CARES Act: Implications for Individual Taxpayers

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (HR 748) was signed into law on March 27, 2020. An overview of the act’s tax provisions related to individual taxpayers follows.

To learn about the act’s provisions for business taxpayers, some of which could also apply to individual business owners, please read our Alert. Individual business owners should pay attention to the following topics in that article:

  • Excess business loss rule suspended through 2020
  • Net operating loss carrybacks permitted for losses generated in 2018, 2019, and 2020
  • Section 163(j) limit Increased for 2019 and 2020
  • Qualified improvement property

Recovery Rebates for Qualifying Individuals

Eligible individuals will receive a tax credit, paid in advance, of up to a $1,200 or $2,400 in the case of married filing-joint taxpayers, plus $500 for each qualifying child, for the 2020 tax year.

To receive the full credit, individuals must have an adjusted gross income (AGI) that doesn’t exceed:

  • $75,000 for single filers
  • $150,000 for married filing-joint filers
  • $112,500 for head-of-household filers

Above those amounts, the credit is phased out by 5% for every dollar their AGI exceeds the threshold.

Definitions and Eligibility

The definition of a qualifying child for this purpose is the same as for the child tax credit, generally those 16 years and younger. 

Eligible individuals don’t include:

  • Nonresident aliens
  • Individuals that can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer
  • Estates and trusts

Payment Administration

The tax credit is paid out as an advance refund and is calculated based on AGI reported on the taxpayer’s 2019 tax return or, if not yet filed, the taxpayer’s 2018 tax return.

For taxpayers who didn’t file a return for either 2018 or 2019, the US Department of the Treasury will look to amounts reported by Social Security on Form SSA-1099 and Form RRB-1099.

The refund will be paid directly via previously provided direct deposit information on the taxpayer’s return or, if direct deposit information wasn’t provided, a mailed check.

Future Recalculations

A recalculation will be completed after 2020 to true-up the credit awarded based on the taxpayer’s AGI for the year.

If the taxpayer received an advance refund that was less than the credit to which the taxpayer is entitled for 2020, the taxpayer will be able to claim the balance of the credit when filing the 2020 return.

However, if the advance rebate received was greater than the credit to which the taxpayer is entitled, the taxpayer won't have to pay back the excess.

Ten Percent Penalty Waived for Certain Early Retirement Distributions

The 10% penalty on early withdrawal of retirement funds won’t apply for any coronavirus-related distributions, up to $100,000, through December 31, 2020, from tax-favored employer-sponsored plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

An eligible taxpayer includes either an individual:

  • Diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 virus or COVID-19 disease or whose spouse or dependent has been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 virus or COVID-19 disease
  • Experiencing adverse financial consequences from being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having reduced work hours, unable to work due to lack of child care, or, in the case of a business owner, closing their business or experiencing reduced hours due to the virus

Exemptions and Repayments

The amounts are exempt from the penalty, but generally will be included in taxable income. However, the taxpayer can elect to spread the income inclusion ratably over 2020 through 2022.

Alternatively, the individual can repay the distribution within three years of receipt to avoid income recognition.

Maximum Loan Increase

The CARES Act also raises the maximum loan amount from qualified retirement plans to $100,000 and allows the normal repayment rules to be extended for one year.

Required Minimum Distribution Rules Suspended for 2020

Required minimum distribution rules are suspended for calendar year 2020 for distributions from:

  • A defined contribution plan under Section 403(a) or 403(b)
  • Eligible governmental deferred compensation plans
  • IRAs

Above the Line Deduction of $300 for Charitable Contributions in 2020

For tax years beginning in 2020, an individual who doesn’t itemize may deduct against AGI up to $300 of qualified charitable contributions.

The qualified charitable contribution must be made in cash during 2020 and can’t be to a Section 509(a)(3) supporting organization or donor-advised fund.

Charitable Contribution Limit Increased to 100% for 2020

The act increases the limit on charitable contribution deductions for contributions made during 2020. A qualified charitable contribution deduction is allowed up to 100% of AGI on the taxpayer’s 2020 return, increased from the usual rate of 60%. 

Any excess contributions will be carried forward for five years and eligible to be deducted in future years under the normal carryforward rules.

Eligible charitable contributions must be made in cash during 2020 and can’t be made to a Section 509(a)(3) supporting organization or donor-advised fund.

Employer Student Loan Payments Tax-Free Up to $5,250

Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code generally allows up to $5,250 of payments made by an employer towards educational expenses to be tax-free to the employee. Employers can now also make payments towards the employee’s qualified education loan, including principal and interest.

The limit remains at $5,250 and is applicable for any payments made between the enactment of the CARES Act and December 31, 2020.

We’re Here to Help

The CARES Act intends to put immediate cash into the hands of individuals and business owners. To learn how these provisions can help your personal needs, contact your Moss Adams professional.

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