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Will your stimulus check be taxed? (and other burning questions)

(BUSINESS FINANCE) One of the biggest questions of 2020 (and potentially further) is whether or not your stimulus check will be taxed. Let’s take a look at this, and other questions.

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Couple looking at computer together to see how to use their stimulus check.

We’re finally able to put 2020 – and its unending laundry list of concerns, tragedies, and turmoil – behind us. At least, it’s a new year finally, but we’ll still be feeling some of the effects from a historically volatile time for a bit, and part of that includes one of the great certainties in life – filing taxes.

Arguably the biggest question that has been repeatedly asked is whether or not a stimulus check is taxed. This is against the greater backdrop of questions as well – does it affect (lower?) one’s tax refund, whether or not someone qualifies for the checks to begin with, when additional rounds might be deposited, whether or not anything changes when filling out tax forms, and so on.

So let’s break these down as simply as possible.

Are stimulus checks taxed?
In short, no (woohoo!). The tax code states that taxes are levied on “all income from whatever source derived” unless there is a specific exemption. While that makes it sound like a stimulus check would be taxed as a form of income given that it is not directly excluded, stimulus checks are considered an advance payment of a tax credit, and thus are not considered taxable income.

Does the stimulus check lower my tax refund?
Also no (hooray!). If anything, it will increase your tax refund. Essentially, this lowers the amount of taxes you are paying. There’s more to it than that, but this is the quickest summary.

Does anything change when filling out my taxes?
I’ll start by saying this is a bit of a trickier area, and I would absolutely suggest speaking with a CPA if you have any specific or in-depth questions.

When filling out the Form 1040, there will be a line on the second page for “Recovery Rebate Credit,” and this is where a number is entered under certain conditions. This is directly related to taxes filed in 2018 and/or 2019, as these years were used to determine who gets a stimulus check and the amount. The general rule is that if there was a big change between those years – losing a job, having a child, starting a new career, graduated college, etc. – then this line may need to be filled in. Essentially, if you are/were entitled to more stimulus payout, then you would enter in the difference here.

For example, if your taxes from 2018 were used to determine your stimulus amount, and this resulted in a low payout due to a high income for that year, but then you lost your job in 2019, you’d write in the difference here. So if you received $100 in stimulus but were laid off in 2019, you could still be owed $1100 (going by the first stimulus check that was valued at $1200 for an individual). You’d enter that amount on this line, which would then lower your tax bill and potentially (should) lead to a higher refund.

Essentially, this line is where you’re stating that you are still owed additional funds that the stimulus was designed to pay out. The IRS website goes over this in some detail, where it explains that individuals who did not receive the full amount via stimulus checks (called “Economic Impact Payments”) from the CARES Act should fill this line out.

In short, if you did get the full amount? Ignore this line. If you did not, you may be eligible, and should determine what to fill in so that you maximize a potential refund.

Will I get the second stimulus check?
President Trump did sign a COVID relief bill recently that was designed to give $600 checks to individuals, as well as other stimulus benefits for unemployment and various funding programs. However, not everyone is eligible for this second check. This includes high earners (anyone with an adjusted gross incoming of $87,000 or more), dependents, and persons who lack certain legal documents/designations.

If I qualify, when do I get the second stimulus check?
Some people have already received this payment via direct deposit, and these will continue onward for the next few weeks. The IRS cannot send any checks for this second round past January 15th, 2021. If an eligible person does not receive the payment by then, they can utilize the “Recovery Rebate Credit” mentioned above when filing taxes.

It should also be noted that some individuals could receive their stimulus via debit cards, so be sure to always check your mail carefully! There’s no indication this could happen with the second round yet, but it’s always best to keep in mind.

Is the tax deadline still April 15th, 2021?
At this time, this is still the official date that taxes must be filed. It should be noted that the same deadline was originally in place for 2020, but was pushed back once pandemic-related obstacles arrived. As such, there is a chance that the date could change for 2021, but until an official ruling is given, plan on having taxes filed by the standard April 15th date (or filing for an extension if that is a possibility).

