IRS Delivers Covid-19 Surprise To Workers:  A Chance To Redo Their 2021 Health Plan And FSA Choices

If your employer lets you make changes to your workplace healthcare elections for 2021 under new Treasury guidance, it could cut your tax bill.

 

Wish you could change your health plan for 2021? In newly released guidance on new flexible rules for healthcare and dependent care FSAs, the Internal Revenue Service has included a new Covid-19-relief surprise: Employers can allow employees to make changes prospectively to health care coverage for 2021.

“The guidance is very employer and employee friendly; it really gives a lot of flexibility,” says Jake Mattinson, an employee benefits lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago.

Notice 2021-15 allows for mid-year changes to employer-sponsored health care coverage, healthcare flexible spending accounts and dependent care accounts. It will help employees whose medical and caregiving situations have changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. That is, if your employer is on board.

Usually healthcare elections are set in stone on a calendar year basis. Last May, the Treasury Department came up with a partial mid-year fix for 2020, allowing prospective changes and extending grace periods and carryovers through year-end (IRS Notice 2020-29). But employees still cried foul: they had socked away more money than they could spend in these workplace tax-favored accounts, and would be subject to forfeiture rules.

In December, in the tax provisions tied onto the year-end spending package, Congress passed new special rules allowing rollovers and more for leftover 2020 and 2021 FSA money for employees and ex-employees. Notice 2021-15 answers a lot of the open questions about how to implement the new rules.

For 2021, you can revoke an existing healthcare plan election and make a new election, or revoke an existing election and attest that you’re getting coverage elsewhere. Say you picked an HMO plan, but really want to be in a PPO plan. Or say you decide you’d be better off under a spouse’s plan. This gives you the chance to make a mid-year change. That allowance is not in the December law, so it was a surprise, Mattinson says.

For healthcare and dependent care FSAs, the guidance says employers can allow employees to carryover unused amounts they’ve stashed in these accounts from the 2020 and 2021 plan years. It wasn’t clear before, but the IRS says that any plan can implement a 100% carryover or extended grace period, no matter what feature the plan had before, Mattinson says. That means employees might be able to carry over their whole balance (instead of just $550 under current law) from one year to the next.

The extended grace period could go out 12 months, instead of just 2.5 months. as of January 1, 2022, everything would shift back to the regular rules. Under the regular rules, you can stash up to $5,000 pretax per year in a dependent care FSA, but if you don’t use the money for the specified year, you lose it. You can put up to $2,750 in a healthcare FSA, and if you don’t use it, you may be able to either use it up during a grace period or carry over $550.

Don’t get your hopes up just yet: Employers have to adopt these changes, and while some have already been working on amendments to their plans based on the December law even before today’s guidance, others have decided to do nothing. “The reaction among employers is mixed; everyone has their own ideas of what to implement. It’s all optional,” says Mattinson. One client said they would implement it all, while another client said they wouldn’t make any of the changes, for example.

Some of the nitty-gritty guidance surrounds COBRA and health savings accounts. For COBRA, the guidance makes clear that if an employer lets terminated workers seek reimbursement from an FSA, that won’t hurt their qualification for COBRA. For health savings accounts, the guidance clarifies that for employees who want to make a midyear change into a high deductible health plan with an HSA, they could convert a general purpose FSA to a limited purpose FSA so as not to be disqualified from contributing to the HSA.

