The taxation of legal settlements and fees is a complex topic. While the mechanics to make a proper claim are now easier, the rules are still complex. Below we look at six rules to consider when it comes to the taxation of legal settlements and the deduction of legal fees on your taxes.
- Taxes depend on the origin of the claim; or in plain English, according to why you are seeking recovery. For example, in a case where the plaintiff is suing another business for losing profits, the settlement would be considered lost profits, and therefore would be ordinary business income. If a worker sues for unlawful termination, then the settlement would be considered wages and taxed accordingly. Another example is where a plaintiff sues a negligent builder; here the damages won’t be classified as income, but instead will reduce the purchase price of the real estate.
The big difference in the above examples is that in the first two cases the settlements are taxable; in the third, they are not. As with many things in tax law, be aware that the rules are full of nuance and exceptions.
- Some recoveries are tax free, even if they wouldn’t appear to be on the surface. One example here is cases of personal physical injuries, like a car accident. While you may be suing for lost wages due to the inability to work, the damages should be tax free due to section 104 of the tax code that shields damages for personal physical injuries and physical sickness.
The important distinction here is the physical requirement. The IRS is unclear exactly what constitutes physical harm, but generally requires that you can physically see the injury.
- Medical expenses are tax free. Regardless of the type of harm (physical or emotional), payments for medical expenses are tax free. Moreover, the definition of medical expenses is rather broad.
- Allocating damages can save on taxes. Most legal disputes involve multiple issues, and as a result the total settlement amount will involve several types of considerations. The parties in suit can agree to the allocation of the settlement according to the issues – and therefore its tax treatment. While these agreements aren’t binding to the IRS, they’re rarely ignored and can provide a good defense for your tax position.
- Attorney fees can be a trap. However you pay your attorney – whether hourly or on a contingent fee basis – legal fees will affect your net recovery and your taxes. Plaintiffs who use contingency fee arrangements are typically treated (for tax purposes) as receiving 100 percent of the money recovered. In other words, you’re taxed on the part of the money your attorney takes out of the settlement.
To understand this a little better, take an example suit for emotional distress where you recover $200,000 in damages, with a 40 percent contingency fee arrangement with your attorney. Here, the plaintiff is going to have $200,000 in taxable income even though they only received $120,000 (with $80,000 going to the attorney). Not all lawyers’ fees face this draconian tax treatment, but this is the general rule in contingency fee cases.
- Punitive damages and interest are always taxable. This is true even if the injuries are 100 percent physical. Take a case of a car crash where you get $30,000 in compensatory damages (for the car damage) and $2 million in punitive damages. The $30,000 is tax free, but the $2 million is fully taxable.
These are some of the basic rules surrounding the taxation of legal fees and settlements. There are many nuances and subtleties, but what you should take away from this article is that, in many cases, there are ways to structure both any settlement received and how you pay your attorney to minimize your tax burden.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the level of usage and data swirling around the internet is expanding at an accelerating pace. The amount of data on the internet globally during 2020 amounted to 3 trillion gigabytes; and 2022’s traffic is expected to increase to 4.5 trillion gigabytes. As a result, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is concerned about the challenges American companies will have when it comes to business competitiveness.
According to a survey from Statista titled “Challenges encountered as a result of digital transformations in global organizations as of 2020,” there are common challenges that businesses are facing, such as:
- 51 percent of respondents said that “skill gaps have opened up on traditional teams as top talent moves to digital teams or products”
- 48 percent said that “cultural differences or conflicts have arisen between traditional and digital teams”
- 41 percent also mentioned that “traditional teams have struggled to keep up with the pace of how digital teams work”
With so many issues businesses face as technology races ahead, it’s important for organizations to recognize and adapt to the dynamics of digital commerce. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), it’s important to align the business and its goals correctly, especially when it comes to getting the most out of software development. For example, when companies buy software, they generally use third-party software for all their needs. While accounting and human resources functions may be fine for standardized uses, there are often situations when a personalized approach is needed to provide customers with a memorable experience.
HBR suggests businesses take certain steps that can make the journey easier and more effective in the long run. The first thing to do is identify current information technology-focused employees, because they’re the most closely aligned and ready for the transition. Along with looking for outside talent, it’s important to let internal software developers have an active role in the process.
