That means someone who was philanthropically minded could donate enough this year to “wipe out their entire tax bill,” said Cari Weston, director for tax practice and ethics at the American Association of Certified Public Accountants.
Medical deductions. The December law made permanent — again — a lower threshold for deducting medical expenses. Taxpayers can continue to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of their income, instead of 10 percent. To take the deduction, filers must itemize.
The floor had been 7.5 percent before the 2017 tax law raised it temporarily to 10 percent, Ms. Weston said. The latest change reverts to the earlier rule. Still, she said, the deduction is of limited help for most people.
For instance, if you have adjusted gross income of $100,000, you can now take a deduction for medical expenses that exceed $7,500 ($100,000 multiplied by 0.075). If you had expenses of $10,000 in 2021, your deduction would be $2,500 ($10,000 minus $7,500). Under the prior rule, your expenses wouldn’t have exceeded the $10,000 cutoff, so you wouldn’t have qualified for a deduction.
Deductions for business meals. This one is more helpful to businesses, but it could apply if you’re self-employed and take clients to lunch or dinner. Businesses can deduct 100 percent of business meals for 2021 and 2022 (but not for 2020), instead of the usual 50 percent. This is aimed at helping out beleaguered restaurants that have suffered from restrictions during the pandemic. The deduction applies to client meals as well as to employees on business travel and must be for food and drinks provided by a restaurant.
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
“It helps boost the restaurant economy,” Ms. Weston said.
Changes to tax breaks for educational expenses. The December law also did away with the on-again, off-again deduction for tuition and related expenses, but expanded the income limits for the lifetime learning credit, a credit that covers many of the same costs, starting in 2021. The credit is worth up to $2,000 per tax return.
“This is a net positive for families,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com.
Often, he said, families were confused and took the deduction when they might have been better off taking educational credits. Tax credits are generally considered better than deductions because credits directly reduce the amount of tax owed.