By Paul S. McNulty, CFP®
With 2020 finally behind us, it would be nice to take a moment to breathe a small sigh of relief. Instead, like it or not, it’s time to think about taxes. Due to the pandemic and stimulus payments, the federal government’s tax filing season for individual earners will start on February 12, 2021, as opposed to beginning in late January as it has in past years. (1)
That means that although it’s delayed, tax season is still just around the corner. And the better prepared you are, the sooner you can check off this big to-do task, shake off the stress, and get back to doing what you love (anything other than taxes!). And since there’s nothing worse than getting close to finalizing your taxes only to realize you are missing an important document, we’ve created a tax-preparation checklist to help make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Gather Your Personal & Income Information
You’ll probably start receiving various tax documents in the mail or virtually soon, so instead of letting them sit in a pile on your counter, create an organized system for the following.
- Form W-2: These are issued by employers and show your wages and tax withholdings. They are supposed to be mailed by January 31.
- Form 1099-MISC: These report income you have received as an independent contractor or freelancer. You should receive one from each person or company that pays you.
- Form 1099-INT: This form will show any interest you have earned.
- Form 1099-R: This form reports income received from annuities, IRAs, or pensions.
- Form 1099-DIV: Any dividend income you earn is reported on this form.
- Form 1099-B or 1099-S: You will receive these if you have any income from the sale of property or stock.
- Form 1098: You will get this from your mortgage company reporting the interest that you paid.
- Form 1098-T: This reports payments of qualified tuition and expenses.
- Form 1095-A or 1095-C: These forms report your healthcare coverage for the year and your premium tax credit, if applicable.
- Schedule K-1 (Form 1065, Form 1120S, or Form 1041): This reports income for a partner, a shareholder, or an income beneficiary of an estate or trust. The Schedule K-1 normal deadline can be as late as April 15th.
- Form 1098-E for student loan interest paid, or loan statements for student loans received
- Form 1098-T for tuition paid or receipts from the institution you or your dependents attend
- Receipts for any qualifying energy-efficient home improvements
- Records of IRA contributions made during the year
- SEP, SIMPLE, and other self-employed pension plan information
- Records of medical savings account (MSA) contributions
- Moving expense records
- Self-employed health insurance payment records
- Alimony you paid
If you want your tax-filing experience to be painless, you’ll also want to make sure that you have all of your and your dependents’ personal information available, such as:
- Social Security numbers and birth dates
- Copies of last year’s tax return (helpful, but not required)
- Bank account number and routing number, if you wish to have your refund deposited directly into your account
Organize Your Documents For Itemization
Also, if you itemize your deductions, you’ll need records to include your totals and provide proof.
Deductions And Credits
- Child care costs: provider’s name, address, tax ID, and the amount paid
- Education costs: Form 1098-T, education expenses
- Adoption costs: SSN of the child; records of legal, medical, and transportation costs
- Form 1098: Mortgage interest, private mortgage insurance (PMI), and points you paid
- Investment interest expenses
- Charitable donations: cash amounts and official charity receipts
- Medical and dental expenses paid
- Casualty and theft losses: the amount of damage, insurance reimbursements
- Records/amounts of other miscellaneous tax deductions: union dues; unreimbursed employee expenses (uniforms, supplies, seminars, continuing education, publications, travel, etc.)
- Records of home business expenses
- State and local income tax
- Real estate tax
- Personal property tax
Consider Possible Changes
Okay, so that’s the nitty-gritty of what you’ll need in front of you to thoroughly fill out your tax return. But there are also a few things to think about that could impact how you file, such as any changes that have occurred this year. Did you add another child to your family? Did one of your children start college? Did you start taking withdrawals from a retirement account? All of these changes need to be reflected on your tax return but won’t show up on prior returns.
More than personal changes, there may be changes to federal or state tax law that you should be aware of. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act tax reform bill of 2017 is still being implemented, and the new SECURE Act could also affect your 2020 tax situation.
Specifically, you should stay on top of annual changes to retirement plan contribution limits. For the 2020 tax year, you can put up to $6,000 in any type of IRA. If you are over age 50, that amount goes up to $7,000 thanks to the $1,000 catch-up contribution. Annual contribution limits for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, the federal Thrift Savings Plan, and most 457 plans also increased by $500 for 2020. The new annual limit on contributions is $19,500. If you are 50 or older, your yearly contribution limit goes up to $26,000. And if you are eligible to contribute to an HSA, you can save $3,550 if you have single medical coverage and $7,100 if you are covered under a qualifying family plan. If you are 55 or older, those limits go up another $1,000. Keep in mind that for IRAs and HSAs, you have until April 15th, 2021, to contribute for the 2020 tax year.
A knowledgeable financial professional can help you understand any tax law changes and how they affect you.
Make A Plan For The Future
While it’s important to get your 2020 tax return filed properly, it’s just as important to look at the bigger picture of taxes in general. Are you optimizing all of the tools available to you to limit your tax liability? Are there steps that you could take now to minimize future taxes? Do you have a plan for your tax refund that will further your overall financial goals?
To put it simply, taxes are complicated. Working with a professional who understands all the ins and outs is a must if you want to maximize the opportunities available to you. An experienced financial professional can help you with tax planning while also considering your overall goals and financial plan.
If you want to be proactive about tax planning and you don’t have a trusted advisor yet, our team at Boston Metro Advisor would love to help you experience confidence in every aspect of your financial plan—in 2021 and beyond. Contact us for a complimentary consultation by calling (781) 995-0253 or email me directly at [email protected] today!
Paul McNulty is the founder of Boston Metro Advisor with over 20 years of experience helping people navigate the ups and downs of the economy toward the financial future they envision. His education consists of a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Rhode Island and the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) professional designation.
Paul’s experience and education have made him a multi-faceted professional capable of assisting people with virtually all their financial needs. His services include every facet of retirement planning, from 401(k) rollover services and income planning to wealth management and estate planning. Paul has been active in his community over the years as a youth sports coach. When he’s not spending time with his wife, Cindy, and their two children, who are both recent college graduates, Paul enjoys reading, playing golf, and fishing. Learn more about Paul by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
Boston Metro Advisor and LPL do not provide tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.