It’s also important to let developers be stakeholders (along with accountability for failure) for solving organizational challenges versus giving them rigid assignments. Don’t focus exclusively on punishing failure; instead, encourage developers to analyze, pick apart reasons why failure happened and how future experiments can incorporate learning from past failures. Include developers in discussions with the people who will be using the software (other employees and customers who will be using it in the future).
Let’s look at Domino’s mobile application development as a case study. They were able stand out by improving their app with a feature that gave customers the ability to track their order from when it was being prepared to delivery. This process included increasing the efficiency of its systems, practices and techniques, along with having employees who performed advertising related functions work closely with software developers. It helped their stock price increase dramatically, performing better than many publicly traded technology companies.
One challenge for businesses going forward is since there are still tens of millions expected to come online with broadband, the amount of data and traffic will only increase. When it comes to broadband service requirements set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), they are at least 25 Mbps to download and 3 Mbps to upload. According to the FCC, approximately 14 million Americans lack broadband, with as many as 42 million reporting lack of access, according to Broadband Now Research. New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Technology reports that 18 percent of NYC residents lack broadband, making it problematic to work from home, access government services online, make doctor appointments, etc.
According to a December 2021 Digital Trade and U.S. Trade Policy report from the Congressional Research Service, there’s no stopping the expansion of trade in the digital world. It found statistics from the Department of Commerce for the “digital economy,” where 9.6 percent of GDP was generated from this sector. It also found that 7.7 million workers were employed because of this approach to commerce. However, unless businesses take care to ensure the same level of communication is accessible, formally and informally, there may not be the same level of efficiency for remote workers.
According to MIT Sloan Management Review, remote workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to indirect types of learning employees have compared with in-person settings. Whether it’s before work starts, during break or lunch time, or interacting with or observing a customer or client, employees working virtually have little to zero of these types of passive opportunities to learn on the job. Be it an additional comment after signing off an email, having a few opportunities to chat or talk online during breaks or similar, this type of passive informal communication needs to be addressed to make up for the in-person experiences other employees have.
While the way work will be conducted in the future can’t be predicted, it will certainly include using the internet – and for many employees, it will involve some time away from the office.
BroadbandNow Estimates Availability for all 50 States; Confirms that More than 42 Million Americans Do Not Have Access to Broadband
There’s much uncertainty surrounding if, how and when the Federal Reserve will raise its rates, end its bond and mortgage-backed security purchases, and wind down its balance sheet. For the March 16 Fed Meeting, the CME FedWatch Tool has a 47.9 percent probability of a 25 to 50 basis point increase, and a 52.1 percent probability of a 50 to 75 basis point increase for their Target Rate. There are many expectations for the Fed to raise its Federal Funds rate, or the so-called overnight lending interbank rate. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty as to how many times the FOMC will increase it.
John Williams, Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, mentioned at a recent event that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will start raising rates at its March 2022 meeting, but he isn’t advocating for a particularly hawkish approach. Rather, Williams expects inflation to drop due to supply-chain bottlenecks being naturally worked out, along with the Fed’s measured policy actions moderating inflation. However, James Bullard, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president, is more hawkish and has expressed a desire for a 50 basis point rate hike.
Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, believes six rate hikes are an appropriate course for monetary policy, starting in March 2022. Charles Evans, Chicago Fed president, blames inflation on the pandemic and echoes that supply chain issues will resolve on their own as the world returns to its new normal. Evans also believes that hiring won’t be slowed with higher rates, compared to past rate hike cycles. However, this could change if inflation grows too high as 2022 progress, necessitating more rate hikes.
The Fed has communicated clearly that it will let 1) evolving economic data, in conjunction with 2) maximum employment, and 3) 2 percent longer-term inflation expectations, guide its monetary policy. Noting there’s been a strengthening labor market, it’ll continuously look at how the pandemic is managed healthwise, how global developments unfold and how inflation is expected to and materializes.
