The Steep Reality of College Costs
January 13, 2023
There’s a saying that college costs an arm and a leg. However, this is far from true. In reality, it may cost as much as a starter house in a decent neighborhood plus a car or two.
The cost of college has been on the rise over the past two decades. According to the U.S. News recent data, tuition and fees at private national universities have increased by 134%. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public national universities have surged by 141%. Above all, in-state tuition and fees have risen by 175%.
The National Center for Education Statistics claims that in 1980, the cost for attending a four-year institution was $10,231 annually. However, between 2019-2020, the annual price soared to $28,775, indicating a 180% increase. According to Forbes, this reason behind this drastic increase includes recent changes in state and local funding due to shifts in market conditions and tax revenues, more maintenance costs for college-provided services, and the expansion of student-support resources.
What is Included in College Costs?
There are several expenses included in total college cost. Besides the initial tuition that institutions require for enrollment, many miscellaneous fees are required over the course of a college education.
Some of the main items included in the cost of college are below::
- Room and board
- Books and school supplies
- Equipment and room materials
- Travel and expenses
The Dos for Affording College
Before you consider selling your home or taking out a hefty loan, there are several methods that families employ in order to better afford the rising cost of college. These methods include both long-term and short-term plans. They include the following:
Various organizations provide scholarships asfree aid for students. These scholarships can be offered at both the local and national level, ranging from small to large sums of money to help pay for tuition costs and fees.
These can be merit-based, academic, or athletic scholarships granted based on a student’s performance. The U.S. Department of Education awards close to $46 billion in scholarship money annually to help students cover costs.
Yes, the government can give you money! The U.S. Department of Education awards federal grants to students based on their financial status. In order to qualify for these grants, students submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much money is allotted for their college costs.
The federal government distributes fixed interest rate loans to the public that are either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are permitted based on financial need where the government covers the interest acquired by a loan during the time a student is in school to six months after graduation. On the other hand, unsubsidized loans require a student to pay the gathered interest on a loan.
The Federal Work-Study Program offers part-time jobs to students to earn money towards their college expenses. These jobs can be either off-campus or on-campus and are required to pay students the federal minimum wage.
Advanced Placement and Dual-Enrollment Credits
Throughout high school, many students enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) or Dual-Enrollment classes to receive college credit. They may require many sleepless nights and endless amounts of homework, but earning prior credit for these courses helps students save college tuition costs.
The most important method for reducing costs is creating a plan ahead of time to allocate money for college. A 529 college savings account, which is an investment account that provides tax benefits, can help cover educational expenses. Designing a plan ahead of time will help make college more affordable for students across the nation.
As a parent, it is important to start coming up with solutions to make college more inexpensive for your children. Consider applying for federal loans and grants, having your student apply for scholarships and work-studies, and most importantly, have a plan ready for college savings and payments. At insureyouknow.org, you can track college costs and plan out potential methods for saving money on educational expenses.
Kick Your Health Benefits into High Gear
December 1, 2022
As open enrollment season kicks into high gear, millions of people will have an opportunity to choose their 2023 health benefits.
Employers’ Healthcare Costs
Employers’ healthcare costs are rising, with large companies forecasting up to an 8 percent increase for 2023. The main difference with previous years will be higher prescription drug costs, which will jump 10 percent, the highest in the past decade.
Many companies will try to limit the share they pass along to their workers, as benefits are seen as a key attraction and retention tool in a tight job market.
Employees’ Healthcare Costs
For 2022, annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance averaged $22,463, up slightly from $22,221 in 2021, according to the 2022 benchmark KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey. On average, workers contributed $6,106 toward the cost of family premiums, with employers paying the rest. The average premium for single coverage was $7,911 (up from $7,739 in 2021), with employees paying $1,327 annually, according to the survey. Nine percent of covered workers, including 21 percent of covered workers at small firms, are in a plan with a worker contribution of $12,000 or more for family coverage.
While premium data for 2023 generally won’t be available until after the new year begins, workers may see larger increases than in recent years.
Triple-Tax Advantaged HSAs
Some tools can help you manage your healthcare costs. More than three-quarters of large employers offer Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) that offer triple tax advantages: money contributed is pre-tax, it grows on a tax-free basis, and then can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for qualifying medical expenses now or in the future, all the way through retirement.
You can contribute to an HSA only if you’re enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health plan. Average annual premiums for workers enrolled in HSA plans are lower than the overall average, but workers shoulder higher costs until they meet their deductible.
Employees can contribute up to $3,850 to their HSA for individual coverage for 2023, up from $3,650 this year; for family coverage, workers can contribute up to $7,750, up from $7,300 this year, per an announcement by the Internal Revenue Service. Catch-up contributions for those 55 and over remain $1,000.
Many HSAs give account holders the option to invest a portion of their money in the stock market. But fewer than 10 percent do so, as opposed to leaving their money just sitting in cash. If you can afford to pay your medical bills through your regular cash flow, your HSA funds will likely grow over time in the market and can be used in retirement to pay for a range of qualifying medical expenses.
HSAs are portable and remain with the owner through plan and job changes. If you are no longer enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health plan, you can no longer contribute to your account, but you can still tap it to pay qualifying medical costs. Flexible-spending accounts (FSAs), by contrast, are linked to a particular employer; unlike HSA funds, money in an FSA must be spent down or forfeited within a certain period.
Health Insurance Plans under the Affordable Care Act
Outside of the employer market, open enrollment began on November 1 on Healthcare.gov for individual and family health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. In most states, open enrollment ends on January 15, although you must enroll by December 15 if you want coverage to begin on January 1. The Inflation Reduction Act extended the enhanced premium subsidies for ACA enrollees through 2025; for many, that may offset the moderate average increases expected to premiums.
