Why You Should Hire a Tax Professional During the COVID-19 Pandemic

January 2021

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our lives since the pandemic began in March 2020. It has affected the finances of most Americans, creating waves of economic stress. The pandemic will have lasting tax implications that many people may have not considered. For some, it can mean simply reporting income or expenses differently. For others, it may mean having to pay additional income taxes that had not been planned for. Regardless of your specific situation, this might be the year that you should hire a tax professional to help address tax complications due to COVID-19.

Unemployment and Retirement Plan Withdrawals

As individuals are losing their jobs or had to decrease work because of the pandemic, they are turning to other sources of income such as unemployment benefits and/or dipping into retirement savings. For those who are tapping into these funds for the first time, there are likely questions about taxation, specifically whether taxes are due as a result of these additional income sources.

Are unemployment benefits taxable?

This may be surprising to you, but your unemployment benefits will be fully taxable at the federal level.  In general, unemployment benefits might be taxed by the state as well, depending on where you live. For example, Alabama and California do not impose any taxes on unemployment benefits, but the benefits are fully taxable as regular income in Illinois. If you are the recipient of Illinois unemployment benefits, taxes likely have been withheld from the payments, but these may or may not cover your individual tax burden.

Are retirement benefit withdrawals taxable?

If you take out retirement benefits early (before age 59 ½), there is generally a 10% penalty imposed on any taxable distributions. However, tax changes because of COVID-19 allowed individuals to withdraw from retirement without paying the 10% penalty, as long as the withdrawal took place during 2020. You must also meet certain requirements that indicate you have a stressful financial situation because of COVID-19.

Even if you meet the qualifications, avoiding the 10% penalty is not the only tax that you must pay. Additionally, the amounts withdrawn are often taxed as income, depending on how your retirement plan was established. Many people may not recognize this additional tax cost until the tax return is filed, so they have not been planning for it. If you hire a tax professional, they will be able to guide you through the tax implications of collecting unemployment and/or withdrawing from your retirement plan and planning for the tax ramifications accordingly.

Tax Planning During COVID-19

The various stimulus programs have created opportunity as well as uncertainty. The stimulus payments, in particular, generated a fair amount of misinformation as to who qualified and who didn’t qualify. As the final stimulus payment/credit will in certain cases be based on your 2020 tax filing, did you know there may be an opportunity to receive even more of a stimulus payment? Your tax professional can advise of planning that may generate an additional tax credit on your 2020 tax filing.

Dealing with the IRS and Unique Tax Problems After COVID-19

The best way to ensure that you are addressing tax issues appropriately with the IRS, or any other taxing authority, is to hire a tax professional. A tax professional will be able to determine if there is a valid tax issue and how to best resolve the matter.

The tax professional can also advocate with taxing authorities on your behalf. For example, there have been a number of incorrect tax notices issued, and issues with payments posting correctly. Tax professionals are aware of these challenges and can work directly with the revenue agents to ensure that not only is your account resolved, but that there are no implications to your credit score from invalid collection efforts.

Having a tax professional on your side to help you deal with tax preparation, tax planning, tax notices and negotiations with the IRS can be invaluable. Do not work through this process alone, especially if COVID-19 has created some unique issues for you in 2020. RBI member Cray Kaiser is here to help you in this process, so please do not hesitate to contact us to get started on your taxes.

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