The Child Tax Credit as we know it originated during the Clinton administration, but the recently enacted American Rescue Plan created a new version. The updated version of this tax credit could have a beneficial impact on Americans struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic. There are changes to many aspects of the credit, so let’s look at each one below.
Monthly Payments Versus Once-a-Year Credit
First, the new version of the Child Tax Credit applies only to the year 2021. If a family qualifies, the credits are $3,600 for each child under age 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17.
The major difference is not the limits, but that in 2021 half of the credit will be paid on a monthly basis in the second half of the year. From July through December, the credit will be paid out at a rate of $300 for each child under age 6 and $250 for each child ages 6 to 17. In prior years, the tax credit was available only when filing an annual tax return. The other half of the credit in 2021 will be reconciled on 2021 income tax returns.
Income Limits and Phase-Outs
Similar to the stimulus checks, the tax credit is based on adjusted gross income. To receive 100 percent of the credit, the AGI limits are $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for heads of household and $150,000 for those married filing jointly.
The phase-outs start once a taxpayer exceeds these AGI thresholds. Every $1,000 in AGI over the limit reduces the credit by $50 (per dependent child). For example, if a couple filing jointly earned an AGI of $165,000, their credit will be reduced by $750 per child.
Qualification for the Credit
While the tax credit is ultimately based on 2021 income, to facilitate the monthly payments, the new Child Tax Credit will use 2020 income tax returns. For those who haven’t filed yet, the look-back will be to 2019. The monthly payments will be based on these already filed tax returns and then the balance of the credit be reconciled based on 2021 income.
If a taxpayer receives more interim monthly payments on the tax credit than their 2021 AGI entitles them to, they will need to pay back the unqualified portion of the credit.
In the scenario where a child crosses age thresholds mid-year in 2021, the age for determining the credit will be based on how old the child is on Dec. 31, 2021. For example, a child who turns 6 before the end of the year will qualify for the lower $3,000 credit and not the $3,600 for those under 6.
Existing Child Tax Credit is Still Available
One of the unique features of the new Child Tax Credit is that the old version is still available. This version established under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has significantly higher AGI thresholds: single taxpayers with an AGI of $200,000 and married filing jointly at $400,000. As a result, many taxpayers will still qualify for this version with its lower credit of $2,000 per child and no monthly payments.
Conclusion – There’s More to Come
As the July 1, 2021 start date approaches, the IRS will release more details on the new Child Tax Credit and what taxpayers can do to take advantage of the changes.
Inflation is on the rise. According to a recent Economic News Release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Producer Price Index for final demand grew by 1 percent in March. February saw “final demand prices” grow by 0.5 percent; and January’s final demand prices increased by 1.3.
According to BLS, the Producer Price Index (PPI) consists of many indicators and evaluates the mean difference over a period of time for the “selling prices received by domestic producers of goods and services.” In other words, PPI is a way to gauge how much manufacturers and similar businesses face in increased costs due to inflation.
This inflation gauge takes a broad survey of approximately 10,000 unique manufactured items and the amount of inflation businesses face. The BLS’ PPI measure looks at items produced by fisheries, food growers, miners, manufacturers, etc. It also includes 72 percent of production of the service sector, as the 2007 Economic Census found.
Hedging with Futures
One way to reduce risk is by hedging. A popular example is with futures contracts. Much like buying an insurance policy, futures contracts can reduce the impact of a negative event, such as a spike in commodity prices.
If a company is worried about the price of oil for their planes or coffee for their cafes, they can enter into a futures contract to buy a designated quantity of that particular commodity at an agreed-upon price, with the ability to exercise it on or before the expiration date.
With a futures contract, a company can better plan its budget based on the contract’s parameters and the cost of the contract. If the price of the commodity rises in the future due to increased demand or limited supplies, the business can save money by taking delivery of the particular commodity at the originally agreed upon price through the futures contract.
Since the goal of hedging is to protect against losses, it’s important to weigh the cost of the futures contract. If the price of the commodity falls for the above-mentioned futures contract example, the company would still be forced to buy the commodity at the contract’s price, which would be a poor investment. If, however, it sells the futures contract before its expiration to avoid receiving the physical commodity at a poor price, that would lead to a loss. Having a contingency plan to reduce losses in futures contracts is always a good part of a hedging strategy.