Impact of Rising Drug Costs
There are two main reasons drug costs are rising: First, pharmaceutical companies are introducing better, but more expensive drugs for several important conditions. In most years, total drug cost would be tempered by other brand name drugs that were being replaced by generics, but in 2023, there will be fewer of these than usual.
Second, pharmaceutical companies are raising the prices they charge to private health insurance plans because they anticipate having to lower the prices they charge to Medicare. The recent Inflation Reduction Act allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time. Currently, only 10 drugs are on the negotiation list, but these are widely used. The list will rise to 20 drugs in the future.
The “No Surprises” Act
The “No Surprises” Act that went into effect in January 2022 is having its intended effect of lowering surprise out-of-network charges to patients who get emergency care, non-emergency care from out-of-network providers at in-network facilities, and air ambulance services from out-of-network providers.
After you determine your healthcare insurance coverage for 2023, file your decisions at insureyouknow.org. Keep aware of government mandates that can affect your healthcare expenses for prescription drugs, out-of-network charges, changes in Medicare, increases in premiums, and your HSA and FSA contributions and withdrawals.
The Everything Kids’ Money Book
November 15, 2022
You want your children to become financially stable adults. But how can you interest them in this important topic, and make it easy to learn about and fun, when they are in their formative years? Your answer is The Everything Kids’ Money Book by Brette Sember that visually depicts boys and girls undertaking some enterprise having to do with money such as having a lemonade stand, saving for a new bike, or collecting coins. Written with kids ages 7 to 11 in mind, the author promises to teach them about money—“Earn it, save it, and watch it grow.”
Hands-On Activities Covered
Would your child like to . . .
- Learn how to make money at jobs appropriate for their age?
- Track where a dollar bill has been before they got it? There’s a simple way to find out.
- Learn how to make all their pennies shiny? It’s easy.
- Design their own dollar with someone’s face they like—Batman? Spiderman? The Incredibles?
- Do a magic trick with a dollar bill to impress their friends?
- Find out what fun things they can do for free? Grandpa and Grandma might know.
- Make a pizza garden?
Fun Money Facts Revealed
Would they like to know . . .
- Why they are called Piggy Banks, not Doggy banks, or something else?
- What is the name of the buffalo on the nickel and where did it live?
- What are dead dollars?
- What are some things money has been made from in the past?
Difficult Concepts Explained
As a New York Law Guardian, Brette Sember has many years of experience working with children. She has written more than 40 books on a variety of topics, such as law, health, food, travel, education, business, finance, parenting, adoption, and seniors. In The Everything Kids’ Money Book, she tackles subjects such as:
- Saving money
- The cost of living
- Credit cards and debit cards
- Income tax
- Why borrowing money can lead to trouble
- Why lottery tickets are not a good investment
- Saving money
- The cost of living
- Credit cards and debit cards
- Income tax
- Why borrowing money can lead to trouble
- Why lottery tickets are not a good investment
All these topics are covered in easy-to-understand language and unfamiliar terms are defined in the glossary. Answers to some of the questions posed and a page of resources are included at the back of the book. This section features books and websites with ideas kids will enjoy, more magic tricks to perform with money, how to start a small business, a website with money games, and how to collect coins.
Kids’ Money Book Promoted
MyBankTracker.com which “tracks thousands of banks to help you find the perfect match for your banking needs,” says this book is “more than simply a manual; The Everything Kids’ Money Book is a well-organized workbook that covers everything from money printing to compound interest.”
Investopedia.com which calls itself “The world’s leading source of financial content on the web,” echoes this opinion by saying the book, “Not only teaches kids how to save and earn their own money but also how to invest and earn interest.”
If you decide to spend some bonding time discussing money concepts with your daughter or son, you may learn or relearn some basic financial truths. Keep a list of your kids’ moneymaking, spending, and savings plans at insureyouknow.org. You can measure their financial success on this portal and watch with them the ebb and flow of their profits and expenses.
Do You Realize How “Precious” a Child Is?
September 15, 2022
The cost of raising a child through high school has risen to $310,605 because of inflation that is running close to a four-decade high, according to an estimate by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC.
In 2017—years before the pandemic and during an extended period of very low inflation—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected that the average total expenditures spent on a child from birth through age 17 would be $284,594. This estimate assumed an average inflation rate of 2.2 percent and did not include the expenses associated with sending a child to college or supporting them during their transition to adulthood. Since 2020, the inflation rate has skyrocketed— 8.5 percent as of July 2022—partly due to supply-chain issues and stimulus spending packages that put more cash into Americans’ pockets. The Federal Reserve has now raised interest rates substantially to control inflation.
The multiyear total is up $26,011, or more than 9 percent, from a calculation based on the inflation rate two years ago, before rapid price increases hit the economy, reports the Brookings Institution.
The new estimate crunches numbers for middle-income, married parents, and doesn’t include projections for single-parent households, or consider how race factors into cost challenges.
The estimate covers a range of expenses, including housing, education, food, clothing, healthcare, and childcare, and accounts for childhood milestones and activities—baby essentials, haircuts, sports equipment, extracurricular activities, and car insurance starting in the teen years, among other costs.
In 2019, the typical expenses to raise a child were estimated by the USDA as follows:
- Housing: 29%
- Food: 18%
- Childcare and Education: 16%
- Transportation: 15%
- Healthcare: 9%
- Miscellaneous (included Personal Care and Entertainment): 7%
- Clothing: 6%
Housing at 29 percent is the most significant expense associated with raising a child. The cost and type of housing vary widely by location. Other variables include mortgage or rent payments, property tax, home repairs and maintenance, insurance, utilities, and other miscellaneous housing costs.
