Tax Breaks for Helping Relatives

It’s not uncommon for adult children or siblings to act as caregivers for family members or give them financial assistance for medical or long-term care needs. The problem is that all too often those providing the help don’t take advantage of the tax benefits.

Types of Care

Caregiving happens through many different avenues. For example, family members might pay for services that their elderly parents need, such as housekeeping, meal preparation, or nursing care. Outside the home, they may pay for all or a portion of the cost of an assisted living facility.

In other circumstances, individuals could directly provide the care instead of paying for it. This could happen in either the home of the person giving the care or in the home of the person receiving the care. They might also support the relative’s daily living expenses by paying for groceries, utilities or other essentials.

Assessing the Tax Breaks Available

Step one is to figure out if the person receiving care qualifies as a dependent on the caregiver’s tax return. While there are no longer personal or dependent exemptions, qualifying as a dependent opens the door to deduct medical expenses and other medical-related tax breaks. Let’s look at an example to understand the details better.

Dependent Test

Under our scenario, we have Rob taking care of his mother, Laura. Rob is allowed to claim Laura as a dependent if a set of tests are met. First, Laura’s gross income must be less than $4,300 in 2021. While this might seem low, note that tax-exempt interest and Social Security benefits are usually not included.

Second, Rob needs to provide the majority of Laura’s support in the calendar year. “Support” includes basic necessities such as clothes, a place to live, medical expenses, and transportation. In cases where the cared-for relative lives with the taxpayer, they are able to use the equivalent rental value of the housing provided. Given the broad definition of support, it’s often not too hard to meet this test – but make sure to keep diligent records, tracking the amount spent versus the dependent’s total support costs. You can always plan some extra payments near year-end to bump yourself over the 50 percent threshold.

Third, Laura needs to be a United States citizen.

Fourth, the location of the dependent matters. In the case of relatives such as parents, stepparents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles, these persons can be considered a dependent even if they do not live with you. This means you can be helping them to live in their own house or care facility.

Fifth, Laura cannot jointly file a return with any other taxpayer.

Brothers and Sisters

What happens if you and some of your siblings split the support of a parent? It’s easy to see how in this case no one will meet the majority support test.

In the case of multiple support providers, someone can still claim the person as a dependent as long as all the supporting siblings agree on who makes the claim, and they file an IRS Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration noting it.

Each Form 2120 signer must contribute at least 10 percent support for the year. The siblings can rotate who claims the deduction or keep it the same each year.

Why Dependency Matters

Given that the personal and dependent exemptions have been eliminated, you might wonder what all the fuss is about the person being cared-for qualifying as a dependent. Well, the answer is the taxpayer who can claim the dependent is the one who can itemize the dependent’s medical expenses as well.

Medical Expense Tax Benefit

The potential benefit comes when Rob is able to add his mother’s medical expenses to those of the rest his family. This can allow him to take a larger medical expense deduction when he itemizes expenses on his tax return. Remember that in order to benefit from any itemized deductions, the total of all itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction.

Indirect medical costs also can be deducted, but only if the person cared-for qualifies as a dependent. Mileage costs for providing transportation to medical appointments and treatments are deductible. In 2021, this expense is deductible at $0.16 per mile.

What is a Net Zero Economy?

President Biden re-entered the United States in the Paris Agreement. This is an international treaty first signed in 2015 in which countries around the globe committed to mitigating climate change. Specifically, the goal of the Paris Accord is to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This objective would generate what is called a net zero global economy, which means creating a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases produced and the amount of greenhouse gasses removed from the atmosphere. The main engine that places carbon back into the soil is healthy vegetation that grows all years round, these are called cover crops and reforestation. You can help by using the Ecosia search engine. 

The initial benchmark is to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2070. However, accomplishing these lofty goals will require a remarkable transformation of the global economy and global farming practices.

A way to measure global warming is through “temperature alignment” – a forward-looking benchmark that compares the level of emissions today against the potential for reducing them by a certain date in the future. The measure can be applied to a specific business, government, or investment portfolio.

For investors, global greening provides an opportunity to invest in companies positioning for a future net zero economy. After all, it’s important to recognize that climate risk represents substantial investment risk. Companies that prepare for the transition to sustainable energy sources will be able to deliver long-term returns, while those that do not could become obsolete.

