The IRS is currently suffering a severe backlog in processing returns from 2021 for the 2020 tax year. As of Dec. 31, there were still more than 6 million unprocessed individual returns with notices and pending refunds. There are a few things every taxpayer should know that can help them navigate any delays in filing or speeding up the process to make filing this year as smooth as possible.
Pass on the Paper
Nothing speeds up the process like electronic filing. Despite the uptick in electronic filing over recent years, the agency is still buried in paper, receiving almost 17 million paper filings last year.
When filing electronically, there’s a good chance you’ll see your refund within 21 days of acceptance. Just make sure you keep track of your submission and that it is accepted and not bounced back.
Validate Your Return Properly
To file electronically and have your return accepted, you’ll need to validate your return with last year’s adjusted gross income. As simple as this sounds, it’s not as easy as looking at last year’s return if your 2020 filing is still pending. In this case, you’ll need to enter $0 for your 2020 AGI or the agency may reject the filing.
Reconcile Your Child Tax Credits and Stimulus Payments
Returns with innocuous errors are one of the biggest causes of notices and held-up returns. Simple mistakes or the careless compilation of a return can causes matching errors and throw a wrench in the processing of a return, with two issues being prone for the average taxpayer: the advance child tax credits and stimulus payments.
Taxpayers should pay extra attention to and double check these areas of their returns to avoid delays. While taxpayers may receive a Letter 6419 for child tax credits or 6475 for stimulus checks, it’s still a good idea to verify your payments for these two areas online for the best accuracy.
Another snafu that can arise is for married couples filing jointly. You may each receive separate letters showing only half of your total payments. Make sure you verify and report the total amount in these cases. Remember that avoiding math errors can save a lot of time and headaches later.
New Questions on Page #1 – “Virtual Currency”
More and more taxpayers are also owners of some type of cryptocurrencies. If you are one of them, then this year, for the first time, you’ll need to answer a new “stand-out” question on page one of your tax return.
There is now a simple yes or no question on the front of every Form 1040, asking if you received, sold or exchanged any cryptocurrency.
Your answer should be “Yes” if you staked, sold, exchanged, mined or used crypto to purchase goods or services in 2021. If you only purchased cryptocurrencies and held them, then you should make sure you check “No.”
A “Yes” here is a flag to the IRS and they’ll be looking for you to report income from staking and mining or gains or losses on schedule D. It can also fast track your return to the manual review pile, adding further delay to processing your return. But remember, that’s no reason to not answer truthfully.
Reaching the IRS via phone is notoriously difficult (which is why having a CPA prepare your taxes can be more than worth it). Average wait times are exceeding 23 minutes. In response, the IRS is adding monthly walk-in hours on select Saturdays at certain Taxpayer Assistance Centers, starting on Feb. 12.
To access this service, you’ll need government-issued photo identification, a Social Security card or your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and any IRS letters or notices. If you are filing on your own, this can help clear up issues; but remember, it’s best to use a paid preparer. They can handle both the administrative issues and offer their expertise.
The IRS has a huge backlog of returns with issues, often resulting from simple avoidable problems such as “math errors” or paper filing. Do yourself a favor and follow the advice in this article to make this year less “taxing” on everyone.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration and Project Equality, 60 percent of business owners plan to cash out of the business in the next 10 years. For the baby boomer generation, it’s especially important as they contemplate retirement, with this generation reportedly owning 2.3 million businesses. When it comes to getting a business ready for sale, there are many components to review and get organized before looking for prospective buyers.
The first thing owners looking to sell their business are being asked is why they’re selling. This may occur for many reasons – voluntary or not. Some people are looking to retire, while others might be looking to exit their business because things soured with partners. These are just some of the reasons why business owners or partners want to sell their business or stake in a company. Entrepreneur magazine says there are “three ways to leave a business – sell it, merge it or close it.”
According to Entrepreneur magazine, there are many considerations for business owners when they are contemplating selling. For profitable companies, it’s more often due to choosing to sell, but not always. When there’s the desire to sell a business, if the owners can show potential purchasers some or all of the following, chances are it will sell sooner than later and for a fair price: growing income, profitability and a customer base, along with a business plan and product/services with long-term potential.