The cost of food is the second-largest expense, at 18 percent of the overall cost of raising a child. Over time, food prices have trended up, with food-at-home pricing increasing 12.1 percent and food-away-from-home pricing increasing by 7.7 percent from June 2021 to July 2022. The USDA expects rising costs for 2022, with increases as high as 10 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
Childcare and Education
Childcare and education expenses in 2019 accounted for 16 percent of the cost of raising a child, and it continues to increase.
The widespread acceptance by employers of remote work and letting employees work from home part or full-time has eased the burden of childcare costs for many families, cutting the cost by as much as 30 percent for some workers.
Education is a major expense when it comes to raising children. When it comes to kindergarten through high school, parents can choose between public and private schools. For private schools, the Education Data Initiative estimated that tuition costs an average of $12,350 per year. Associated costs, like technology, textbooks, and back-to-school supplies, could bring that up to $16,050. For a child to be in private school from kindergarten through eighth grade, the estimated cost could be about $208,650. Additional expenses for extracurricular activities such as sports, the arts—music, theater, and yearbook—and other clubs also add up and are accompanied by fees for participation, equipment, and travel, which have also increased due to inflation.
The total cost of a health plan is set according to the number of people covered by it, as well as each person’s age and possibly their tobacco use. For example, a family of three, with two adults and a child, would pay a much higher monthly health insurance premium than an individual.
Raising children is rewarding and fulfilling to many people. But it’s also become very expensive. By preparing mentally and implementing financial planning strategies, you can be well-equipped to raise your child to adulthood comfortably, even on a budget.
If you are a parent, you are responsible for raising your child and providing food, clothing, shelter, and security. Consider getting insurance coverage—including life, short- and long-term disability, and health insurance to avoid putting your family at risk financially in the event of unexpected hardship. To cope with the rising costs of raising children, live within your means, save money wherever possible, and shop around for home and auto insurance each year for the best deals. At insureyouknow.org, you can track your expenses to raise a child and file insurance policies that cover your family’s financial and healthcare needs.
Get Ready to File Your Taxes
January 14, 2022
Although April 15 is traditionally the Internal Revenue Services’ (IRS) tax deadline day, in 2022 you’ll have until Monday, April 18, to file your taxes for 2021. April 18 also will be the deadline to request an automatic extension for an extra six months to file a return although the payment of taxes remains the same.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to get informed about topics related to filing their federal tax returns in 2022. These topics include special steps related to charitable contributions, economic impact payments, and advance child tax credit payments. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov/getready for online tools, publications, and other helpful resources for the filing season.
Collect year-end income documents
Gather all your year-end documents before you start preparing your 2021 tax return and have on hand:
- Social Security numbers (SSNs) of everyone listed on your tax return. You may have these numbers memorized but double-checking that the SSNs on your tax return are accurate will avoid processing delays.
- Bank account and routing numbers. You’ll need these for direct deposit refunds. Direct deposit is the fastest way for you to get your money and avoids a check getting lost, stolen, or returned to IRS as undeliverable.
- Forms W-2 from employer(s).
- Forms 1099 from banks, issuing agencies, and other payers including unemployment compensation, dividends, distributions from a pension, annuity, or retirement plan.
- Forms 1099-K, 1099-MISC, W-2, or other income statements if you are a worker in the gig economy.
- Form 1099-INT for interest received.
- Other income documents and records of virtual currency transactions.
- Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. You will need this form to reconcile advance payments or claim the premium tax credit.
- Letter 6419, 2021 Total Advance Child Tax Credit Payments, to reconcile your advance child tax credit payments.
- Letter 6475, Your 2021 Economic Impact Payment, to determine your eligibility to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit.
You’ll receive forms by mail or via access online from employers and financial institutions in January. You should carefully review the forms for the income you received in 2021. If any information shown on the forms is inaccurate, you should contact the payer immediately for a correction.
Here are some key items for you to know before you file this year:
Notice changes to the charitable contribution deduction
Taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions may qualify to take a deduction of up to $600 for married taxpayers filing joint returns and up to $300 for all other filers for cash contributions made in 2021 to qualifying organizations.
Check on advance child tax credit payments
Families who received advance payments will need to compare the advance child tax credit payments that they received in 2021 with the amount of the child tax credit that they can properly claim on their 2021 tax return.
- Taxpayers who received less than the amount for which they’re eligible will claim a credit for the remaining amount of child tax credit on their 2021 tax return.
- Eligible families who did not get monthly advance payments in 2021 can still get a lump-sum payment by claiming the child tax credit when they file a 2021 federal income tax return next year. This includes families who don’t normally need to file a return.
Early this year, the IRS will send Letter 6419 with the total amount of advance child tax credit payments taxpayers received in 2021. You should keep this and any other IRS letters about advance child tax credit payments with your tax records. You can also create or log in to IRS.gov online account to securely access your child tax credit payment amounts.
Claim the recovery rebate credit for economic impact payments
If you didn’t qualify for the third economic impact payment or did not receive the full amount, you may be eligible for the recovery rebate credit based on your 2021 tax information. You’ll need to file a 2021 tax return to claim the credit.
You’ll need the amount of your third economic impact payment and any plus-up payments received to calculate your correct 2021 recovery rebate credit amount when you file your tax return.
The IRS also will send early this year Letter 6475 that contains the total amount of the third economic impact payment and any plus-up payments received. You should keep this and any other IRS letters about your stimulus payments with other tax records. You also can create or log in to IRS.gov online account to securely access your economic impact payment amounts.
