Reducing Taxes on Your Holiday Bonus

As the spirit of generosity is in the air, companies and employees need to know that holiday bonuses are considered supplemental wages and subject to taxes. Holiday bonuses are viewed by the IRS as compensation, just like paychecks, so taxes need to be withheld from your holiday bonus.

How Much are Holiday Bonuses Taxed?

Some of the taxes you will need to pay on your holiday bonus include:

Social security tax:

You pay social security tax on all compensation up to $132,900 in 2019. If you haven’t passed this threshold, then you can expect your employer to deduct 6.20% from your bonus for social security.

Medicare tax:

You can expect another 1.45% to be deducted from your holiday bonus for Medicare tax.

Federal income tax:

The IRS requires a set percentage of your bonus to be withheld when you receive it. This is because your holiday bonus is considered a supplemental income. Under tax reform, the federal tax rate for withholding on a bonus was lowered to 22%. This is lower than the federal income tax rate of 25%.

State income tax:

depending on which state you live in, state income tax will be withheld at the rate the state requires by law.

Retirement Plans (401k):

If you have requested that your employer contribute a portion of your wages to your retirement plan, then the rate at which you have set will be the same rate that will be taken out of your holiday bonus.

Ultimately, you should check with your employer about your holiday bonus and taxes. Your employer has the option to combine your regular paycheck and holiday bonus and withhold taxes on the whole amount. If your employer does this, it may result in a higher withholding than 22%.

If this is the case, don’t worry as you will eventually get some of the money back as part of your federal tax refund when you file your taxes.

How to Avoid Holiday Bonus Tax

Are there any ways to avoid paying tax on the bonus? No. And failing to report and pay taxes could lead to problems down the road. But there are ways to minimize or delay the impact. Here are three options:

Give a little more:

Employers can estimate the taxes an employee would have to pay on the bonus and add that to the total amount. That way, after taxes, the employee would get to keep the intended bonus amount. Obviously, this requires the employer to be more generous, which is not always possible.

Invest in the future:

Another option – that would avoid both payroll and income taxes – is to put the bonus into the employee’s 401K retirement plan. While employees would not actually receive a check during the holidays, they would also not have to pay taxes on that money until they withdraw it. In the meantime, that bonus could continue to grow.

Kick Off a Healthy New Year:

Employers can decide to award holiday bonuses in January and offer the option of placing the money in a Flexible Spending Account for healthcare. None of that money would be taxed, but the employee would have to use it on qualifying health or dependent care expenses.

If you’re an employee and your company will not offer any of the options above, then do your best to plan ahead and factor the taxes into your holiday budget. And if it makes you feel any better, giving is always better than receiving.

Looking for assistance with tax relief? Optima Tax Relief’s licensed professionals offer a range of tax services to help you. Reach out for a consultation today.

Protect Yourself from IRS Telephone Scam

You may have heard of companies that ask for money up front and claim they’ll convince the IRS to forgive all of your taxes.

But did you know some scammers are claiming to be IRS employees and telling innocent victims they’ll be arrested, deported, or lose their drivers’ licenses if they don’t pay their taxes over the phone?

New IRS Telephone Scam

Last week, the IRS warned taxpayers of this latest ruse and suggested ways to protect themselves from a scamming industry that continues to use fake emails, caller IDs, and websites to steal people’s money.

“This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel last week. “We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.”

In this recent phone scam, the scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on the victim’s caller ID. If the victims don’t pay these fake IRS employees, they are threatened with jail time, deportation or license revocation. After that call, other scammers once again use faux caller IDs and pretend to be from the local police or Department of Motor Vehicles.

“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” said Werfel.

Protecting Yourself from IRS Phone Scams

The great G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle.” So to protect yourself from these scams, you should know that if there were a tax issue, the IRS says it would most likely contact you first via regular mail, not by phone. If you’re not sure if you were contacted in the mail and get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, you should call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS says employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

If you have no reason to believe you owe any taxes, then the IRS says you should call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. You can also report this scam to the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Protecting Yourself from Electronic Scams, or Phishing

Scammers also use unsolicited email and websites that pose as legitimate sites to get personal and financial information in a process known as “phishing.” To keep yourself safe, know that the IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to request your financial information. If you get an email from the IRS that asks for your personal or financial information, don’t open any attachments and don’t click on any links in it. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

To learn more about phishing, check out this page from the real IRS.