It’s important to note that during August 2020, the Fed took a new approach to inflation. Previously, the approach would be to increase borrowing rates during good economic times to prevent inflation from becoming a problem. However, as of August 2020, the Fed’s new approach is to maintain low rates until inflation actually materialized, permitting economic conditions that drive inflation above and below 2 percent. This would thereby create a longer-term average inflation rate of 2 percent when considering monetary policy adjustments.
This is within the perspective of inflation reaching 7.5 percent year-over-year in January 2022, according to the Labor Department. Month-over-month inflation readings include electricity rising 4.2 percent from December 2021 to January 2022. Food costs rose by 0.9 percent in January 2022, up from another 0.5 percent increase in December 2021.
According to the FOMC’s Jan. 26 meeting minutes, there’s much to be contemplated for any potential rate changes. The members found that inflation was elevated, with economic indicators showing inflationary pressures increased in the back half of 2021. In December, the 12-month change in the consumer price index (CPI) was 7 percent, while core CPI inflation was 5.5 percent over the same period.
The year-over-year November 2021 total personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price inflation was 5.7 percent, with the core PCE coming in at 4.7 percent for the same timeframe. When it comes to the unemployment rate, it fell from 4.2 percent in November 2021 to 3.9 percent in December.
Impact of Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Looking at the price of crude oil alone shows how inflation is fluctuating. On Feb. 24, futures contracts at one point had oil hitting $100 and $105 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate and Brent, respectively. While prices retreated, prices are still elevated and subject to international tensions, increasing demand due to the economy reopening from COVID and uncertainty over future output. Undoubtedly, the Fed will take inflation into account – both its new definition of longer-term 2 percent inflation and how it might impact the economy. Some speculate with the high volatility beginning in 2022, the Fed may raise rates by only 25 basis points, not the 50 basis points more hawkish FOMC members have mentioned.
With increased volatility since 2022 began and global uncertainty increasing by the day, it seems the FOMC will have the final say on how many rate hikes will eventually happen.
One of the easiest ways to save for retirement is to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. You simply select a percentage of your paycheck that you would like transferred to your 401(k) (or similar) account. Not only does your employer make the transfer for you, but it comes out of your paycheck before income taxes are taken out. This way, you avoid paying taxes on that income from each paycheck, and those taxes are not due until you withdraw the money from your retirement plan. This usually happens once people retire and enter a lower tax bracket.
That’s the simple beauty of investing in a 401(k) plan. However, with a little more effort, you can do a better job of maximizing its potential. The following are strategies to consider.
Take Advantage of an Employer Match
Most employers offer to match your 401(k) contribution up to a certain percentage. For example, an employer might contribute an additional dollar for every dollar you contribute, up to 3 percent of your pay. Although the plan may allow you to defer more than 3 percent, it’s always a good idea to contribute at least the same percentage as your employer agrees to match. After all, the employer contribution is basically free money. Be aware, however, that your contributions, employer matches and all interest, dividends and capital gains earnings in the account will eventually be taxed as income when distributed. If your employer offers a matching contribution to your 401(k) plan, try to defer at least the percentage of your income required to take full advantage of that match.
Contribute More Each Paycheck
The best way to maximize your 401(k) is to deter the maximum amount of income you can from each paycheck. Remember, it comes out of your income before it ever hits your bank account, so you can learn to live on less while building up your retirement savings. In 2022, employees may contribute up to $20,500 for the year; those age 50 and older can save up to $27,000 (an increase for each group of $1,000 versus 2021). Another benefit is that employer matches do not count toward that contribution limit.
If you are not currently maxing out your 401(k) plan contribution, consider these tactics to help you get there.
- Increase your deferral rate gradually, such as once a year or each time you receive a raise, promotion or bonus. This will enable you save more without changing your take-home pay. Just be sure that increasing your deferral rate does not cause you to exceed the annual contribution limit.
- Some companies implement an automatic escalation feature, such as increasing your deferral rate by one percentage point each year – unless you opt out. If this is the case, don’t opt out of the automatic increase.
- A good time to increase your deferral rate is during the annual enrollment period when you are thinking about the cost of other benefits and how they will impact your household budget.