Another consideration is timing of the sale. Ideally, getting the business’ house in order will benefit both the seller and the buyer. With this in mind, it’s important to have a few backup buyers in case the first deal falls through. One reason a deal may fall through is because the buyer didn’t qualify for financing before the sales process got serious. This planning can give the business owner and potential buyers time to review, audit and organize financial records; review and determine the business structure; and determine and analyze the business’ customer base. This review and organization will be able to help the new buyer maintain business continuity, if they decide to purchase the business.
The next step is to get documents in order. Organize the cash flow statement, balance sheet and income statements, along with tax returns from the past few years. It’s important to inventory all equipment, intellectual property, trade secrets, etc. to see what can be sold and transferred and verify the current market value of each. Taking stock of both sales records and suppliers, and getting contact information for both will help make a sale more likely. Depending on if the information is proprietary or not, it’s important to have this ready to share, under confidentiality, with potential buyers. An operating manual and a general overview of the business are also necessary in order to show the company’s presence clean and repaired.
Another consideration is how business assets that aren’t so easy to touch will be valued. According to the American Bar Association, goodwill is an intangible asset, such as reputation, along with intellectual property like trademark. The New York State Society of CPAs’ (NYSSCPA) publication, The CPA Journal, reports that goodwill has an indefinite life, and one way to see if it meets the test of being goodwill is if it “is inseparable from the business.”
Another consideration when selling a business is to see its recent cash flow and to calculate it properly for potential buyers. According to the NYSSCPA and the Statement of Financial Accounting Standards (SAFS) 95, cash flow from operating activities (CFO), per the SFAS 95’s statement of cash flow (SCF), is calculated by starting with the net loss or income and then factoring in differences in working capital and non-cash sales.
Once the CFO is calculated, this figure shows how much the business earns from its operating activities, as the name implies. It’s important to see how this figure differs from investing or financing operations that may be ancillary to the company’s irregular financials. Once this information is known, it gives potential buyers an accurate assessment of the company they are buying to see if they’re comfortable with the existing business. Showing a business that’s doing well can help attract buyers at a fair price.
While each business is different and the reasons for exiting it vary, understanding what potential buyers are looking for can increase the chances of a fast sale at a fair price for both seller and buyer.
The Challenge of Accounting for Goodwill
According to the March 2022 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the forecast is for high energy prices in 2022. The report found that Brent crude oil, used as a benchmark ex-U.S., is expected to see prices of $116 per barrel in Q2 of 2022. West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the price the U.S. uses as a benchmark, is expected to cost consumers, on average, $4.10 a gallon in Q2 of 2022.
The World Economic Forum blames volatile oil and energy prices in general on demand outstripping supply. This is attributed to OPEC not expressing a sense of urgency to ramp up supply, having a certain amount of spare capacity, and not being in a rush to create a glut in supply for global markets. Additionally, it’s attributed the lack of new exploration and resulting supplies coming online due to the shock of oil falling to -$40 per barrel during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes the transition to greener forms of energy, including pressure from activist investors looking to transition from fossil fuels. Hence, there are multiple factors putting pressure on traditional sources of fuel.
Looking further at the U.S. EIA’s March 2022 STEO, the price is expected to remain well above average. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is projected to be $113 per barrel in March and average $112 per barrel in Q2 of 2022. The price per gallon domestically is projected to hit $4.12 in May of 2022, then drop through the rest of 2022. Over the entire year, the price per gallon of gas is projected to be $3.79 per gallon (the most expensive since 2014), and average lower to $3.33 per gallon in 2023.
It’s important to note that the EIA’s STEO was completed prior to the U.S. government’s March ban on importation of oil, liquified natural gas and coal from Russia, along with the United Kingdom announcing it was phasing out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022. The European Union also communicated that it would “significantly reduce fossil fuels” from Europe before 2030. These announcements were coupled with multi-national oil companies declaring plans to cease operations in Russia and end partnerships. These actions are expected to lower oil production by Russia, but the ultimate outcome is dependent on global reactions and how they impact fuel stocks.