Report unemployment compensation received
In 2021, many people received unemployment compensation that is taxable and must be reported on their income tax returns. If you received unemployment benefits, you should receive Form 1099-G, Government Payments, from your state unemployment insurance agency in January either by mail or electronically. Check your state’s unemployment compensation website for more information. Form 1099-G reports the amount of unemployment compensation received in Box 1 and any federal income tax withheld in Box 4. Be sure to include these amounts on your 2021 federal tax return. Find more information on unemployment benefits in Publication 525.
Choose a reputable tax return preparer
As you get ready to file your 2021 tax return, you may be considering hiring a tax return preparer. The IRS reminds taxpayers to choose a tax return preparer wisely. This is important because you are responsible for all the information on your return, no matter who prepares it for you.
There are different kinds of tax preparers, and your needs will help determine which kind of preparer is best for you. With that in mind, here are some quick tips from the IRS to help you choose a preparer.
- Check the IRS Directory of Preparers. While it is not a complete listing of tax return preparers, it does include those who are enrolled agents, CPAs, and attorneys, as well as those who participate in the Annual Filing Season Program.
- Check the preparer’s history with the Better Business Bureau. Taxpayers can verify an enrolled agent’s status on IRS.gov.
- Ask about fees. Taxpayers should avoid tax return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or who offer to deposit all or part of their refund into their financial accounts.
- Be wary of tax return preparers who claim they can get larger refunds than others.
- Ask if they plan to use e-file.
- Make sure the preparer is available. People should consider whether the individual or firm will be around for months or years after filing the return. Taxpayers should do this because they might need the preparer to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return.
- Ensure the preparer signs and includes their preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Paid tax return preparers must have a PTIN to prepare tax returns.
- Check the person’s credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in tax matters. Other tax return preparers who participate in the IRS Annual Filing Season Program have limited practice rights to represent taxpayers during audits of returns they prepared.
Review Publication 5349: “Year-Round Tax Planning is for Everyone”
Life changes can affect your expected refunds or the amount of tax you owe. These changes include things such as employment status, marital status, and financial gains or losses. Publication 5349 provides tips on developing habits throughout the year that will help make tax preparation easier.
When you file your 2021 tax return, keep a record of the forms you submit to the IRS at insureyouknow.org. Get a jump on your 2022 tax return by organizing your tax records, including Forms W-2 and W-9 from employers, Forms 1099 from banks and other payers, other income documents, and records of virtual currency transactions. Keep track of your tax records as you receive them at insureyouknow.org. Having records organized makes preparing a tax return easier. It may also help you discover potentially overlooked deductions or credits.
Resolve to Go Paperless in 2022
December 30, 2021
In January, follow the example of the U.S. government that has committed to moving to a paperless archival system by December 31, 2022. The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) directive for government agencies to transition to electronic records has prompted them to take steps in their modernization journeys.
The government faces multiple challenges with paper records, such as burdens on the workforce and high costs to manually create, use, and store nonelectronic information. As an individual, you may face similar dilemmas in dealing at home with your printed files, insurance records, and other important documents that would be difficult to replace if damaged or destroyed by natural disasters or accidents.
As government agencies transition to electronic records, many are experimenting with new technologies to sort through electronically stored information. Universities and businesses also have guidelines for storing electronic records in online repositories that they strive to:
- Back up regularly
- Comply with all privacy and security requirements
- Allow for shared access through a network or a cloud-based program
- Organize in such a way that records can be identified and purged appropriately
- Set up to migrate content to a new system upon replacement
- Maintain through regular software updates
After you review the electronic storage practices of the government, universities, and businesses, establish your own ground rules for storing your important records at InsureYouKnow.org. Keep in mind the following tips:
- A systematic plan for keeping track of important documents can save you hours of anxious searching for misplaced items. It also can help you reduce the number of nonimportant papers cluttering your home.
- It is important to carefully store valuable papers which would be difficult or time-consuming to replace. Original hard-to-replace documents are ideally kept in a safe deposit box or a fire-proof, waterproof, burglar-proof home safe or lockbox. Scanned copies can be stored at InsureYouKnow.org where they will be readily accessible.
- Electronically stored records must be legible, readable, and accessible for the period of limitations required. It is important to back up electronic files at InsureYouKnow.org in case of a computer malfunction in your home office.
- Wherever you live, there is always a risk of fires, floods, and other disasters, and your home and important documents could be destroyed. If you have stored photographic images, you’ll have records accessible whenever you need them, including keeping peace of mind knowing documents are indestructible at InsureYouKnow.org.
Valuable papers can be sorted into two types: those needed for day-to-day use and those needed occasionally.
Examples of valuable papers used frequently include:
- Drivers’ licenses
- Credit cards
- Health insurance cards
- Bank account records
- Identification cards
- Special health documentation such as COVID-19 vaccinations, allergies, disabling conditions, prescriptions, and blood types for family members
Examples of valuable papers used occasionally include:
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates
- Deeds, leases, and property records and titles
- Income and employment records
- Insurance policies
- Income tax records
- Military papers
- Divorce decrees
- Social Security records
- Retirement and pension plans
Regular filing and reviewing of paper and electronic documents are important. Making decisions on when to discard old, printed files and purge electronic versions may be difficult but worth the effort to keep accurate, up-to-date records.
Death (of a Spouse) and Taxes
November 16, 2021
In a “normal” year, about 1.5 million Americans become widows and widowers, but the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased that annual statistic. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University estimates that about 380,000 of the more than 700,000 people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 were married.
Under “normal” circumstances, it may be difficult to comply with tax requirements and deadlines; filing as a widow(er) presents additional challenges. This is a complex topic with the following issues to consider.
Filing the First Year
The IRS stipulates that the year that your spouse dies:
- You can still file a joint return if you didn’t remarry and the executor approves the joint return.
- If either spouse was a nonresident alien at any time during the year, the surviving spouse can’t file a joint return.