Notice 2021-15 is 34 pages long and includes detailed examples, suggesting this is an area of the tax code that could be simplified! Here’s a bullet point summary of the law changes addressed in the IRS guidance; employers can:

 

  • allow employees to carry over unused money up to the full annual amount from the plan year 2020 to 2021, and also from the plan year 2021 to 2022 for healthcare and dependent care FSAs
  • allow up to a 12-month grace period for employees to incur new expenses and submit claims against unused accumulated funds for plan years ending in 2020 or 2021 for healthcare and dependent care FSAs
  • allow midyear election changes on a prospective basis without a change in status event for plan years ending in 2021 for healthcare and dependent care FSAs
  • allow dependent care reimbursement up to age 14 in cases where an employee’s dependent turned 13 in 2020 and the employee had leftover funds from 2020 (this special carry forward rule helps employees whose dependents “aged out” during the pandemic) for dependent care FSAs
  • allow health FSA participants who stop participating in the plan (ex-employees) during calendar year 2020 or 2021 to continue to receive reimbursements through the end of the year, including grace periods (this post-termination benefit applies to healthcare FSAs, not dependent care FSAs)

 

Further reading: Healthcare And Childcare FSA Fix For 2021, Finally: Special Carry Over Rules And More

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I cover personal finance, with a focus on retirement planning, trusts and estates strategies, and taxwise charitable giving. I’ve written for Forbes since 1997. Follow me on Twitter: @ashleaebeling and contact me by email: ashleaebeling — at — gmail — dot — com

Source: IRS Delivers Covid-19 Surprise To Workers:  A Chance To Redo Their 2021 Health Plan And FSA Choices

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Tax Refund Chart Can Help You Guess When You’ll Receive Your Money In 2021

Hear that? It’s the sound of millions of taxpayers cheering across the country: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced the open of the tax filing season. That date is February 12, 2021.

If you want to get your refund as fast as possible, the IRS recommends that you e-file your tax return and use direct deposit (be sure to double-check those account numbers before you send your return). If you file by paper, it will take longer. According to the IRS, eight out of 10 taxpayers get their refunds by using direct deposit.

Assuming no delays, here are my best guesses for expected tax refunds based on filing dates and information from the IRS. I can’t stress enough that these are simply educated guesses. I like math and charts as much as the next girl, but there are a number of factors that could affect your tax refund (keep reading)

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refund chart
KPE

* No matter when you filed your tax return, if you claimed the EITC or the ACTC, don’t forget to take into consideration that hold date.

My numbers are based on an expected IRS receipt date beginning on the open of tax season, February 12, 2021, through the close of tax season on April 15, 2021. To keep the chart manageable, I’ve assumed the IRS received your e-filed tax return on the first business day of the week; that’s usually a Monday, but if there’s a holiday (like President’s Day), I’ve skipped ahead until Tuesday. The same logic holds true for issuing refunds. In reality, the IRS issues tax refunds throughout the week, so the date could move forward or backward depending on the day your return was received.

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Other sites may have different numbers but remember they’re just guessing, too: The IRS no longer makes their tax refund processing chart public.

Do not rely on any tax refund chart—this one included—for date-specific planning like a large purchase or a paying back a loan. 

Remember that if you claim the earned-income tax credit (EITC) and the additional child tax credit (ACTC), the IRS must wait until February 15 to begin issuing refunds to taxpayers who claim the EITC or the ACTC (that’s pretty close to the start date). Don’t forget to consider regular processing times for banks and factor in weekends and the President’s Day holiday. The IRS expects to see tax refunds begin reaching those claiming EITC and ACTC during the first week of March for those who file electronically with direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax returns.

If you want to get your tax refund as fast as possible, the IRS recommends that you e-file your tax return and use direct deposit. Keep in mind that if you e-file, the day that the IRS accepts your return may not be the day that you hit send or give the green light to your preparer. Check your e-filing confirmation for the actual date that the IRS accepts your return.

If you file by paper, it will take longer. Processing times can take more than four to six weeks in the best of times (and these are not the best of times) since the IRS has to manually input data. Don’t forget about postal holidays, too, when counting on the mail. There’s just one official postal holiday during tax season, Monday, February 15 (President’s Day), and one that follows just after tax season, Monday, May 31 (Memorial Day).