When it comes to seeing how increased and likely sustained fuel prices will impact economies, history is a helpful guide to predict how things might play out in 2022. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (FRBSF), their data examines “the price of oil since the early 1950s.” According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 1973 ushered in a period of volatility for oil, which contrasts with the FRBSF’s data on relatively stable prices through the 1950s.
In 1973, the Yom Kippur War disrupted prices and again the Iranian Revolution of 1979 saw another disruption. These energy market interruptions were both full of tepid expansion, hot inflation and too few jobs available for job seekers.
Often considered a hidden tax on households, out of control inflation takes consumer interest away from other services and goods due to lowering a household’s affluence, along with giving consumers less economic certainty going forward. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a 2007 study found that five of the past seven recessions occurred shortly after oil prices climbed substantially, attributed in part to lower levels of income and a less certain outlook for the economy.
As prices for gasoline increase, how much consumers will likely spend on other goods and services varies, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper titled “The Response of Consumer Spending to Changes in Gasoline Prices.” This research looked at the impact of gas falling during 2014. Based on U.S. Consumer Survey, the average total household spending was $53,495 in 2014, with $2,468 spent on gasoline per household in 2014. The same report points out that while crude was $100 per barrel in mid-2014, it went to sub-$50 per barrel by January 2015.
It’s important to keep in mind that while the price of oil was quite volatile, on par with that of the 1970s, inflation during the 1990s and 2000s didn’t really make material increases to inflation levels, impact GDP expansion negatively or lower the unemployment rate. The divergence and less deleterious effects of inflation during the 1990s and 2000s were likely set off by big gains in productivity realized in the first decade of the 21st century.
There’s nuance when determining if rising oil prices are helpful, hurtful or neutral for stock and market performances, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration 2017 report called “Oil Prices and Stock Markets.” The study points out that looking at sectors or industries will give us a better picture of how oil prices impact stocks – whether it’s good, bad or neutral. For example, the study gives three ways to measure stock performance considering oil prices: “oil-users, oil-substitutes or non-oil-related.”
For example, all segments of the exploration, extraction, processing and refining of different energies (coal, natural gas, crude oil, etc.) will naturally see benefits. However, when it comes to manufacturers, transportation companies or food suppliers, these industries will see downward pressure on their earnings (and therefore stock price) due to pressure on increases of inputs and the mixed ability to pass on costs to consumers.
While the outlook for crude oil cannot be determined and geopolitical and economic conditions are fluid, it depends upon the sector and how businesses are managed when it comes to the probability of profitability of publicly traded stocks.
If you really want to make impact in your new grad’s life, make an investment in his or her future with a 529 College Savings account. There are two versions: an investment account and a prepaid account. Assuming you are opening an account now and don’t have time for investment growth, you may need to fund it with a significant chunk of money for it to be useful. The savings plan is good for building an investment balance over time, including while the student is in college. On the other hand, the prepaid option is a good way to reinvest a windfall – such as an inheritance or proceeds from the sale of property.
A 529 College Savings Plan allows the account owner to open, fund, choose the investments and name the account beneficiary – yet you still retain control of the assets. Be aware that contributions do not qualify for a federal tax deduction, but more than 30 states allow a limited tax deduction or credit. While earnings and withdrawals used for qualified education expenses are not taxed at the federal level, there are a handful of states that do impose state taxes.
However, because you – the giver – retain control of the account, you can be assured that the money won’t be wasted on a trip to Cancun or a gap year backpacking through Europe. You determine when, how much and what distributions are used for. If you’re not happy with the student’s choices, you can change the beneficiary to someone else or keep it for yourself.
Gift Strategies for Retirees
There is generally no annual contribution limit to a 529 plan, but the total amount in a beneficiary’s account may not exceed the balance limit determined by each state. 529s are state-sponsored, but most states let non-residents open a plan. In addition, some states allow anyone who contributes to a 529 plan to take a state tax deduction. This way you also can invite friends and family to enjoy a tax deduction while contributing to the account for one big, combined graduation gift.