- If you do file jointly, include all your income and deductions for the full year, but only your spouse’s income and deductions until the date of death.
- If the deceased spouse owes any taxes that the estate can’t pay, you as the surviving spouse may be liable for the amounts owed.
Filing in the Next Two Years
For two tax years after the year your spouse died, you can file as a qualifying widow(er). This filing status gives you a higher standard deduction and lower tax rate than filing as a single person. You must meet these requirements:
- You haven’t remarried.
- You must have a dependent (not a foster) child who lived with you all year, and you must have paid more than half the maintenance costs of your home.
- You must have been able to file jointly in the year of your spouse’s death, even if you didn’t.
Notifying the IRS
If you are a widow(er) who qualifies to file a joint return, take the following steps:
- Across the top of your IRS Form 1040 tax return for the year of death—above the area where you enter your address, write “Deceased,” your spouse’s name, and the date of death.
- When you’re a surviving spouse filing a joint return and a personal representative hasn’t been appointed, you should sign the return and write “filing as surviving spouse” in the signature area below your signature.
- When you’re a surviving spouse filing a joint return and a personal representative has been appointed, you and the personal representative should sign the return.
- A decedent taxpayer’s tax return can be filed electronically. Follow the specific directions provided by your preparation software for proper signature and notation requirements.
- The deadline to file a final return is the tax filing deadline of the year following the taxpayer’s death.
- If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return alone, you should sign the return and write “filing as surviving spouse” in the space for your deceased spouse’s signature.
- If a refund is due, there’s one more step. You also should complete and file with the final return a copy of Form 1310, Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer. Although the IRS says you don’t have to file Form 1310 if you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return, you probably should file the form to prevent possible delays.
Other forms and documents you may need include:
- W-2s, 1099s and other tax forms for the year of death, reporting income or expenses paid before the person died.
- Death certificate to prove the date of death in the tax year being reported.
- Form 56 filed by a trustee, executor, administrator, or other person to let the IRS know who is responsible for the person’s estate.
- Form 1041, “U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts” reports receipt of more than $600 in annual gross income (such as dividends, interest, proceeds from the sale of assets) after the person died.
- IRS Publication 559, “Survivors, Executors and Administrators” provides more information about legal requirements.
Note: You can’t file a final joint return with your deceased spouse if you as the surviving spouse remarried before the end of the year of death. The filing status of the decedent in this instance is married filing separately.
Filing an Estate-tax Return
The current estate- and gift-tax exemption is $11.7 million per individual, so not many estates owe tax—only about 1,900 did for 2020, according to the Tax Policy Center. Executors don’t need to file a return if the decedent’s estate is below the exemption.
They may want to file one, however, because then the surviving spouse can have the partner’s unused exemption and add it to their own in many cases.
Estate taxes are normally due nine months after the date of death. But the IRS allows executors to claim the unused exemption for the spouse up to two years after the date of death, in many cases.
Selling a Home and Resulting Exemptions
Survivors who sell a home may take up to $500,000 of home-sale profit tax-free if they haven’t remarried and sell within two years of the partner’s date of death. If they sell later, the exemption drops to $250,000, the standard amount for single filers.
Dealing with Retirement Accounts
Surviving spouses can roll over inherited retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs into their own names, and financial advisers routinely recommend this move.
A new widow(er) should carefully consider options. It’s possible to divide retirement accounts such as IRAs, and to roll over some but not all assets into the survivor’s name. This would leave the remainder in an inherited IRA available for penalty-free payouts to younger spouses.
Either way, heirs of retirement accounts should be sure to name new heirs of their own.
Heirs of these accounts who will face higher taxes as single filers may also want to convert assets to Roth IRAs, which can have tax-free withdrawals—especially if they can convert while still eligible for joint-filing rates and brackets.
Cashing U.S. Savings Bonds
There’s a special rule for U.S. Savings Bonds, from which income generally accrues tax-free until the bonds are cashed in. When the bond owner dies, the accrued interest may be treated as income in respect of a decedent.
In that case, the new owner of the bonds becomes responsible for the tax on the interest accrued during the life of the decedent. (The tax isn’t due, however, until the new owner cashes in the bonds.)
Alternatively, the interest accrued up to the date of death can be reported on the decedent’s final income tax return. That could be a tax-saving choice if he or she is in a lower tax bracket than the beneficiary. If that method is chosen, the person who gets the bonds only includes in income the interest earned after the date of death.
All deductible expenses paid before death can be written off on the final return. In addition, medical bills paid within one year after death may be treated as having been paid by the decedent at the time the expenses were incurred. That means the cost of a final illness can be deducted on the final return even if the bills were not paid until after death.
If deductions are not itemized on the final return, the full standard deduction may be claimed, regardless of when during the year the taxpayer died. Even if the death occurred on January 1, the full standard deduction is available.
Inheriting Property and Money
For deaths that occurred in years other than 2010, the tax basis of any property a taxpayer owns at the time of his or her death is “stepped up” to its date-of-death value. Since the basis is the amount from which any gain or loss will be figured when the new owner ultimately sells the property, this means that the tax on any appreciation that occurred during the taxpayer’s life is essentially forgiven.
The person who inherits the property—a house, say, or stocks and bonds— would owe tax only on appreciation after the time of death. It’s important that you pinpoint date-of-death value as soon as possible—the executor should be able to help—to avoid hassles later on when you sell it. If assets have lost value during the original owner’s life, the tax basis is stepped down to date-of-death value.
Money you inherit is generally not subject to federal income tax. If you inherit a $100,000 certificate of deposit, for example, the $100,000 is not taxable. Only interest on it from the time you become the owner is taxed. If you receive interest that accrued but was not paid prior to the owner’s death, however, it is considered income in respect of a decedent and is taxable on your return.