Even if you request direct deposit, you may still receive a paper check. Since 2014, the IRS has limited the number of refunds that can be deposited into a single account or applied to a prepaid debit card to three. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will instead receive a paper check. Additionally, the IRS will only issue a refund by direct deposit into an account in your own name, your spouse’s name or both if it’s a joint account. If there’s an issue with the account, the IRS will send a paper check.

If you’re looking for more information about the timing of your tax refund, don’t reach out to your tax professional. Instead, the IRS encourages you to use the “Get Refund Status” tool. Have your Social security number or ITIN, filing status and exact refund amount handy. Refund updates should appear 24 hours after your e-filing has been accepted or four weeks after you mailed your paper return. The IRS expect that the refund tool will be updated for those claiming EITC and ACTC, beginning on February 22, 2021. Otherwise, the IRS updates the site once per day, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check more than once during the day.

If you’re looking for tax information on the go, you can check your refund status with IRS2Go, the official mobile app of the IRS. The app includes a tax refund status tracker.

Remember that the IRS will not contact you by phone or by email regarding your refund. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or a debt collection agency regarding your tax refund, hang up immediately: it is a scam. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website

Kelly Phillips Erb

Kelly Phillips Erb Years ago, I found myself sitting in law school in Moot Court wearing an oversized itchy blue suit. It was a horrible experience. In a desperate attempt to avoid anything like that in the future, I enrolled in a tax course. I loved it. I signed up for another. Before I knew it, in addition to my JD, I earned an LL.M Taxation. While at law school, I interned at the estates attorney division of the IRS. At IRS, I participated in the review and audit of federal estate tax returns. At one such audit, opposing counsel read my report, looked at his file and said, “Gentlemen, she’s exactly right.” I nearly fainted. It was a short jump from there to practicing, teaching, writing and breathing tax. Just like that, Taxgirl® was born.

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Gregg Learning

Once the tax liability has been determined, we must consider the final three items in income tax preparation: tax credits, other taxes, and payments. When an overpayment occurs, the taxpayer has the option of receiving a refund or applying the amount of the overpayment to next year’s estimated tax.

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What Is Really The Tax Filing Season

The 2020 tax filing season is delayed until February 12, so the Internal Revenue Service can do additional programming and testing following the December tax law changes.

“If filing season were opened without the correct programming in place, then there could be a delay in issuing refunds to taxpayers,” the Internal Revenue Service said in a press release. “These changes ensure that eligible people will receive any remaining stimulus money as a Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return.”

The filing season usually opens in late January when the IRS begins accepting and processing returns. Last year, the season started on January 27.“While I am disappointed that this year’s filing season will begin later than usual, I recognize that the IRS has faced extraordinary challenges throughout the COVID crisis,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) said in a statement on Friday.

The $900 billion stimulus deal and government-funding bill that passed together at the end of December included some key tax changes for the 2020 tax year.

Eligible taxpayers who didn’t receive the second round of stimulus payments included in the latest stimulus bill or didn’t receive the full amount they were entitled to can claim them on their 2020 tax returns. They can also claim the first round of payments. How the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit are calculated for the 2020 tax year also changed under the stimulus deal.

Under the government-funding bill, medical expenses now must exceed only 7.5% of adjusted gross income to be taken as an itemized deduction. Before, that threshold was 10%.

Read more: Here’s what to do if you haven’t gotten your stimulus check

The IRS urges taxpayers to file electronically and use direct deposit as a payment method as soon as possible. The agency anticipates 9 out of 10 taxpayers will. receive their refund within 21 days if they file their returns electronically, used direct deposit, and no issues popped up with their return.

People eligible for free tax filing can begin their taxes now and the returns will be transmitted to the IRS on February 12. These are providers participating in the IRS Free File for 2021:

  • 1040Now
  • ezTaxReturn.com
  • FreeTaxReturn.com
  • FileYourTaxes.com
  • Intuit (TurboTax)
  • On-Line Taxes (OLT.com)
  • TaxAct
  • TaxHawk (FreeTaxUSA)
  • TaxSlayer

Read more:

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By: Denitsa Tsekova

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Furlough vs. Layoff: What’s the Difference for Your Taxes?When a company chooses to reduce its workforce, it may approach that reduction in a few different ways. How a company makes these staffing changes could result in different implications for you and your taxes. Here’s what you should know about the differences between a furlough and a layoff.

Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.comCapital Gains and LossesWhat is a capital asset, and how much tax do you have to pay when you sell one at a profit? Find out how to report your capital gains and losses on your tax return with these tips from TurboTax.

Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.comStimulus 2020: Unemployment Insurance for Self-Employed IndividualsDue to the recent coronavirus pandemic, many businesses and individuals are facing challenging times — including those that are self-employed. The government has issued unemployment insurance for self-employed individuals to help them manage their finances.

Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.comGreat Ways to Get Charitable Tax DeductionsGenerally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as an itemized deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

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IRS Announces Higher 2020 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits For 401(k)s And More

How much can you save for retirement in 2020? The Treasury Department has announced inflation-adjusted figures for retirement account savings for 2020: 401(k) contribution limits are up; traditional IRA contribution limits stay the same; almost all the other numbers are up.

The amount you can contribute to your 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan goes up from $19,000 in 2019 to $19,500 in 2020. The 401(k) catch-up contribution limit—if you’re 50 or older in 2020—will be $6,500 for workplace plans, up from $6,000. But the amount you can contribute to an Individual Retirement Account stays the same for 2020: $6,000, with a $1,000 catch-up limit if you’re 50 or older.

So super-savers age 50-plus can sock away $33,000 in these tax-advantaged accounts for 2020. If your employer allows aftertax contributions or you’re self-employed, you can save even more. The overall defined contribution plan limit moves up to $57,000, from $56,000.

Today In: Money

Sounds unreachable? During 2018, 13% of employees with retirement plans at work saved the then maximum of $18,500/$24,500, according to Vanguard’s How America Saves. In plans offering catch-up contributions, 15% of those age 50 or older took advantage of the extra savings opportunity. High earners are really saving: 6 out of 10 folks earning $150,000+ contributed the maximum allowed, including catch-ups.

Want to join in? We outline the numbers below; see IRS Notice 2019-59 for technical guidance. For more on 2020 tax numbers: Forbes contributor Kelly Phillips Erb has all the details on 2020 tax brackets, standard deduction amounts and more. We have all the details on the new higher 2020 retirement account limits too.

401(k)s. The annual contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is $19,500 for 2020—a $500 boost over 2019. Note, you can make changes to your 401(k) election at any time during the year, not just during open enrollment season when most employers send you a reminder to update your elections for the next plan year.

The 401(k) Catch-Up. The catch-up contribution limit for employees age 50 or older in these plans is $6,500 for 2020. That’s the first increase since 2015 when the limit rose to $6,000. Even if you don’t turn 50 until December 31, 2020, you can make the additional $6,500 catch-up contribution for the year.

SEP IRAs and Solo 401(k)s. For the self-employed and small business owners, the amount they can save in a SEP IRA or a solo 401(k) goes up from $56,000 in 2019 to $57,000 in 2020. That’s based on the amount they can contribute as an employer, as a percentage of their salary; the compensation limit used in the savings calculation also goes up from $280,000 in 2019 to $285,000 in 2020.

Aftertax 401(k) contributions. If your employer allows aftertax contributions to your 401(k), you also get the advantage of the $57,000 limit for 2020. It’s an overall cap, including your $19,500 (pretax or Roth in any combination) salary deferrals plus any employer contributions (but not catch-up contributions).

The SIMPLE. The limit on SIMPLE retirement accounts goes up from $13,000 in 2019 to $13,500 in 2020. The SIMPLE catch-up limit is still $3,000.