If Net Zero is your path consider the following steps to align your investment allocation with the goals of a net zero economy. For example:

  • Reduce your exposure to high-carbon emitters and companies not making forward-looking commitments to transform to the net zero economy.
  • Prioritize investment decisions based on companies actively reducing reliance on fossil fuels and meeting science-based targets.
  • Target specific sustainable sectors (e.g., clean energy, green bonds) based on your asset allocation strategy – and diversify investments among those holdings.
  • Monitor ongoing research and available data to measure temperature alignment to ensure your issuers and investments are meeting published transition plans. This benchmark should be reviewed with the same rigor as traditional financial data.

The United States and the entire world have a choice to reduce the global. However, the effort also offers an opportunity to invest in climate innovation. The future will bring the survival of the fittest, is your portfolio ready.

How to Catch Up on Your Retirement

If you’re 40 or 50 and aren’t where you’d like to be in terms of saving for retirement, don’t despair. You can remedy this situation. And since people are living well into their 80s and 90s, it’s never too late to start. Here are a few things you can do.

Max Out Your 401(k)

This could be a game-changer. Stuart Ritter, a certified financial planner with T. Rowe Price, recommends that you save at least 15 percent of your income for retirement, including the amount your employer matches. If your company is contributing 3 percent, then you should save 12 percent. If you can’t go this high, then increase the amount by 2 percent each year. So, if you’re saving 3 percent this year, bump it up to 5 percent, then 7 percent, and so on. If you’re under 50, try to hit the $19,500 limit. After you turn 50, you can increase your annual savings to $6,500 on top of this $19,500 limit. Note: You have to be 59 ½ to withdraw money without any penalties. However, the early withdrawal penalty doesn’t apply if you’re 55 or older in the year you leave your employer. All this to say that the sooner you start doing this, the more you will save and the more you’ll have down the road.

Contribute to a Roth IRA

With this product, you can grow your money on a tax-deferred basis. For instance, if you’re 40 and invest $6,000 each year at an 8 percent return, then by the time you’re 65 you’ll have more than $473,726. Even if you wait until you’re 50 and save 6k a year, using the same rate of return, you’ll save as much as $175,946 by the time you’re 65. However, there are some income limitations. If you’re single and your modified adjusted gross income is more than $125,000, your contribution limit is reduced. If you’re single and make over $140k, you can’t contribute. Michelle Buonincontri, a certified financial planner, says that the beauty of Roth IRAs are that they allow for tax-free compounding. Further, when withdrawal rules are followed, the withdrawals, including the earnings, will be tax-free. And when you’re in the withdrawal phase, it can minimize taxable income, which can add up and help your money last longer during retirement.

Take Advantage of Your Deductions

Not everyone takes standard deductions. That’s why if you have a significant amount of mortgage interest, deductible taxes, charitable donations, and business-related expenses that your employer doesn’t reimburse you for, you’ll most likely want to itemize your deductions. Talk to your CPA and figure out whether this is a good plan for you. Then start saving your receipts and keeping good records. As you get closer to retirement and if money is tight, remember: it’s not what you make, but what you save that makes the difference.

Don’t Forget About Home Equity

While home equity probably shouldn’t be used as your main source of income when you’re retired, it’s a viable solution. Retirees might consider borrowing against it to fund living expenses. In fact, you can use a home equity line (HELOC) to draw from when needed. Other options include selling, downsizing, and either living off the equity or investing it. But before you sell, you should consider tax consequences. Married homeowners who file a joint tax return can make up to $500k without owing taxes on capital gains. If you’re single, the cap is $250,000.

Get Disability Coverage

The reason for this is simple: to protect yourself and at least a portion of your income and retirement savings in a worst-case scenario. It is always a good idea to have a contingency plan.

Consider Your Cash Value Policies

This is a last resort, but again, a good option, especially if the original need for your insurance policy is no longer there. However, before you do anything or access its cash value, consult your tax advisor or insurance professional first.

No matter what your situation is, you can save for your future. All you have to do is begin now and take it one day at a time.

Sources

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/08/catch-up.asp

https://www.kiplinger.com/retirement/retirement-planning/602191/401k-contribution-limits-for-2021

https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/401ks/articles/how-to-take-advantage-of-401-k-catch-up-contributions#:~:text=The%20401(k)%20Catch%2DUp%20Contribution%20Limit%20for%202021&text=Once%20you%20turn%2050%2C%20you,temporarily%20shield%20from%20income%20tax