and separate maintenance agreements executed after December 31, 2018:

  • Under the old rules, the payor deducts alimony payments and the recipient includes the payments in income.

  • Under the new rules, which apply to all agreements executed after December 31, 2018, the payor gets no tax deduction and the recipient does not recognize income.

3. Stay Single to Increase Mortgage Deductions

Two single people can deduct more mortgage interest than a married couple. If you own a home with someone other than a spouse, and you bought it on or before December 15, 2017, you individually can deduct mortgage interest on up to $1 million of a qualifying mortgage.

For example, if you and your unmarried partner live together and own the home together, the mortgage ceiling on deductions for the two of you is $2 million. If you get married, the ceiling drops to $1 million.

If you bought your house after December 15, 2017, then the reduced $750,000 mortgage limit from the TCJA applies. In that case, for two single people, the maximum deduction for mortgage interest is based on a ceiling of $1.5 million.

4. Get Married on or before December 31

Remember, if you are married on December 31, you are married for the entire year. If you are thinking of getting married in 2021, you might want to rethink that plan for the same reasons that apply in a divorce (as described above). The IRS could make big savings available to you if you get married on or before December 31, 2020.

You have to run the numbers on your tax return both ways to know the tax benefits and detriments for your particular case. But a quick trip to the courthouse may save you thousands.

5. Make Use of the 0 Percent Tax Bracket

In the old days, you used this strategy with your college student. Today, this strategy does not work with the college student, because the kiddie tax now applies to students up to age 24.

But this strategy is a good one, so ask yourself this question: Do I give money to my parents or other loved ones to make their lives more comfortable?

If the answer is yes, is your loved one in the 0 percent capital gains tax bracket? The 0 percent capital gains tax bracket applies to a single person with less than $40,000 in taxable income and to a married couple with less than $80,000 in taxable income.

If the parent or other loved one is in the 0 percent capital gains tax bracket, you can get extra bang for your buck by giving this person appreciated stock rather than cash.

Example. You give your aunt shares of stock with a fair market value of $20,000, for which you paid $2,000. Your aunt sells the stock and pays zero capital gains taxes. She now has $20,000 in after-tax cash to spend, which should take care of things for a while.

Had you sold the stock, you would have paid taxes of $4,284 in your tax bracket (23.8 percent times the $18,000 gain).

Of course, $5,000 of the $20,000 you gifted goes against your $11.4 million estate tax exemption if you are single. But if you’re married and you made the gift together, you each have a $15,000 gift-tax exclusion, for a total of $30,000, and you have no gift-tax concerns other than the requirement to file a gift-tax return that shows you split the gift.


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