Defined Benefit Plans. The limitation on the annual benefit of a defined benefit plan goes up from $225,000 in 2019 to $230,000 in 2020. These are powerful pension plans (an individual version of the kind that used to be more common in the corporate world before 401(k)s took over) for high-earning self-employed folks.

Individual Retirement Accounts. The limit on annual contributions to an Individual Retirement Account (pretax or Roth or a combination) remains at $6,000 for 2020, the same as in 2019. The catch-up contribution limit, which is not subject to inflation adjustments, remains at $1,000. (Remember that 2020 IRA contributions can be made until April 15, 2021.)

Deductible IRA Phase-Outs. You can earn a little more in 2020 and get to deduct your contributions to a traditional pretax IRA. Note: Even if you earn too much to get a deduction for contributing to an IRA, you can still contribute—it’s just nondeductible.

In 2020, the deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $65,000 and $75,000, up from $64,000 and $74,000 in 2019. For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $104,000 to $124,000 for 2020, up from $103,000 to $123,000.

For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $196,000 and $206,000 in 2020, up from $193,000 and $203,000 in 2019.

Roth IRA Phase-Outs. The inflation adjustment helps Roth IRA savers too. In 2020, the AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $196,000 to $206,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $193,000 to $203,000 in 2019. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $124,000 to $139,000, up from $122,000 to $137,000 in 2019.

If you earn too much to open a Roth IRA, you can open a nondeductible IRA and convert it to a Roth IRA as Congress lifted any income restrictions for Roth IRA conversions. To learn more about the backdoor Roth, see Congress Blesses Roth IRAs For Everyone, Even The Well-Paid.

Saver’s Credit. The income limit for the saver’s credit for low- and moderate-income workers is $65,000 for married couples filing jointly for 2020, up from $64,000; $48,750 for heads of household, up from $48,000; and $32,500 for singles and married filing separately, up from $32,000. See Grab The Saver’s Credit for details on how it can pay off.

QLACs. The dollar limit on the amount of your IRA or 401(k) you can invest in a qualified longevity annuity contract is increased to $135,000 from $130,000. See Make Your Retirement Money Last For Life for how QLACs work.

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I’m an associate editor on the Money team at Forbes based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, leading Forbes’ retirement coverage. I manage contributors who cover retirement and wealth management. Since I joined Forbes in 1997, my favorite stories have been on how people fuel their passions (historic preservation, open space, art, for example) by exploiting the tax code. I also get into the nitty-gritty of retirement account rules, estate planning and strategic charitable giving. My favorite Forbes business trip: to Plano, Ill. to report on the restoration of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, then owned by a British baron. Live well. Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ashleaebeling Send me an email: aebeling@forbes.com

Source: IRS Announces Higher 2020 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits For 401(k)s And More

The IRS announced changes to contribution and benefit limits for 2019. CSIG’s Alison Bettonville, CFA highlights the limit changes that affect various qualified retirement plans. Highlights include: -402(g) limit increased to $19,000 -415 or the Total Annual Additions limit increased to $56,000 -Catch up contributions limit remained at $6,000 -Compensation limit increased $280,000 -Highly Compensated Employee definition increased to $125,000 To the extent that any portion of the information submitted by CSIG contains material that is copyrighted, the recipient shall observe the protection of such material as provided under applicable copyright laws. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Diversification does not guarantee investment returns and does not eliminate risk of loss. We believe the information provided here is reliable, but do not warrant its accuracy or completeness. Opinions and estimates offered constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice, as are statements of financial market trends, which are based on current market conditions. This material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. The views and strategies described may not be suitable for all investors. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, accounting, legal, or tax advice. References to future returns are not promises or even estimates of actual returns a client portfolio may achieve. Any forecasts contained herein are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be relied upon as advice or interpreted as a recommendation. The price of equity securities may rise or fall because of changes in the broad market or changes in a company’s financial condition, sometimes rapidly or unpredictably. International investing involves a greater degree of risk and increased volatility. There is no guarantee that companies that can issue dividends will declare, continue to pay, or increase dividends.

