How the latest COVID relief bill could impact your taxes

Mar 15, 2021

This article was updated on 3/26/2021.

Last week, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law, the largest COVID-19 relief package since the CARES Act was passed back in March 2020. Stimulus payments have already started being sent out via direct deposit, but some of the bill's tax implications are still being sorted out. Here's everything you should be aware of that could impact your 2020 or 2021 taxes:

2020 unemployment benefits are tax-free. The first $10,200 in unemployment benefits are tax-free in 2020 for taxpayers in households with an adjusted gross income of $150,000 per year.  Stay tuned for updated guidance on this particular tax provision as it may be subject to change. Remember that this is for federal taxes only, and you should check with your state's tax department about their policy as well.

Changes to the earned income tax credit. The act makes several changes to the earned income tax credit (EITC), introducing rules for individuals with no children. In addition, for 2021, the applicable minimum age is decreased to 19, except for students where the age is 24 and qualified former foster youth or homeless youth, applicable minimum age is now 18. The maximum age is eliminated. In addition:

· The credit’s phaseout percentage is increased to 15.3%, and the phaseout amounts are increased.

· The credit would be allowed for certain separated spouses.

· The threshold for disqualifying investment income would be raised from $2,200 to $10,000.

· Temporarily, taxpayers would be allowed to use their 2019 income instead of 2021 income in figuring the credit amount.

Family and sick leave credits are extended. The credits for sick and family leave originally enacted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) including the FFCRA credit for paid sick leave, credit for paid family leave, and special rule related to tax on employers are now extended to Sept. 30, 2021. These fully refundable credits against payroll taxes compensate employers and self-employed people for coronavirus-related paid sick leave and family and medical leave.

The act increases the limit on the credit for paid family leave to $12,000. The number of days a self-employed individual can take into account in calculating the qualified family leave equivalent amount for self-employed individuals increases from 50 to 60.

The paid leave credits will be allowed for leave that is due to a COVID-19 vaccination.

The limitation on the overall number of days taken into account for paid sick leave will reset after March 31, 2021.

The employee retention credit is also extended. The act creates an extension of the employee retention credit and extends it through the end of 2021. This credit allows eligible employers to claim a credit for paying qualified wages to employees.

Under the act, the employee retention credit would be allowed against the Medicare tax.

Applicable percentage amounts for the premium tax credit are changed. The act expands the premium tax credit for 2021 and 2022 by changing the applicable percentage amounts). Taxpayers who received too much in advance premium tax credits in 2020 will not have to repay the excess amount. A special rule is added that treats a taxpayer who has received, or has been approved to receive, unemployment compensation for any week beginning during 2021 as an applicable taxpayer.

An expanded child tax credit is available. The American Rescue Plan Act act expands the child tax credit and provides that taxpayers can receive the credit in advance of filing a return. Here are some key points about this tax credit:

·       The credit is fully refundable for 2021 and makes 17-year-olds eligible as qualifying children.

·       The act increases the amount of the credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under 6).

·       The increased credit amount phases out for taxpayers with incomes over $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for others, reducing the expanded portion of the credit by $50 for each $1,000 of income over those limits.

The IRS is directed to estimate taxpayers’ child tax credit amounts and pay monthly in advance one-twelfth of the annual estimated amount. Payments will run from July through December 2021. Under the new Act, you will have to reconcile the advance payment amount with the actual credit amount on next year’s return and increase taxable income by the excess of the advance payment amount over the actual credit allowed.

However, if your modified AGI for the tax year does not exceed 200% of the applicable income threshold ($60,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly) you may have the increase for an excess advance payment reduced by a safe harbor amount of $2,000 per child.

The child and dependent care credit is also changed. The American Rescue Plan Act makes various changes to the child and dependent care credit, effective for 2021 only, including making it refundable.

The credit will be worth 50% of eligible expenses, up to a limit based on income, making the credit worth up to $4,000 for one qualifying individual and up to $8,000 for two or more.

A reduction of the credit will start at household income levels over $125,000. For households with income over $400,000, the credit can be reduced below 20%.

The act also increases the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance to $10,500 for 2021.

Targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants are excluded from gross income. EIDL grants already received from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are not included in gross income, and that this exclusion from gross income will not result in a denial of a deduction, reduction of tax attributes, or denial of basis increase. Similar treatment is afforded to the SBA’s restaurant revitalization grants.

If you have already filed your 2020 tax return, you may need to file an amended return given the changes above. If you have not already files your taxes you may wish to consult with a tax professional for help understanding how the COVID-19 changes impact you. In addition, watch for updates in the IRS rules regarding The American Rescue Plan Act.

Jonathan Medows is a New York City-based CPA who specializes in taxes and business issues for freelancers and self-employed individuals across the country. He provides tax, accounting and business articles for freelancers on his website, http://www.cpaforfreelancers.com, which also features a blog and a comprehensive freelance tax guide. Please note, due to the high volume of inquiries in regard to COVID-19, Jonathan is not able to respond to individual requests for information at this time.

Jonathan Medows

Jonathan Medows is a NYC-based CPA who specializes in taxes for consultants across the country. His website has a resource section with how-to articles and information for freelancers.