Tax Deductions for Professional Gamblers

What could be better than winning $8.3 million at the World Series of Poker next week?

Not paying taxes on all $8.3 million.

Since a federal court ruling two years ago, there are tax deductions for professional gamblers similar to those for self employed contractors and small businesses. Expenses like travel, meals, and lodging can be cut from their total income.

This means that if a professional player won $1 million and showed business expenses of $100,000 million during the year – he would only pay taxes on $900,000.

Are You a Professional Gambler?

So how do you prove to the IRS that you’re a professional gambler? Show that you treat the game like a business all year long; that you play to make a profit, not to have fun with your friends.

The federal tax code uses nine guidelines to determine what qualifies as professional gambling, and what doesn’t. Here are a few of those guidelines adapted from an article last year in the Journal of Accountancy.

Gambling Guidelines 

  • Make a profit. Everyone loses money sometimes. But if you never win and or profits, it’s hard to suggest that you make a living by gambling. This is the same way the IRS distinguishes between a small business and a hobby.

  • Keep records of the time you spend practicing and competing. By maintaining books and records show that you’re not just a casual gambler, you can prove that you’re a professional.

  • Study hard. Prepare for each tournament with a poker expert. This will show you consider gambling your job, and that improving your game is part of professional development.

  • Don’t have an entourage. Since gambling is usually for fun, you have to show that you are not playing for pleasure, but for a living. It is better to go by yourself. If you want family and friends to keep you company, don’t include them in your business expenses.

“Like most tax issues, accurate and proper tax planning is key. With a sensitive issue, such as professional gambling, having your tax strategy be IRS ready will be vital in keeping your winnings in your pocket.  Winning against the Internal Revenue Service is possible, as long as you hold the right cards in your hand.” –Andrew Park, Enrolled Agent at Optima Tax Relief.

What Expenses Can Be Deducted?

Like most small businesses, professional gamblers can deduct expenses that the IRS considers “ordinary and necessary” to “carrying on any trade or business.” The website ProfessionalGamblerStatus.com provides a long list of  tax deductions for professional gamblers you can deduct, ranging from internet connections (if you play online), to flights, car trips, and meals when you travel to tournaments.

List of Possible Deductions

  • Internet Costs, if you regularly play online
  • Home office expenses
  • Tax advice
  • Subscriptions to gambling magazines and newspapers
  • Gaming fees, chat room fees
  • Club membership fees and dues
  • Clerical and record keeping expenses
  • Travel and meal costs during tournaments
  • Wages paid to relatives or employees for their assistance

You can also deduct money used to hire a poker coach or someone to keep track of your results. The payment just needs to be “a reasonable allowance for salaries or other compensation for personal services actually rendered,” according to the IRS.

To comply with the laws, make sure you don’t look like you’re trying to take advantage of the system. For instance, taking a taxi and flying coach would arouse less suspicion than renting a private jet and a stretched limo. That also applies for high rollers, who are often offered complimentary hotel rooms, buffets and rides by casinos. Don’t try to pass those off freebies as expenses.

So what if you’re not a professional but you drive 60 miles, eat lunch, and have a great day at the track? Since you’re not a professional gambler, you can’t deduct any expenses. But you still have to pay taxes on your winnings.

Photo: Play Among Friends

Tax Rules for Children Who Have Investment Income

Some children receive investment income and are required to file a federal tax return. If a child cannot file his or her own tax return for any reason, such as age, the child’s parent or guardian is responsible for filing a return on the child’s behalf.

There are special tax rules that affect how parents report a child’s investment income. Some parents can include their child’s investment income on their tax return. Other children may have to file their own tax return.

Here are four facts from the IRS about the taxability of your child’s investment income.

1. Investment income normally includes interest, dividends, capital gains and other unearned income, such as from a trust.

2. Special rules apply if your child’s total investment income is more than $1,900. The parent’s tax rate may apply to part of that income instead of the child’s tax rate.

3. If your child’s total interest and dividend income is less than $9,500, you may be able to include the income on your tax return. See Form 8814, Parents’ Election to Report Child’s Interest and Dividends. If you make this choice, the child does not file a return.

4. Your child must file their own tax return if they received investment income of $9,500 or more. File Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Investment Income of More Than $1,900, with the child’s federal tax return.

For more information on this topic, see Publication 929, Tax Rules for Children and Dependents.

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