The death of a spouse not only presents emotional distress resulting from the loss of a loved one, but it also forces a widow(er) to deal with income tax issues never before faced. By keeping at insureyouknow.org, copies of a spouse’s death certificate, medical bills, income records, property assessments, and wills, you’ll be able to access required documents when you file your income tax return following the death of a spouse.
Saving with a 529 College Plan
August 30, 2021
As college students return to campuses this fall, they (and in many cases, their parents) face costs that have tripled in 20 years, with an annual growth rate of 6.8 percent.
Melanie Hanson at educationdata.org reports that the average cost of college (considered to be any postsecondary educational institution that offers an undergraduate degree program) in the United States is $35,720 per student per year. Current college cost data also reveal:
- The average in-state student attending a public 4-year institution spends $25,615 for one academic year.
- The average cost of in-state tuition alone is $9,580; out-of-state tuition averages $27,437.
- The average traditional private university student spends a total of $53,949 per academic year, $37,200 of it on tuition and fees.
- Considering student loan interest and loss of income, the ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree may exceed $400,000.
In the academic world, the cost of college is generally referred to as the cost of attendance (COA). Each college has its own COA consisting of five items:
- Tuition and fees
- Books and supplies
- Room and board
- Personal expenses
Twice per year, the federal government recalculates the COA for each college and then adjusts the figures for inflation to determine students’ financial needs when they apply for financial aid.
Planning in Advance
Advance planning for education costs is advisable to keep ahead of college inflation.
Regular investments add up over time. By investing even a small amount of money on a regular basis in a college fund, you have the potential to accumulate a significant amount if you start when your child (or grandchild) is young.
Once you have a sense of your college savings needs, make sure you are investing the money appropriately. Among several available college savings options described by Fidelity, a great place to start is to open and contribute to a 529 college savings plan account. It’s popular with parents and grandparents because there are few restrictions and the benefits are plentiful. You can potentially reduce your taxes and retain control over how and when you spend the money.
Education savings plans were first created in 1986, when the Michigan Education Trust established a prepaid tuition plan. More than a decade later, Section 529 was added to the Internal Revenue Code, authorizing tax-free status for qualified 529 tuition programs. Today there are more than 100 different 529 plans available to suit a variety of education savings needs.
To make sure you are on track with your savings goals, and to ensure you have an appropriate investment mix, revisit your plan at least annually. Over time, you will likely need to update the costs of schools you are considering, your financial aid situation, your child’s school preferences, school location, and your investment performance. When you’re ready to start paying for school, withdrawals are federal income tax-free when used for qualified education expenses.
Setting Up and Using a 529 Savings Account
- The requirements to open a 529 savings account are simple. You must be a U.S. resident, at least 18-years old, and have a Social Security or tax ID number.
- 529 plan savings can cover a range of educational expenses, in addition to college tuition. You can use up to $10,000 from a 529 account each year per beneficiary on elementary, middle, or high school tuition. At the post-secondary level, money saved in a 529 plan account can be used for a variety of higher-education-related expenses: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and computers and related equipment.
- Money saved in a 529 plan may have only a small impact on financial aid eligibility.
- You don’t have to be related to the beneficiary on the account to open a 529 account for them. Friends or family members can open a 529 college savings account regardless of their income or relationship to the student—and can even name themselves as the student beneficiary on the account. Anyone can contribute and you can encourage donations to a college savings account as a birthday or holiday gift.
Reaping Tax Benefits
A 529 savings plan works much like a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA by investing your after-tax contributions in mutual funds, ETFs (exchange-traded funds), and other similar investments. Your investment grows on a tax-deferred basis and can be withdrawn tax-free if the money is used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. Contributions are not deductible from federal income taxes.
You may also qualify for a state tax benefit, depending on where you live. More than 30 states offer state income tax deductions and state tax credits for 529 plan contributions.
Choosing a 529 Plan
Nearly every state has at least one 529 plan available, but you’re not limited to using your home state’s plan. Each 529 plan offers investment portfolios tailored to the account owner’s risk tolerance and time horizon. Your account may go up or down in value based on the performance of the investment option you select. It’s important to consider your investment objectives and compare your options before you invest.
Withdrawing from a 529 Plan
You can use your education savings to pay for college costs at any eligible institution, including more than 6,000 U.S. colleges and universities and more than 400 international schools.
Once you’re ready to start taking withdrawals from a 529 plan, most plans allow you to distribute the payments directly to the account holder, the beneficiary, or the school. Read “How to Pay Your Tuition Bill With a 529 Plan” to learn more.
Remember, you will need to check with your own plan to learn more about how to take distributions. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to report contributions to or withdrawals from your 529 plan on your annual tax returns.
Dealing with Leftover Funds
If your child doesn’t go to college or gets a scholarship, you won’t lose the college fund you have accumulated. Generally, you will pay income tax and a penalty on the earnings portion of a non-qualified withdrawal, but there are some exceptions. The penalty is waived if:
- The beneficiary receives a tax-free scholarship
- The beneficiary attends a U.S. Military Academy
- The beneficiary dies or becomes disabled
The earnings portion of the withdrawal will be subject to federal income tax, and sometimes state income tax.
If you have leftover money in your 529 plan and you want to avoid paying taxes and a penalty on your earnings, you have a few options, including:
- Change the beneficiary to another qualifying family member
- Hold the funds in the account in case the beneficiary wants to attend school later
- Make yourself the beneficiary and further your own education
- Roll over the funds to a 529 ABLE account, a savings account specifically for people living with disabilities
- Since January 1, 2018, parents also have the option to take up to $10,000 in tax-free 529 withdrawals for K-12 tuition
- Since January 1, 2019, qualified distributions from a 529 plan can repay up to $10,000 in student loans per borrower for both the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s siblings
You can withdraw leftover money in a 529 plan for any reason. However, the earnings portion of a non-qualified withdrawal will be subject to taxes and a penalty, unless you qualify for one of the exceptions listed above. If you are contemplating a non-qualified distribution, be aware of the rules and possible tactics for reducing taxes owed.