Negotiate with Suppliers
Much like businesses enter into specified timeframes with suppliers, companies can do the same with their purchased supplies to provide more predictable prices. When the PPI measurement is used, the purchasing company can contract with its supplier to settle on the initial product’s price, and how price fluctuations will be determined going forward. Since the PPI is released monthly, the price can adjust accordingly (decrease or increase, depending on the PPI) for the supplier and purchasing company. It can be re-evaluated every three, six or 12 months, for example.
While there’s no predicting the future and if and how much commodity prices may rise and impact businesses, the more tools that businesses have to mitigate increased costs, the more likely they are to survive rising inflation.
Based on data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the spread between the 10-year and two-year constant maturity Treasury rates increased by 66 basis points – from 0.48 percent in July 2020 to 1.14 percent by February 2021. Due to the Federal Reserve’s open market operations, two-year notes have fallen to near 0 percent, while the 10-year yield has risen higher.
Experienced investors and financial institutions such as the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis would see this change in the slope of the yield curve of the two U.S. Treasury rates and call it a steepening yield curve. This recent widening spread illustrates what a steepening yield curve looks like and how it impacts the economy moving forward.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis attributes the steepening yield curve to fiscal stimulus and the mass adoption of COVID-19 vaccinations. These two factors could be indicative of future economic growth, including stock market earnings and job gains.
The Yield Curve as Predictor
When it comes to the yield curve and employment, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis explains how the two are related.
Employment growth mirrors the spread in the 10-year and two-year Treasury notes. When the yield curve first steepens, employment numbers might be negative. However, because the steepening yield curve projects increased economic growth, employment growth will soon follow a similar positive growth trajectory.
Historically speaking, the association between the yield curve’s increasing spread and future economic growth keeps its positive trajectory movement over time. This association, based on historical data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, has been able to project between 18 months and 36 months of positive future economic growth and approximately 30 months of a positive yield spread and employment growth trend.
While the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is uncertain about much inflation will accompany the economic expansion, it is confident that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will keep short-term interest rates low to contain borrowing costs and help boost strong financial markets through projected positive economic growth going forward.
Widening Yield Curve and Bank Earnings
As the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) explains, banks benefit from a steep yield curve because they engage in maturity transformation. The New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business defines maturity transformation as when banks borrow short-term and lend long-term. This lets banks profit from the mean of the short- and long-term rates, the so-called term premium. Term premium is how much premium long-term government bond holders realistically anticipate they will receive versus a string of short-term bonds that might have differing interest rates. Buyers of long-term bonds receive payment in exchange for the uncertainty of changing short-term interest rates.
A widening yield curve also can impact a bank’s net interest margin. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, net interest margin is what’s left over for the bank after deducting interest expenses from interest income. Donald Kohn explains that if short-term interest rates increase, interest costs accordingly increase to interest income. This would lower net interest margins as well as the bank’s holdings.
Assuming there are no further negative economic headwinds, history tells us there is a reasonable expectation of an economic resurgence from the coronavirus pandemic.
People who own a high-deductible health insurance plan may have the ability to open a health savings account (HSA). They can contribute pre-tax income to an HSA and invest the money for tax-free growth in a variety of mutual funds, stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
The funds may be withdrawn tax-free when used to pay for qualified expenses, such as the plan’s high deductible, copayments and coinsurance. The funds also can be used to purchase a wide range of health-related products.
