COVID-19: Key individual tax provisions

COVID-19: Key individual tax provisions

We know your highest priority is your health and that of those you love. If you have time to read about some non-medical but important matters related to the health crisis, here is a summary of IRS action already taken and federal tax legislation already enacted to ease economic pain caused by COVID-19.

In this post we have summarized Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While the full legislative packages include many provisions, we have summarized only the aspects of the law that apply to individuals. Please contact us if you would like more information or have questions about any of the changes.

To view our post summary about:
Key business provisions click here.
Deadline and payment extensions click here.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law on March 18, 2020. This new law goes into effect on April 1, 2020, and it will remain in effect until December 31, 2020. These broad changes include requiring some employers to provide paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave.

Required paid sick leave

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) division of the Act generally requires private employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide 80 hours of paid sick time to employees who are unable to work for virus-related reasons (with an administrative exemption for less-than-50-employee businesses that the leave mandate puts in jeopardy). The pay is up to $511 per day with a $5,110 overall limit for an employee directly affected by the virus and up to $200 per day with a $2,000 overall limit for an employee that is a caregiver.

U.S. Department of Labor website has more information on the employee paid leave rights.

Required paid family leave

The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) division of the Act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide both paid and unpaid leave (with an administrative exemption for less-than-50-employee businesses that the leave mandate puts in jeopardy). The leave generally is available when an employee must take off to care for the employee’s child under age 18 because of a COVID-19 emergency declared by a federal, state, or local authority that either (1) closes a school or childcare place or (2) makes a childcare provider unavailable. Generally, the first 10 days of leave can be unpaid and then paid leave is required, pegged to the employee’s pay rate and pay hours. However, the paid leave can’t exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate per employee.

U.S. Department of Labor website has more information on the employee paid leave rights.


Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

CARES Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill, was signed into law on March 27, 2020. These are the key provisions in the bill as they relate to individuals.

Recovery rebates for individuals  

To help individuals stay afloat during this time of economic uncertainty, the government will send up to $1,200 payments to eligible taxpayers and $2,400 for married couples filing joints returns. An additional $500 additional payment will be sent to taxpayers for each qualifying child dependent under age 17 (using the qualification rules under the Child Tax Credit).

Rebates are gradually phased out, at a rate of 5% of the individual’s adjusted gross income over $75,000 (singles or marrieds filing separately), $122,500 (head of household), and $150,000 (joint). There is no income floor or ”phase-in”-all recipients who are under the phaseout threshold will receive the same amounts. Tax filers must have provided, on the relevant tax returns or other documents (see below), Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for each family member for whom a rebate is claimed. Adoption taxpayer identification numbers will be accepted for adopted children. SSNs are not required for spouses of active military members. The rebates are not available to nonresident aliens, to estates and trusts, or to individuals who themselves could be claimed as dependents.

The rebates will be paid out in the form of checks or direct deposits. Most individuals won’t have to take any action to receive a rebate. IRS will compute the rebate based on a taxpayer’s tax year 2019 return (or tax year 2018, if no 2019 return has yet been filed). If no 2018 return has been filed, IRS will use information for 2019 provided in Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.

Rebates are payable whether or not tax is owed. Thus, individuals who had little or no income, such as those who filed returns simply to claim the refundable earned income credit or child tax credit, qualify for a rebate.

Waiver of 10% early distribution penalty

The additional 10% tax on early distributions from IRAs and defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans) is waived for distributions made between January 1 and December 31, 2020 by a person who (or whose family) is infected with the Coronavirus or who is economically harmed by the Coronavirus (a qualified individual). Penalty-free distributions are limited to $100,000, and may, subject to guidelines, be re-contributed to the plan or IRA. Income arising from the distributions is spread out over three years unless the employee elects to turn down the spread out. Employers may amend defined contribution plans to provide for these distributions. Additionally, defined contribution plans are permitted additional flexibility in the amount and repayment terms of loans to employees who are qualified individuals.

Waiver of required distribution rules. Required minimum distributions that otherwise would have to be made in 2020 from defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans) and IRAs are waived. This includes distributions that would have been required by April 1, 2020, due to the account owner’s having turned age 70 1/2 in 2019.

Charitable deduction liberalizations

The CARES Act makes significant liberalizations to the rules governing charitable deductions:

  1. Individuals will be able to claim a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash contributions made, generally, to public charities in 2020. This rule effectively allows a limited charitable deduction to taxpayers claiming the standard deduction.
  2. The limitation on charitable deductions for individuals that is generally 60% of modified adjusted gross income (the contribution base) doesn’t apply to cash contributions made, generally, to public charities in 2020 (qualifying contributions). Instead, an individual’s qualifying contributions, reduced by other contributions, can be as much as 100% of the contribution base. No connection between the contributions and COVID-19 activities is required.
Exclusion for employer payments of student loans

An employee currently may exclude $5,250 from income for benefits from an employer-sponsored educational assistance program. The CARES Act expands the definition of expenses qualifying for the exclusion to include employer payments of student loan debt made before January 1, 2021. 

Break for remote care services provided by high deductible health plans

For plan years beginning before 2021, the CARES Act allows high deductible health plans to pay for expenses for tele-health and other remote services without regard to the deductible amount for the plan.

Break for nonprescription medical products

For amounts paid after December 31, 2019, the CARES Act allows amounts paid from Health Savings Accounts and Archer Medical Savings Accounts to be treated as paid for medical care even if they aren’t paid under a prescription. And, amounts paid for menstrual care products are treated as amounts paid for medical care. For reimbursements after December 31, 2019, the same rules apply to Flexible Spending Arrangements and Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

Emergency Increase in Unemployment Compensation

This provision would add an additional $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to the weekly unemployment benefit for up to four months, not to exceed July 31, 2020. This $600 benefit will be taxable (like regular unemployment benefits), but it will be disregarded in determining Medicaid or CHIP eligibility.

At this time, Missouri Department of Labor (MO DOL) is waiting on additional guidance from U.S. Department of Labor in order to implement. Please visit MO DOL website for updates and more information.

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