Approximately 157 million Americans are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance. From 2010 to 2020, premiums increased much faster than the rate of general inflation, although the increase has slowed somewhat in recent years. Employers absorbed the largest share of the premium increases, and the percentage paid by workers dropped over the period. However, workers are paying additional costs in the form of higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020
Year-End 2021 Tax Tips
Here are some things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves before the end of the year.
Defer Income to Next Year
Consider opportunities to defer income to 2022, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services in order to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.
Look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year (instead of paying them in early 2022) could make a difference on your 2021 return.
Make Deductible Charitable Contributions
If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct charitable contributions, but the deduction is limited to 60%, 30%, or 20% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), depending on the type of property you give and the type of organization to which you contribute. (Excess amounts can be carried over for up to five years.) For 2021 charitable gifts, the normal rules have been enhanced: The limit is increased to 100% of AGI for direct cash gifts to public charities. And even if you don’t itemize deductions, you can receive a $300 charitable deduction ($600 for joint returns) for direct cash gifts to public charities (in addition to the standard deduction).
Bump Up Withholding
If it looks as though you’re going to owe federal income tax for the year, consider increasing your withholding on Form W-4 for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly throughout the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck.
More to Consider
Here are some other things to consider as part of your year-end tax review.
Increase Retirement Savings
Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can help reduce your 2021 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so. For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) plan ($26,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $6,000 to traditional and Roth IRAs combined ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2021 contributions to an employer plan generally closes at the end of the year, while you have until April 15, 2022, to make 2021 IRA contributions. (Roth contributions are not deductible, but qualified Roth distributions are not taxable.)
RMDs Are Back in 2021
While required minimum distributions (RMDs) were waived for 2020, they are back for 2021. If you are age 72 or older, you generally must take RMDs from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you’re still working for the employer sponsoring the plan). Take any distributions by the date required — the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required. After the death of the IRA owner or plan participant, distributions are also generally required by beneficiaries (either annually or under the 10-year rule; there are special rules for spouses).
Weigh Year-End Investment Moves
Though you shouldn’t let tax considerations drive your investment decisions, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.
What a Relief! Congress Acts Against Surprise Medical Bills
If you have ever been caught off-guard by a large medical bill, a long-running practice known as balance billing might be the reason. A balance bill — which is the difference between an out-of-network provider’s normal charges for a service and a lower rate reimbursed by insurance — can amount to thousands of dollars.
Many consumers are already aware that it usually costs less to seek care from in-network health providers, but that’s not always possible in an emergency. Complicating matters, some hospitals and urgent-care facilities rely on physicians, ambulances, and laboratories that are not in the same network. In fact, a recent survey found that 18% of emergency room visits resulted in at least one surprise bill.1
Who’s Afraid of High Health-Care Costs? Most People
Percent of surveyed adults who say they are worried about being able to afford the following expenses
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation and JAMA, 2020
Coming Soon: Comprehensive Protection
The No Surprises Act was included in the omnibus spending bill enacted by the federal government at the end of 2020. The new rules will help ensure that consumers do not receive unexpected bills from out-of-network providers they didn’t choose or had no control over. Once the new law takes effect in 2022, patients will not receive balance bills for emergency care, or for nonemergency care at in-network hospitals, when they are unknowingly treated by out-of-network providers. (A few states already have laws that prevent balance billing unless the patient agrees to costlier out-of-network care ahead of time.)
Patients will be responsible only for the deductibles and copayment amounts that they would owe under the in-network terms of their insurance plans. Instead of charging patients, health providers will negotiate a fair price with insurers (and settle disputes with arbitration). This change applies to doctors, hospitals, and air ambulances — but not ground ambulances.
Consent to Pay More
Some patients purposely seek care from out-of-network health providers, such as a trusted family physician or a highly regarded specialist, when they believe the quality of care is worth the extra cost. In these nonemergency situations, physicians can still balance bill their patients. However, a good-faith cost estimate must be provided, and a consent form must be signed by the patient, at least 72 hours before treatment. Some types of providers are barred from seeking consent to balance bill for their services, including anesthesiologists, radiologists, pathologists, neonatologists, assistant surgeons, and laboratories.
Big Bills Will Keep Coming
The fact that millions of consumers could be saved from surprise medical bills is something to celebrate. Still, many people may struggle to cover their out-of-pocket health expenses, in some cases because they are uninsured, or simply due to high plan deductibles or rising costs in general. Covered workers enrolled in family coverage contributed $5,588, on average, toward the cost of premiums in 2020, with deductibles ranging from $2,700 to more than $4,500, depending on the type of plan.2
When arranging nonemergency surgery or other costly treatment, you may want to take your time choosing a doctor and a facility because charges can vary widely. Don’t hesitate to ask for detailed estimates and try to negotiate a better price.
If you receive a bill that is higher than expected, don’t assume it is set in stone. Check hospital bills closely for errors, check billing codes, and dispute charges that you think insurance should cover. If all else fails, offer to settle your account at a discount.
1-2) Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020
Smarter Spending on Deep-Discount Days
Use cash. Consider using a debit card or cash for in-store purchases. Carrying only a predetermined amount of money in your wallet may help you avoid overspending.
Pay attention to the fine print. Retailers may have special policies in place for the holiday season. Knowing the time limits for exchanges or returns is especially important when you’re shopping early. Ask for gift receipts and keep your own copies.
Watch out for exclusions. Promotional prices might be limited to certain items and may expire quickly, so understand the details.
Look for price guarantees. If you buy an item that later goes on sale, some retailers will refund the difference within certain time limits. Retailers may also match a competitor’s price on an identical item (you may need to provide proof of the purchase).
IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matter addressed herein.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2021