A flurry of tax legislation passed at the end of 2019 as part of an omnibus spending package. You might have already heard about changes to the retirement plan rules and tax extenders that were part of this package.
However, there are some lesser-known changes that you might not know about. Specifically, the disaster-related provisions of the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act provide valuable relief to taxpayers affected by federally declared disasters that happened between January 1, 2018, and January 19, 2020.
Prior to 2018, individual taxpayers that itemized their deductions could write off their unreimbursed casualty and theft losses to the extent that the losses exceeded 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI). In addition, the deductible amount had to be reduced by a "floor" of $100 for each casualty or theft event.
For example, Bill had $100,000 in AGI for 2017. He incurred a $25,000 loss to his home due to hurricane damage in 2017, and his insurance company paid him $10,000 for repairs. So, his unreimbursed loss was $15,000 ($25,000 - $10,000).
Bill itemized deductions on his 2017 tax return. How much was he able to deduct for unreimbursed hurricane damages? His deduction was subject to the 10%-of-AGI threshold of $10,000 (10% of $100,000). He also had to subtract $100 per loss. So, in 2017, Bill claimed a $4,900 itemized deduction for the loss ($15,000 - $10,000 - $100).
Important: A special election allows taxpayers to deduct a loss on a tax return for the preceding year. If you've already filed your return for the preceding year, you can file an amended return to make the election and claim the deduction in the earlier year. Decisions regarding this election should be based on an evaluation of: 1) whether you need cash quickly, and 2) your overall tax situation in the casualty event year and the preceding year.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) repealed the deduction for casualties and theft losses for 2018 through 2025 — except for losses suffered in federally declared disaster areas. The special election to speed up the tax relief available to taxpayers in disaster areas remains in effect after the TCJA.
The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act doesn't restore pre-TCJA law for all casualty and theft losses. However, it does provide the following seven tax breaks to victims in federally declared disaster areas, generally for 2018 through January 19, 2020:
The new law also creates a special "employee retention credit" for 2018 and 2019. Essentially, a disaster-affected employer is entitled to a 40% tax credit for the first $6,000 of wages paid to an employee from a core disaster area. The maximum credit is $2,400 per worker.
The employee retention credit applies to wages paid regardless of whether services associated with those wages were actually performed. It's treated as part of the general business credit.
This article highlights the key tax breaks available to individuals and small businesses that have suffered losses in a federally declared disaster area. Other special rules may apply. If you're hit with a disaster, consult with your tax advisor to maximize the benefits for your situation.
Starting in 2018, a provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) triggered unrelated business income tax (UBIT) on tax-exempt organizations like churches that provide employees with transportation and parking fringe benefits. Now that provision has been repealed under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act.
The change is effective for amounts paid or incurred after 2017. So, churches and other not-for-profit entities that paid UBIT on applicable transportation benefits in 2018 and 2019 may be eligible for a refund. Contact your tax advisor for more information.
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