Will additional stimulus checks arrive in 2021?
While there has been talk within the government regarding additional rounds, and while many are hopeful for a $2000 check, there is no official word or regulations in place to ensure that this will happen. It is still uncertain what the incoming administration will do, can do, or be able to pass in the future; to speculate would be ill-advised at this time.

Keep in mind that debates on the second stimulus check had been ongoing since July 2020 and were only recently passed; this would suggest that additional rounds could face similar discussion.

Summary
So, the good news here is that stimulus checks are not taxed and will not affect your tax refund, and this should help a large number of the populace as we continue to work through these difficult times. There is a chance that additional payments will arrive in the future, but keep in mind that they may not arrive soon. Lastly, as I previously mentioned, know that there is a chance to file for the rebate directly on your tax forms, and that I strongly encourage you to speak with a CPA if you have any questions.

Otherwise, as sincerely as I can say this, good luck in the new year!

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Business Finance

How should freelancers be saving for retirement (is it even possible)?

(FINANCE) Adulting is hard, but retirement looms no matter your age – here are some ways to start squirreling money away so it’s less stressful later.

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retirement savings

Freelancing is a tenuous approach to employment, made all the more so by a profound lack of amenities usually offered by more stable arrangements – chief among which is a retirement fund. It can feel impossible, especially when your business suffers amidst a pandemic, so some of what follows can be ignored until the ship isn’t sinking, but don’t wait a minute longer than that – deal?

So there are several schools of thought regarding the best way to start saving and where you should put your money, but the bottom line is that, if you’re a freelancer, you should be allocating your own retirement funds. Here are some ways to do just that.

Before you can even get into the weeds of how to invest in retirement, you should have a parachute in case things go sideways. My Bank Tracker suggests starting with an emergency fund of $1,000, adding to it as you can until you have anywhere from 3 to 12 months of expenses covered.

This serves two purposes: ensuring that you’ll have the luxury of time if you need to perform an abrupt job hunt, and establishing how much you can safely put away each month without jeopardizing your business or standard of living (within reason).

Having a relatively large sum of money on hand for emergencies is always good, and if you never have to use it for the purpose for which you set it aside, it can supplement your retirement whenever you decide it’s time to cash in.

My Bank Tracker also suggests storing your emergency fund using a “high-yield” bank account, such as an online savings account, rather than sticking with traditional, low-interest savings options.

You also need to plan for taxes, which in addition to whatever your tax bracket percentage is, includes allocating 15 percent of your income to pay Social Security and Medicare. This means that you’re probably putting aside a pretty hefty sum (at least 30%) each month.

Once you’ve established your emergency fund and planned for taxes, you should have a general idea of what your wiggle room looks like vis-a-vis saving for retirement.

The actual saving part of retirement entails investment in a retirement account such as an IRA, Roth IRA, a 401(k), or a pension plan (referred to as a “defined benefit plan”).

Each of these account types has benefits and drawbacks depending on your situation.

  • A Roth IRA will allow you to contribute a certain amount each year, and you can usually set up an account quickly from a variety of online locations. The money that goes into a Roth IRA is post-tax, meaning you don’t have to pay tax on the retirement funds you pull out. Your income, however, can disqualify you from investing – if you earn above a certain threshold ($140,000 in 2021), you won’t be able to use a Roth IRA.
  • Other IRA options exist as well, each with a cap on how much you can contribute per year and varying tax requirements. For example, a traditional IRA account requires you to pay taxes when you withdraw the money, and there’s an upper limit on how much you can contribute.
  • A SEP IRA is similar, but the upper limit on investment is substantially higher – and you need to be self-employed (or an employer) to have one.

Nerd Wallet also points out that a 401(k) is a reasonable option for self-employed people who don’t employ anyone else, especially if you plan on saving “a lot in some years — say, when business is flush — and less in others.” 401(k) accounts allow you to put up to a certain amount ($58,000 in 2021) in each year pre-tax, and you pay taxes on withdrawals whenever you start pulling out money.

More eccentric retirement options exist as well. Taxable Brokerage Accounts let you invest in stocks and securities through a brokerage, and you’re able to use the money whenever you please – but you’ll have to pay taxes on your gains each year, which can become expensive in the long run.