Consider an Annuity Option
The SECURE Act of 2019 included a provision that limits employers’ liability when they offer an insurer-issued retirement annuity option. A 401(k) annuity option typically offers the ability to convert that portion of your retirement account into a stream of income guaranteed (by the issuing company) for a certain period, or even for as long as you live. It’s usually recommended to put only a portion of your 401(k) savings into an annuity, as it has higher expenses and might have growth potential limitations. However, the annuity option is appealing because it can continue paying out income after your other investment options have dwindled, which ironically works much the same as a traditional pension (which the 401(k) was designed to replace). Not every employer offers an annuity option in their 401(k) plan, but thanks to the new legislation it could become more prevalent.
Invest More Aggressively
Americans are currently seeing the dramatic impact that a rise in inflation can have on their household budget. Now imagine that impact when you’re in retirement and living on a fixed income. One way to increase your potential earnings for a larger retirement nest egg is to invest in more growth-oriented assets now, while you’re still working. That generally means a higher allocation to stocks to help your 401(k) investment surpass the growth of inflation. In fact, many stocks are issued by companies that tend to increase revenues as inflation rises.
With additional effort and strategic planning, it’s not that difficult to get your 401(k) to work harder to help you save more for a long, fulfilling retirement.
Taking over your aging parents’ finances is not easy. But it’s something that can be handled in an organized, compassionate way. Here’s a roadmap that shows how to embrace it and do the right things for everyone involved.
Start the conversation early. Right now, your parents might not need any help. They might be handling everything just fine. But there will come a day when they can’t – and they’ll need your help. The National Institute on Aging recommends that parents give advance written consent to designated family members so they can discuss personal matters with doctors, financial representatives and Medicare officials. If you don’t have this, you’ll be faced with some road blocks. If you open the dialogue now, you’ll circumvent obstacles, as well as get a better feel for what their future needs might be.
Watch for the signs. If you don’t see your parents often, and even if you do, the signs of when you need to step in might be a bit hard to detect. That said, there are some things to look for that will indicate that their needs are changing.
- Unusual purchases. If you find out that your folks are buying things that don’t match their lifestyle, or entering lots of contests and sweepstakes, then it’s time to speak up. Behavior like this might get out of hand – or worse, they might be getting scammed. Older people are most vulnerable to the vultures out there.
- Stacks of unopened mail. Watch for this, as the letters might be unpaid bills and/or solicitations for sweepstakes. Both are problematic.
- Complaining about money. If your folks seem to be always low on cash, or say “no” to activities that they usually enjoy, talk to them. They might need your help for a number of reasons, whether it’s reconciling accounts or remembering how to pay bills, or if they even paid them.
- Physical setbacks. Fading vision can impede driving to the bank and arthritis can be painful while writing checks or typing on the keyboard. Whatever ailment your parents might suffer from, this could be a cue that they need your assistance.
- Memory problems. This is somewhat self-explanatory, but specific things to look for are not knowing what day or year it is, or just forgetting things that your parents once always remembered.
Start slowly. Instead of charging in and announcing that you’re taking control, take baby steps. Maybe offer to write checks for them. Or offer to pay a bill or two. Gradual, gentle steps make them feel more at ease and comfortable with the new way of doing things.
Gather important documents. Things to collect are account numbers, credit card info, birth certificates, insurance policies, deeds and wills. Make sure they’re all current and up-to-date. Put them in a secure location so you’ll have easy access when you need them.
Consider power of attorney. This is key. Even if your parents don’t need your help at the moment, there will come a time when they will. There are several types of POA to consider: financial, medical or general decisions. Unlike written consent, this gives you legal authority to act on their behalf when they’re unable to.
Communicate what’s going on. Once you’ve started to manage your parents’ finances, keep your siblings, as well as theirs, in the loop. This way, if you’re unable to handle something, you can ask for backup support.
Keep your finances separate. It might be the easiest thing to do – mix your parents’ finances with yours – but in the long run, it’s not such a good idea. It can become a slippery slope. Granted, there may be times when your parents need a loan, but for the sake of clarity and personal record-keeping, it’s best not to jeopardize your own retirement and savings goals.
If you need more help, reach out to the National Alliance for Caregiving. As we all know, the circle of life is inevitable. But caring for your parents might be one of the most important things you’ll ever do – and chances are, you’ll want to get it right.