If you’re interested in setting up a 529 college savings plan, do your homework on the benefits, qualified uses for account balances, and the low impact on financial aid. File your findings and, once you start receiving account statements, keep track of your college saving account as it prospers.
Save with a Health Savings Account
April 27, 2021
A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a type of savings account that lets you set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses. By using untaxed dollars in an HSA to pay for deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and some other expenses, you may be able to lower your overall health care costs.
An HSA may receive contributions from an eligible individual or any other person, including an employer or a family member, on behalf of an eligible individual. Contributions, other than employer contributions, are deductible on the eligible individual’s tax return whether or not the individual itemizes deductions. Employer contributions aren’t included in taxable income and distributions from an HSA that are used to pay qualified medical expenses aren’t taxed.
High Deductible Health Plan
One way to manage your health care expenses is by enrolling in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) in combination with opening an HSA. While you can use the funds in an HSA at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, you may contribute to an HSA only if you have an HDHP—generally a health plan that only covers preventive services before the deductible. For plan year 2021, the minimum deductible is $1,400 for an individual and $2,800 for a family. (The term “minimum deductible” refers to the amount you pay for health care items and services before your plan starts to pay.) Maximum out-of-pocket costs (the most you’d have to pay if you need more health care items and services) are $7,000 for an individual and $14,000 for a family.
Contribution Limits in 2021
For calendar year 2021, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP is $3,600. The annual limitation on deductions for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $7,200. The IRS announces annually the HSA contribution limit that applies each calendar year. You can review IRS Publication 969 each year to determine the current limit.
HSA funds roll over year to year if you don’t spend them. An HSA may earn interest or other earnings, which are not taxable.
Some health insurance companies offer HSAs for their HDHPs. Check with your company to see if you are eligible. You also can open an HSA through some banks and other financial institutions. If you are interested in enrolling for healthcare coverage through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Insurance Marketplace®, you can check to see if specific plans are “HSA-eligible.”
It’s also important to note that there is an aggregate limit that applies to both your own contributions as well as any money your employer puts into your account. This is different from 401(k) rules, where an employer’s matching funds do not affect your ability to contribute to your account. If your employer puts $2,000 into your HSA and you have self-only coverage, you would be allowed to contribute only $1,600 before reaching the 2021 contribution limit.
HSA account holders who are 55 and older are entitled to make an additional catch-up contribution valued at $1,000 on top of contribution caps. Because of the HSA catch-up contribution rules, in 2021 the self-only coverage limit is $4,600 and the family coverage limit is $8,200
Catch-up contributions are intended to help older Americans who may incur outsized medical expenses, or who may not have saved enough for a secure retirement and want to boost their contributions to tax-advantaged accounts as they near the end of their careers.
Older Americans may want to make catch-up contributions because healthcare costs tend to rise with age and because an HSA can be a valuable type of retirement savings account. HSAs work as a retirement savings plan because money can be withdrawn penalty-free for any purpose, not just medical expenses, after age 65. Once an HSA account holder turns 65, distributions not used for medical costs are taxed at their ordinary income tax rate, the same as distributions from a 401(k) or traditional IRA.
HSA Funds and Taxes
Because HSA contributions can be made with pre-tax funds, you can deduct the amount you’ve contributed from your taxable income in the year you make the contribution.
The fact that HSA contributions are tax deductible means any money you contribute reduces the income you’re taxed on, which saves you money on the taxes you pay to the IRS. It also means your take-home pay declines by a smaller amount than what you actually contributed.
For example, if you have $50,000 in taxable income and make a $3,600 deductible contribution to an HSA, you will be taxed on only $46,400 in income due to your contribution.
The specific amount you save due to your HSA contribution will depend both on how large your contribution is and on your tax rate. Those who are taxed at a higher rate and those who make larger contributions will realize more savings.
Contributions are tax-deductible up to HSA annual limits, and money can be withdrawn tax-free to cover qualifying medical expenses.
Money in an HSA can be invested and can be withdrawn for any purpose after age 65 without penalty, although you’ll be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate for distributions not used for covered medical costs.
The IRS provides a comprehensive list of medical and dental expenses that qualify in Publication 502 and include the following categories:
- Prescription medications
- Nursing services
- Long-term care services
- Dental care
- Eye care, including eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses
- Psychiatric care
- Surgical expenses
- Fertility treatments
- Chiropractic care
- Medical equipment
- Hearing aids
Under the CARES Act, which passed in March 2020, you can now use your HSA funds to pay for a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) items without a prescription. The rules are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020, so if you purchased these items with non-HSA funds, you can still submit your receipts for reimbursement.
Telemedicine or remote healthcare can be covered by HSA plans at no charge, even if you haven’t met your deductible, through the end of 2021.
The following items also have been made HSA-eligible by the 2020 CARES Act:
- Acid reducers
- Acne treatment
- Allergy and sinus medications
- Anti-allergy medications
- Breathing strips
- Cough, cold, and flu medications
- Eye drops
- Feminine hygiene products
- Heartburn medications
- Insect repellant and anti-itch creams
- Lip treatments for cold and canker sores
- Medicated shampoos and soaps
- Nasal sprays
- Pain relievers
- Skin creams and ointments
- Sleep aids
- Sunscreen and OTC remedies to treat the effects of sun exposure
The Bottom Line on HSAs
HSAs give you the opportunity to set aside money so you can pay for medical care with pre-tax dollars. But because you can invest and grow these funds as well as hold them in cash, HSAs offer much more than just a way to save on medical care. If used as a long-term investment vehicle, your HSA account could help you save on healthcare costs in retirement while reducing your tax bill in the meantime.
