According to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53 million adults in the U.S. (or one out of every five) live with a disability. Whether they're working or not, people with disabilities and their caregivers often have higher costs associated with medical care or daily living, so the current tax code makes some of these costs deductible.
As tax day approaches, here's a look at tax strategies for people with disabilities and their caregivers to consider.
Consider opening an ABLE Account. ABLE Accounts are a relatively new savings option for people who become blind or disabled before the age of 26. The accounts work similarly to 529 college savings accounts in that money in the account grows tax-free and can be spent on eligible expenses with no tax implications.
However, "if money is withdrawn for a nonqualified expense, it's subject to income tax and a 10 percent penalty, so you have to be careful with it," says Richard Miller, an elder law attorney at the firm Mandelbaum Salsburg in New Jersey and co-chairperson of the firm's special needs practice. ABLE Account contributions do not qualify for a federal tax credit or deduction, but some states, including Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska, offer state tax benefits for contributing. For instance, the state of Iowa allows individual taxpayers in that state to deduct up to $3,239 of their contributions to an Iowa ABLE Account in determining their adjusted gross income.
Opt for a higher standard deduction. Many of these deductions or credits require that you itemize, but if you take the standard deduction, you may qualify for a higher deduction if you or your spouse is blind. For instance, for the 2016 tax year the standard deduction for single or married filing separately is $6,300, but that amount increases to $7,850 if the filer is blind or over the age of 65 or $9,400 if the filer is both blind and over the age of 65.
Obtain child and dependent care credit. If you pay for day care or other care for a dependent, while you work or look for work, this credit can reduce your tax liability by up to $3,000 per dependent or a maximum of $6,000 for all dependents. "Usually this applies to children under the age of 13, but that is also applicable to individuals over the age of 13 [who] have special needs," Miller says. This credit can also be used to pay for adult day care for a spouse or other dependent who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care. However, you must itemize your deductions to claim this credit.
Seek the disability credit. People who receive stable disability income and are retired on permanent and total disability or who are age 65 or older may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled on their own tax return. The credit ranges between $3,750 and $7,500, but "there are income limits based on the filing status and the adjusted gross income," says Deltrease Hart-Anderson, owner of D. Hart Accounting Practitioner LLC, a full-service tax preparation company in West Columbia, South Carolina. If you're under age 65, claiming this credit also requires a physician's statement on an IRS form called Schedule R that certifies that you're permanently and totally disabled.
Claim a disabled person as a dependent. Under most circumstances, you cannot claim a child as a dependent beyond age 19, or 24 if the child is a student, but a disabled child or other relative can be claimed as a dependent at any age, assuming you provide at least half of their support.
Deduct medical expenses. If you itemize deductions and your family's medical and dental expenses in a calendar year surpass 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (7.5 percent if you or your spouse is age 65 or older), then you can deduct the excess amount. This is not exclusive to people with special needs, but "in many cases, parents with special needs have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses," Miller says.
Deductible medical expenses may include unreimbursed expenses for hospital stays, prescription drugs, payments for a service animal, costs to attend a medical conference related to a disease that you or your dependents have or transportation to medical conferences or doctor appointments. "The issue with [this deduction] is it's only for the portion that exceeds that threshold, but if the individual has relatively low income, it could be beneficial," says Shomari D. Hearn, an enrolled agent, certified financial planner and managing vice president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Get credit if you've adopted a child with special needs. Families that adopt a child who is a U.S. resident or citizen whose state welfare agency deems them to have special needs will typically qualify for the maximum adoption credit of $13,460 per child in the year the adoption is finalized. Income limits apply to this credit, but in adoptions involving a child with special needs, the adoptive parents can claim the maximum credit regardless of whether they incurred qualified expenses totaling $13,460.
Find out if you need to declare disability payments. Disability payments are not always taxable income, but it depends on the situation. "You want to take a close look at what type of disability benefits are being received and determine whether or not they are subject to taxes," Hearn says. "You don't want to overpay taxes on income that's not actually subject to tax," he adds.
For instance, the IRS specifically states that Veteran Affairs disability benefits should not be included in gross income. However, if you receive long-term disability benefits from a plan that was paid for by your employer, the IRS states that those benefits can be taxable.
Children receiving disability benefits can also create confusion when filing returns. Hart-Anderson says some parents whose children receive payments from Social Security Disability Insurance believe they have to report that income on their own tax return. But it's reported on the child's tax return if the child has a filing requirement, rather than the parent's return. If the child does not get income from other sources, then their benefits would likely not be taxable. "Just because it's subject to taxes doesn't mean that it's always going to be taxable," Hart-Anderson says.
Determining what benefits are taxable and which credits or deductions might be applicable to your situation can get complicated, so when in doubt, consultant a tax professional.
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