And defined benefit plans are expensive and entail high fees, but they allow you to set up a pension with high investment opportunities as opposed to some of the lower-investment options.

Whichever option (or options – you can always invest in multiple accounts) you choose, make sure you’re saving for retirement in some capacity. And remember that these accounts represent exponential growth, meaning that the sooner you start saving, the better off you’ll be when you begin your retirement journey.

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Business Finance

Stripe makes it easier to collect money from customers

(FINANCE) Stripe didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they are outshining competitors by adding features that help small businesses.

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stripe payment links

Payment processing is an attribute of any sales process that can make or break the customer’s experience – and, with it, your revenue stream.

While coding in a payment portal can be time-intensive and costly, payment processor company, Stripe has a simple alternative: Payment Links.

Stripe Payment Links are exactly what they sound like. Rather than linking a customer to a product and then having them check out via the usual cart process, you can send them a Payment Link for that specific product; the customer then enters their payment information in the ensuing window, and the product is theirs.

It’s a very straight-forward process that is made easier by Stripe’s no-code presentation, a choice that ProductHunt posits is an effort to go with the no-code flow we’ve seen in the last year.

And, the easier the checkout process is, the more likely a customer is to complete a transaction. It’s one of the reasons why Amazon’s “Buy Now” feature is so rewarding (and dangerous, especially at night).

By offering a customer a direct link to a product with a space to enter their card info in a hassle-free manner, Stripe has created an incredibly convenient way for them to pay – and, without the usual process of checking out involved, customers have less time to second-guess that payment.

Call it what you want (manipulative, pushy, morally grey), but if a customer doesn’t get the chance to rethink their purchase before the payment form has been filled out, chances are decent that they’ll follow through.

Certainly, there are drawbacks to this system. The link applies to individual products or services, which means that, while you can create an individual link for each item on your site, your payroll processing will categorize each of those links differently. That can be a mess to sort out at the end of the day.

But it’s a great way to ensure that customers who want something specific can get it quickly and without much ado about anything.

Putting a Payment Link in your bio after advertising a product on Instagram, sharing your link on Twitter, or even DMing links to interested customers is sure to be a productive, if shameless, endeavor.

Here is a quick rundown from Stripe:

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Business Finance

Have fractional shares of stocks *really* democratized the market?

(FINANCE) Fractional shares of stocks and equity have become widely available, and it’s said that the market is being democratized. Is that true?

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fractional shares

Not everyone has the kind of startup cash needed to invest in premium stocks, which is why fractional investing (the practice of buying percentages of stocks rather than an entire share) is making waves. With the ability to purchase equity at a lower cost and with lower stakes, though, comes the question of whether or not the stock market is really becoming democratized.

Any time premium services become routinely accessible to middle- and lower-class members of society, celebration is somewhat hampered by the realization that those services might simply exist to exploit the people to whom they’ve been made available.

Similarly, one can’t help but wonder if such services are just gimmicks by the time they land – played out and generally wasteful.

But fractional investing options comprises anything from stocks like Apple to real estate these days, which makes the notion of investing a lot less scary than the traditional route – and a new player on the block, Bits of Stock, makes it even more interesting.

Bits of Stock is an app that does pretty much what it sounds like: earns you “bits” of stock as you go about your life. After linking the app to your bank account, Bits of Stock will count your spending toward stock-based rewards, allowing you to redeem fractions of various stocks over time.

Users on Just Use App have reported a generally positive experience with Bits of Stock, elaborating on a wealth of supported retailers and variable rewards, though one user explains that one can expect “0.5%” as a baseline for the percentage of stock earned.

It’s worth noting that over the years, other mainstream investment options have added fractional investing. Robinhood is perhaps the most famous, and Schwab launched something called “Slices” to the same effect.

Obviously, more people can gain equity when the price tag is lower, and that’s a good thing…

But, as interest in investment rises and the number of people investing in the stock market in some capacity surges, it will soon become clear whether or not this is a viable future for people’s money.

After all, with minor investment comes minor growth, and tying up the funds of people who usually wouldn’t invest – even if it’s in a stable environment – could have deleterious effects on their personal finances over time.

So have stocks been democratized by fractional investing options? Yes. But at what cost?

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