Every year brings some degree of change regarding filing income taxes. While 2020 taxes are a done deal, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the next tax year. To help you be prepared for next year’s filing, here are 6 Ways Income Taxes Will Be Different for 2021.
Standard Deduction Increase
Standard deductions reduce the amount of your income that is subject to federal tax. Most taxpayers do not have enough deductions to itemize, so they take the standard deduction. Annual adjustments for inflation cause the standard deduction to increase slightly each tax year. For 2021, here are the standard deductions and the amount of the increase from the prior year.
- Married filing jointly $25,100, up $300
- Single and married filing separately $12,550, up $150
- Head of household $18,800, up $150
While itemizing is more work, if your itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction allowance for your tax filing category, itemizing makes sense.
Higher Tax Brackets
You already know the more money you earn, the more you pay in taxes. How much you earn, your income, along with your filing status, determines your tax bracket. There are seven tax brackets with the top tax rate being 37 percent for taxable income over $518,400. Brackets are adjusted annually to account for inflation. For 2021, tax bracket thresholds were increased by about 1 percent over 2020 levels.
When you sell an investment like real estate, stocks, or bonds, for more than you paid the net profit you make is taxed as either short- or long-term capital gains. If you held your investment for less than one year, you pay short-term capital gains. For investments held more than one year and one day, the capital gains tax on the profit you made is long-term. Short-term capital gains are taxed like regular income and up to $3,000 of short-term losses can be deducted. However, long-term capital gains are taxed different rates (0 – 20 percent) depending on taxable income and marital status.
For example, if you’re single and your income is below $40,400 in 2021, you fall into the 0 percent capital gains tax bracket. However, if you’re single and earn between $40,401 and $445,850, you move into the 15 percent bracket. Above that, it’s the 20 percent bracket for you.
The 0 percent bracket is approximately double for married couples ($80,800), but above that, brackets are close to the single filer brackets (15 percent up to $501,600 and 20 percent above that).
Individual Tax Credits
Tax credits lower your overall tax bill. There are quite a few credits to consider, but the most popular ones are the earned income tax credit, the saver’s tax credit, and the lifetime learning tax credit.
Earned income credit is for low- and middle-income taxpayers and is based on income, filing status, and number of children, although taxpayers without children can qualify. For 2021, the earned income credit ranges are up very slightly over 2020 and range from $543 to $6,728. Some criteria for the credit are having at least $1 of earned income, investment income must be $3,650 or less. Other stipulations apply, so check with your tax preparer to see if you qualify.
Saver’s credit is also designed for low- and middle-income taxpayers and is to encourage retirement contributions. Taxpayer adjusted gross income (AGI) must be less than $33,000 in 2021 (up slightly from $32,500 in 2020) to qualify for the credit for single or married filing separately. Married filing jointly AGI must be less than $66,000 in 2021 (up from $65,000 in 2020).
Lifetime learning credit is for taxpayers who incur education expenses during the year. There was little change in this credit for 2021. Married filing jointly income limits increased $1,000 (from $118,000 to $119,000 for full credit and from $138,000 to $139,000 for partial credit). Other filing statuses will see no change for 2021.
Alternative Minimum Tax
The AMT exemption amount for 2021 is $73,600 for singles and $114,600 for married couples filing jointly. This is a change from 2020 when the exemption amount was $72,900 and $113,400 for married couples filing jointly.
Fringe Benefits, Medical Savings Accounts, and Estates
Most employee fringe benefits allowances for 2021 will continue at their 2020 levels; however, changes occur in health savings account (HSA) contributions, which increase by $50 for single and $100 for families from 2020.
The maximum out-of-pocket amounts for high-deductible health plans (HDHP) increases by $100 for single and $200 for families.
The federal estate tax targets the amount of wealth you can pass along when you die. It is no concern unless your estate is worth more than $11.7 million when you die. That figure is up from $11.58 million in 2020.
Contributions for 401(k) plans will not change from 2020 top off amount of $19,500 with a $6,500 catch-up contribution allowed for individuals 50 or older. Maximum contributions from all sources (employer and employee) rise by $1,000.
Of course, these are an overview of changes for the 2021 tax year. To be sure you’re up to speed on all the tax changes that impact you, be sure to speak to your trusted accountant.