In 2022, you can contribute up to $16,000 per beneficiary ($32,000 per married couple) to a 529 plan without having to file a gift-tax return. However, if you want to stockpile the account for a big splash on graduation day, the IRS allows you to frontload up to five years’ donations in one year (up to $80,000; $160,000 for a married couple) outside the gift tax limit, although no other gifts can be made to the same beneficiary over the next five years. In this case, you must make the required election on a gift tax return that year to be allocated over five years. This five-year front-loading approach can be an effective estate planning strategy to remove assets from your taxable estate, yet retain control over them.
You also can maximize your gift by making it a two-for-one. In other words, gift it to your high school grad, then keep funding it during his university years. Any leftover balance can be his college graduation gift if he’s planning to go to law school or get an MBA. If not, you always have the option to keep the balance or gift it to him anyway – although proceeds not used for education expenses will be subject to taxes on earnings and a 10 percent penalty.
The 2019 SECURE Act enhanced the College 529 plan with additional options. Your new graduate can now use the money to pay for expenses associated with a registered apprenticeship program, or use up to $10,000 to repay student loans. Note that if proceeds are used to pay student loans, the loan interest cannot be used as a deduction that tax year.
The 529 gives your new graduate the option of how and when to use the funds. After all, the pandemic has thrown many young adults off course in different ways. Some are opting to go straight into the job market without a degree, while others are taking a gap year or two to get a feel for what type of career they want to pursue. With the College Savings investment plan, your contributions have the opportunity to grow tax-deferred indefinitely. Some states place time or age limits on the use of a prepaid plan. However, you can always retrieve unused assets from a 529 (subject to earnings and penalty taxes), so they are not lost by any means.
You may or may not have heard of the 50/30/20 budgeting rule, but it’s a good one – one that will help make organizing your finances a lot simpler. The basic idea is to divide up your after-tax income and allocate it to spend this way: 50 percent on your needs, 30 percent on wants and 20 percent on savings. Below are more details on how to do this.
Spend 50 percent on needs. These bills are those that are necessary for survival, such as rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities, health care, insurance and paying the minimum amount on your debts. Other things like Starbucks, Netflix and dining out might feel like needs, but if you get honest, they really aren’t. (They fall into the next category.) To get started, here’s a free worksheet. If you’re spending more than 50 percent on your needs, then look for areas to cut expenses or downsize your lifestyle. For instance, you could eat in (and make delicious coffee at home), maybe take public transportation to work or even choose a smaller home or more modest car. While these compromises might not be very fun, they’re necessary to make you fiscally healthier. Plus, they’ll pay off in the long run, which will feel really good.
Allocate 30 percent for wants. The best way to look at this category is to think of everything that is optional. It includes obvious choices like going to your favorite restaurant, joining a gym, buying that new techie gadget or a gorgeous new purse. Another way to frame wants are, for instance, choosing a more expensive entrée like lobster instead of a pasta dish, or buying a Mercedes instead of a no-nonsense Honda. That said, living a spartan life with no feel-good experiences isn’t realistic. We all have desires. But if you find you’re spending more than 30 percent on these things, a way to cut back is to plan ahead on splurging and do it less often. This way, treating yourself might feel better than it normally would.
Sock 20 percent away on savings. This category, of course, includes your savings account, as well as investment accounts like IRAs, mutual funds and stocks, which may or may not be part of your retirement. Besides saving money to pay for future bills, it’s also recommended to put away at least three months of expenses in an emergency fund, should you lose your job or have unexpected events occur. If you spend this allotment, start replenishing it as soon as you can. Other things that fall into savings are paying more on your debt instead of minimum payments because you’ll be reducing the principal and future interest you’ll owe; so in effect, you’re saving. While tucking funds away might seem impossible, once you get in the habit of it, you won’t miss it. And a few months down the road, when you take a look at the sum you’ve accumulated, you’ll most likely be super happy.
Admittedly, saving money and managing it is a challenge – you’re not alone. As of January 2022, the personal saving rate was 6.4%, down from 8.2% in December 2021. So take heart. If you’re saving anything at all, you should count that as a victory. You’ll be way ahead of the crowd. In the end, seeking a financial equilibrium and erring on the side of saving will contribute to a more abundant life in the long run.