Tag Archives: financial aid

I Owe Tax on That?

5 Surprising Taxable Items

Wages and self-employment earnings are taxable, but what about the random cash or financial benefits you receive through other means? If something of value changes hands, you can bet the IRS considers a way to tax it. Here are five taxable items that might surprise you:

1. Scholarships and financial aid. Applying for scholarships and financial aid are top priorities for parents of college-bound children. But be careful — if any part of the award your child receives goes toward anything except tuition, it might be taxable. This could include room, board, books, travel expenses or aid received in exchange for work (e.g., tutoring or research).

Tip: When receiving an award, review the details to determine if any part of it is taxable. Don’t forget to review state rules as well. While most scholarships and aid are tax-free, no one needs a tax surprise.

2. Gambling winnings. Hooray! You hit the trifecta for the Kentucky Derby. But guess what? Technically, all gambling winnings are taxable, including casino games, lottery tickets and sports betting. Thankfully, the IRS allows you to deduct your gambling losses (to the extent of winnings) as an itemized deduction, so keep good records.

Tip: Know when the gambling establishment is required to report your winnings. It varies by type of betting. For instance, the filing threshold for winnings from fantasy sports betting and horse racing is $600, while slot machines and bingo are typically $1,200. But beware, the gambling facility and state requirements may lower the limit.

3. Unemployment compensation. Unfortunately the IRS doesn’t give you a break on the taxes for unemployment income. Unemployment benefits you receive are taxable.

Tip: If you are collecting unemployment, you can either have taxes withheld and receive the net amount or make estimated payments to cover the tax liability.

4. Crowdfunding. A popular method to raise money for new ventures or to support a special cause is crowdfunding through websites. Whether or not the funds are taxable depends on two things: your intent for the funds and what the giver receives in return. Generally, funds used for a business purpose are taxable and funds raised to cover a life event (e.g., special causes or medical assistance) are considered a gift and not taxable to the recipient.

Tip: Prior to using these online tools to raise money, review the terms and conditions and ask for a tax review of what you are doing. If you need to account for taxes, reserve some of what you raise for this purpose.

5. Cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are considered property by the IRS. So if you use cryptocurrency, you must keep track of the original cost of the coin and its value when you use it. This information is needed so the tax on your gain or loss can be properly calculated. Remember, the tax rate on property can vary if you own the cryptocurrency more than a year, so record all dates.

Tip: For those considering replacing cash with things like Bitcoin, you need to understand the gain or loss complications. For this reason, many people using cryptocurrency do so for speculative investment purposes.

When in doubt, it’s a good idea to keep accurate records so your tax liability can be correctly calculated and you don’t get stuck paying more than what’s required.

Ace the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a tool students use to apply for more than $120 billion in federal funds. Unfortunately, each year many students miss out. A report from NerdWallet estimates that $1,861 per eligible high school graduate of free federal grant money went unused during 2014 because they did not complete a FAFSA.

Even if you don’t think you or your child qualify for federal aid, filling out a FAFSA is important because it could be used to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid and private funds.

FAFSA available Oct. 1

Previously, the FAFSA was not available until January. A recent change now makes the application available Oct. 1. This is because the 2018-19 FAFSA can be completed with your 2016 tax information.

Avoid FAFSA mistakes

Don’t forgo federal student aid by making one of the following common filing mistakes:

Mistake: Not reading the instructions or questions

Tip: Answer all the questions, even if the answer is zero. If left blank, a question will be considered unanswered. Here are some quick tips:

  • Write dollar amounts without cents.
  • “You” and “your” refer to the student, not the parents.
  • Provide parent information if you or your child is considered a dependent of someone else.
  • Understand the definitions of key FAFSA language including: legal guardianship, parent and household size.
  • Use the available FAQs and FAFSA Information Center.

Mistake: Incorrect, incomplete or nonmatching data

Tip: Complete the FAFSA online. Although you can complete the FAFSA on paper, it takes only three to five days to process when submitted electronically. The online version has built-in safeguards that identify and prevent many errors. Plus, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can import information directly from your tax return. Logging in with a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID will automatically load basic information (e.g., name, birthdate, and Social Security number), reducing the likelihood of typos. You’ll even receive confirmation of receipt once you submit your online application.

Mistake: Not filing on time

Tip: Note the new October FAFSA filing start date and get the application submitted as soon as possible. The sooner you or your child gets started, the higher the likelihood of being awarded funds, since many are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Remember, students need to complete a FAFSA each year because eligibility does not carry over and can vary based on circumstances. Students can use the FAFSA Web Worksheet now to gather and organize the data needed for their application, available at www.fafsa.gov.