During each calendar year, you can keep track of all your HSA contributions, expenses, and tax-accounting details at insureyouknow.org.
Planning to Retire? Find Answers to Social Security Questions
January 27, 2021
Social Security provides benefits to about one-fifth of the American population and serves as a vital protection for working men and women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay approximately one trillion dollars in Social Security benefits to roughly 70 million people in 2021. Almost eight million people will receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on average, each month during 2021. Beyond those who receive Social Security benefits, about 178 million people will pay Social Security taxes in 2021 and will benefit from the program in the future. That means nearly every American has an interest in Social Security, and SSA is committed to protecting their investment in these vital programs.
Social Security payments are adjusted each year to keep pace with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. The 1.3 percent Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2021 is down from 1.6 percent in 2020. The average monthly Social Security benefit in January 2021 was $1,543. The maximum possible monthly Social Security benefit in 2021 for someone who retires at full retirement age is $3,148.
The most convenient way to get information and use online services from SSA is to visit www.ssa.gov or to call SSA at 800-772-1213 or at 800-325-0778 (TTY) if you’re deaf or hard of hearing. SSA staff answers phone calls from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekdays. You can use SSA’s automated services via telephone, 24 hours a day.
What is the best age to start your benefits?
There is no one “best age” for everyone. Ultimately, it’s your choice. You should make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your personal situation.
Your monthly benefit amount can differ greatly based on the age when you start receiving benefits.
- If you start receiving your benefits as early as age 62, before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced based on the number of months you receive benefits before you reach your full retirement age.
- At your full retirement age or later, you will receive a larger monthly benefit for a shorter period. If you wait until age 70 to start your benefits, your benefit amount will be higher because you will receive delayed retirement credits for each month you delay filing for benefits. There is no additional benefit increase after you reach age 70, even if you continue to delay starting benefits.
- The amount you receive when you first get benefits sets the base for the amount you will receive for the rest of your life.
What should you consider before you start drawing benefits?
- Are you still working? If you plan to continue working while receiving benefits, there are limits on how much you can earn each year between age 62 and full retirement age and still get all of your benefits. Once you reach full retirement age, your earnings do not affect your benefits.
- What is your life expectancy? If you come from a long-lived family, you may need the extra money more in later years, particularly if you may outlive pensions or annuities with limits on how long they are paid. If you are not in good health, you may decide to start your benefits earlier.
- Will you still have health insurance? If you stop working, not only will you lose your paycheck, but you also may lose employer-provided health insurance. Although there are exceptions, most people will not be covered by Medicare until they reach age 65. Your employer should be able to tell you if you will have health insurance benefits after you retire or if you are eligible for temporary continuation of health coverage. If you have a spouse who is employed, you may be able to switch to their health insurance.
- Should you apply for Medicare? If you decide to delay starting your benefits past age 65, be sure to go online and file for Medicare. You will need to apply for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) three months before you turn age 65. If you don’t sign up for Medicare Part B when you’re first eligible at age 65, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Medicare coverage. Even if you have health insurance through a current or former employer or as part of your severance package, you should find out if you need to sign up for Medicare. Some health insurance plans change automatically at age 65.
How can you get a personalized retirement benefit estimate?
Choosing when to retire is an important and personal decision. The best way to start planning for your future is by creating a my Social Security account. With your personal my Social Security account, you can verify your earnings and use SSA’s Retirement Calculator to get an estimate of your retirement benefits.
What happens to Social Security payments when a recipient dies?
- If a person who was receiving Social Security benefits dies, a payment is not due for the month of his death.
- In most cases, funeral homes notify SSA that a person has died by using a form available to report the death.
- The person serving as executor of the decedent’s estate or the surviving spouse also can report the death to SSA.
- Upon the death of a Social Security recipient, survivors are generally given a lump sum payment of $255.
- Survivor benefits may be available, depending on several factors, including the following:
- If the widow or widower has reached full retirement age, they can get the deceased spouse’s full benefit. The survivor can apply for reduced benefits as early as age 60, in contrast to the standard earliest claiming age of 62.
- If the survivor qualifies for Social Security on their own record, they can switch to their own benefit anytime between ages 62 and 70 if their own payment would be more.
- An ex-spouse of the decedent also might be able to claim benefits, as long as they meet some specific qualifications.
- For minor children of a person who died, benefits also may be available, as well as to surviving spouse who is caring for the children.
How can you start receiving Social Security benefits?
- To start your application, go to SSA’s Apply for Benefits page and submit your application online.
- After SSA makes a decision about your application, you’ll receive a confirmation letter in the mail. If you included information about other family members when you applied, SSA will let you know if they may be able to receive benefits from your application.
- You can check the status of your application online using your personal my Social Security account. If you are unable to check your status online, you can call SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekdays.
- You can do most of your business with SSA online. If you cannot use these online services, your local Social Security office can help you apply. Although SSA offices are closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees from those offices are assisting people by telephone. You can find the phone numbers for your local office by using the Field Office Locator and looking under Social Security Office Information.
What if you want to withdraw your application?
After you have submitted your application, you have up to 12 months to withdraw it. You will be required to repay any benefits you’ve already received. Learn more about Withdrawing Your Social Security Retirement Application.
At insureyouknow.org, you can keep track of applications you submit to SSA and responses you receive for Social Security benefits. You also can file statements and notices you get from SSA throughout the years ahead during your retirement.