IRS Introduces New Tax Withholding Estimator To Help Taxpayers Avoid Surprises In 2020

Remember all of the times that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminded you to do a payroll checkup (like this one)? And remember that you didn’t? The IRS is hoping you’ll reconsider this year. The agency has launched a new Tax Withholding Estimator that they hope will make it easier for everyone to figure the right amount of tax withheld during the year.

Why the need for a checkup? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many individual taxpayers experienced significant changes. Those changes included new tax rates, limits on the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT taxes), a cap on the amount that you can borrow for purposes of the home mortgage interest (you can find additional information about re-fis here), and exclusions for certain kinds of job-related expenses (like the home office deduction – more here).

With the first official tax season following the TCJA now in the books, the IRS has been exploring ways to help taxpayers have a better tax year in 2020. That includes replacing the old Withholding Calculator with the new Tax Withholding Estimator.

“The new estimator takes a new approach and makes it easier for taxpayers to review their withholding,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “This is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to improve quality services as we continue to pursue modernization and enhancements of our taxpayer relationships.”

One of the criticisms of the old Withholding Calculator was that it didn’t work well for all taxpayers; it tended to benefit single-wage earners who were also W-2 employees. Now, the IRS says that the new Tax Withholding Estimator offers workers, as well as retirees and self-employed individuals, a more user-friendly tool to figure the amount of income tax they must have withheld from wages and pension payments.

You can find the Tax Withholding Estimator on the IRS website here. To get started, you’ll need to be able to estimate your 2019 income, the number of children you will claim for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and other items that will affect your 2019 taxes like itemized deduction amounts. You’ll also want to have your most recent pay stubs and a copy of your last year’s form 1040 handy.

The Tax Withholding Estimator is more user-friendly than its predecessor. Here’s what the opening screen looks like:

You’ll begin by entering information about you, including your dependents:

You’ll next input information about your income. Unlike the last calculator, the new Tax Withholding Estimator gives you more options related to the kinds of income you might receive, like these:

Along the way, the tool uses plain language, asking taxpayers questions like:

Deductions reduce the amount of your income subject to income tax. Most taxpayers take the standard deduction. Would you like to take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions?

If you itemize, you can estimate the value of those deductions:

The Tax Withholding Estimator also allows you to go back and fix your errors without starting over – and skip questions that don’t apply (that’s a big change from before).

Remember that the results are only as good as the information you provide. And if your circumstances change during the year (say, for example, that you get a new job, buy a new house or have a baby), you’ll want to revisit the Tax Withholding Estimator to make sure that your withholding is still correct.

If you are an employee, the Tax Withholding Estimator can help you determine whether you need to give your employer a new form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate (downloads as a PDF). You can use your results to help fill out the form and adjust your income tax withholding. For more information about form W-4, click here. If you receive pension income, you can use the results to complete a form W-4P (downloads as a PDF).

One more thing: if you’re worried about privacy, the Tax Withholding Estimator will not ask you to provide sensitive personally-identifiable information like your name, Social Security number, address or bank account numbers. Additionally, the IRS says that it does not save or record the information you enter on the Tax Withholding Estimator.

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Years ago, I found myself sitting in law school in Moot Court wearing an oversized itchy blue suit. It was a horrible experience. In a desperate attempt to avoid anything like that in the future, I enrolled in a tax course. I loved it. I signed up for another. Before I knew it, in addition to my JD, I earned an LL.M Taxation. While at law school, I interned at the estates attorney division of the IRS. At IRS, I participated in the review and audit of federal estate tax returns. At one such audit, opposing counsel read my report, looked at his file and said, “Gentlemen, she’s exactly right.” I nearly fainted. It was a short jump from there to practicing, teaching, writing and breathing tax. Just like that, Taxgirl® was born.

Source: IRS Introduces New Tax Withholding Estimator To Help Taxpayers Avoid Surprises In 2020

 

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