However, a recent poll found that 40 percent of respondents who have access to a health savings account do not fully understand them. Perhaps that is why legislation passed last year that increased eligible uses of HSA funds largely went under the radar. The CARES Act included a provision that greatly expanded the number and types of health-related products and services that can be paid for with money from an HSA or an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account (FSA). The following list includes many of the newly eligible expenses (some require a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) from a licensed provider):
- Over-the-counter medications, such as for fever, cold and flu, headache, muscle aches, acid, heartburn and indigestion relief, allergy and sinus relief, anti-diarrheal and constipation medicine
- Toothache relief
- Skin and rash ointments, medicated body lotions
- Rubbing alcohol
- Band-Aids and bandages
- Kinesiology tape
- Hot and cold therapy packs, cooling headache pads
- Eye drops
- Facial cleansers, face wipes
- Prescription acne medication and over-the-counter acne treatments
- Sunscreen and SPF moisturizers (including expensive anti-aging facial lotions with SPF protection)
- Lip balm for sun protection and chapped lips
- Sleep and snoring aids
- Smoking cessation nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers and nasal sprays
- Prescription sunglasses
- Humidifiers, air purifiers and filters
- Dietician fees
- Some mental health treatments and services
- Prescription hormone replacement therapy
- Birth control pills
- Pregnancy tests
- Fertility tests
- Fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, intrauterine insemination, fertility medication, the temporary storage of eggs or sperm
- Birth classes and medically certified doulas
- Breast pumps, breastfeeding classes, absorbent breast pads, breast milk storage bags
- Baby monitors and potty training undies
- Feminine care items, such as pads, tampons, cups and sponges
- DNA/Ancestry kits
In 2021, the contribution limit for a health savings account is $3,600 for individuals and $7,200 for families; anyone age 55 or older can make an additional $1,000 annual contribution.
Just recently, the IRS published guidelines for employers regarding the use of Flexible Spending Account funds. Because of social distance guidelines and shutdowns in 2020, many people continued to work from home and contribute to their FSA but were unable to use those funds, which are generally designed to be used in the year saved (or otherwise lost).
The new guidelines allow employers to carry over or extend the grace period for unused health and/or dependent care FSA funds to the immediately following plan year. This new rule is retroactive for the 2020 and 2021 plan years. Note that while the IRS permits these new extension rules, it’s up to employers to decide what they want to do.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering if we’ve lost our minds, please keep reading. You can do this. All you need to do is plan your steps – and stick to it. After all, Confucius says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So let’s get moving.
Save Before You Spend
This might well be the opposite of what you do: you get your weekly or monthly paycheck, determine what expenses are ahead, then dedicate what’s left to savings. To save $10,000, the first thing to do is put away the money you’ve designated to reach your goal first (50 percent? 25 percent?), then live off the amount that’s left. Yes, it’s backwards, but in the end it’s the way forward to realize your 10k dream.
Set Up a High-Interest Savings Account
So that cash you’ve set aside? Deposit it into a savings account that will make your money grow. Several good options are Vio Bank (APY: 0.57 percent), Comenity Direct (APY: 0.55 percent), and Ally Bank (APY: 0.5 percent). This could mean the difference of hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars of interest over time.
Baby Step Your Way There
Break your goal into small chunks. Let’s say your monthly savings goal to get to 10k is $500 a month. If that’s too overwhelming, break it into two $250 chunks. If that’s too much, $125 a week, and so on. You can even parse out per day: $500 divided by 30 days in a month = $16. You can do this!
Start a Side Hustle
If you find you can’t make the amount you want to save each month and you aren’t able to tailor your expenses to fit your goal, start a side gig. For instance, if you’re able-bodied, consider helping people move and/or helping them assemble furniture. Other options include babysitting, food delivery, taking market research surveys, running errands and more. TaskRabbit is a great resource to find all kinds of ways to increase your income.
Cut Unnecessary Expenses
Look closely at your expenditures. Decide if you’re really reading that magazine and think about canceling the subscription. Pack a lunch and/or cook in for dinner. Call your internet and cell phone provider to see if they have a better deal. If you want to add an extra $1,000 to your savings each year, all you have to do is cut out $84 a month. This is doable.
Commit to a Budget
Everything that means something requires hard work and commitment. Take an afternoon, put it all down on paper, and promise to live within a dedicated financial scope. Compare your short-term gratification to your long-term financial goal. Imagine how good you’ll feel when you’ve saved $10,000. The power of visualization works.
Track Your Progress
If you’re feeling overwhelmed along the way, it pays to go back and see how far you’ve come – and we’re talking literally see it. Make your milestones visible. Hang a chart in your kitchen and color it in when you make a deposit. Or if you’re more analytical, create a spreadsheet, but keep it on your desktop. Checking this every day will help keep you on point.
Saving for a goal like this can be fun and even exciting. All you have to do is be mindful, make a conscious decision to follow your plan, and your 10k dream will be realized before your know it.
How To Save $10,000 In A Year (10 Simple Tips)