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Using a Donor-Advised Fund May Be a Way to Get a Charitable Tax Break Under the New Tax Law

Donor-advised funds are a growing trend in giving that may get more popular due to the new tax law. These funds allow you to donate money, receive a charitable tax deduction, and continue to grow the money until you are ready to distribute it to a charity or charities of your choice.

A donor-advised fund is established through a charity or nonprofit. The way the fund works is that you donate assets (it can be cash, stocks, or real estate) to the fund. The gift is irrevocable – the nonprofit controls the assets and you cannot get the assets back. You may then take an immediate tax deduction for the gift to the fund. Once the fund is established, you can tell the fund where to donate the money, and when.

These funds are becoming more popular in part because the new tax law enacted in 2017 doubled the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples. This means that if your charitable contributions along with any other itemized deductions are less than $12,000 a year, the standard deduction will lower your tax bill more than itemizing your deductions. For most people, the standard deduction will be the better option and they will get no deduction for their charitable contributions.

A donor-advised fund allows you to contribute several years’ worth of charitable donations to the fund at once and receive the tax benefit immediately, making it more likely that itemizing would be more advantageous than taking the standard deduction.

There are different types of donor-advised funds. Some are spinoffs of large financial investment firms like Fidelity and Schwab. Others may be smaller community funds. Some universities and faith-based organizations also have funds. Each fund has its own rules on how the money is distributed. There may be limits on how much you can donate each year or a requirement that you donate a certain amount. Some funds are single-issue funds that may require that at least some of the donations go to a particular charity or cause. Each fund also has its own rules on whether the fund can be passed down to heirs.

Before deciding to give to a donor-advised fund, you should investigate the fund’s rules, fees, and how established the fund is. It is best to consult with your financial advisor before making any major donations.

For more information about donor-advised funds from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, click here.

How Parents Can Provide for a Caregiver Child

Taking care of a parent can be a full-time job. Children may have to give up paying jobs in order to provide care to aging parents. Unfortunately, caregiving is usually unpaid work. Parents who want to compensate a child who takes on the burden of caregiving may do so in one of several ways.

  • Caregiver Agreements. Caregiver agreements are an increasingly popular way to ensure a caregiver child is compensated for the child’s work. A caregiver agreement (also called a personal care contract) is a contract between a parent and a child (or other family member) in which the parent agrees to reimburse the child for caring for the parent. These agreements have many benefits. They provide a way to reward the family member doing the work. They can help alleviate tension between family members by making sure caregiving is fairly compensated. In addition, they can be a be a key part of Medicaid planning, helping to spend down savings so that the parent might more easily be able to qualify for Medicaid long-term care coverage, if necessary. The downside to caregiver agreements is that the income is taxable.  Note that such agreements should not be drawn up without the help of your attorney.
  • Estate Plan. A parent can leave a caregiver child an additional amount in the parent’s will or trust. The problem with this method of compensation is that it can lead to conflict between siblings or other family members. If a parent chooses to go this route, it is important that the parent explain his or her reasoning to any other children or family members that might be upset. Communication between the family members can prevent problems later. In addition, to avoid any appearance of undue influence, the parent should not involve the child in drafting the estate plan.
  • House. If a parent doesn’t have cash to compensate a child, the parent may transfer the parent’s house to the caregiver child. The parent can transfer the house outright and retain a life estate for him- or herself or the parent could make the child a co-owner of the house. If the caregiver child has lived with the parent for at least two years, transferring a house can have Medicaid planning advantages as well. However, transferring a house can have serious tax and other consequences, so before taking this step it is important to consult with an elder law attorney.
  • Life Insurance Policy. Another option for compensating a caregiver is to take out a life insurance policy in the child’s name. The benefit of this method is that the life insurance policy will go directly to the child, avoiding probate, but the problem is the life insurance policy could be very expensive.

Your attorney can help determine the right method to compensate a caregiver family member.

How to Deal With Student Loan Debt as You Age

The number of older Americans with student loan debt – either theirs or someone else’s — is growing. Sadly, learning how to deal with this debt is now a fact of life for many seniors heading into retirement.

According to a study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the number of older borrowers increased by at least 20 percent between 2012 and 2017. Some of these borrowers were borrowing for themselves, but the majority was borrowing for others. The study found that 73 percent of student loan borrowers age 60 and older borrowed for a child’s or grandchild’s education.

Before you co-sign a student loan for a child or grandchild, you need to understand your obligations. The co-signer not only vouches for the loan recipient’s ability to pay back the loan, but is also personally responsible for repaying the loan if the recipient cannot pay. Because of this, you need to carefully consider the risk before taking on this responsibility. In some circumstances, it is possible to obtain a co-signer release from a loan after the loan recipient has made a few on-time payments. If you are a co-signer on a loan that has not defaulted, check with the lender about getting a release. You can also ask the lender for payment information to make sure the borrower is keeping up with the payments.

If the borrower defaulted and you are obliged to pay the loan back or you are the borrower yourself, you will need to manage your finances. Having to pay back student loan debt can lead to working longer, fewer retirement savings, delayed health care, and credit issues, among other things. If you are struggling to make payments, you can request a new repayment plan that has lower monthly payments. With a federal student loan, you have the option to make payments based on your income. To request an “income-driven repayment plan,” go to: https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/index.action.

Defaulting on a student loan may affect your Social Security benefits. If you have a private student loan, a debt collector cannot garnish your Social Security benefits to pay back the loan. In the case of federal student loans, the government can take 15 percent of your Social Security check as long as the remaining balance doesn’t drop below $750. There is no statute of limitations on student loan debt, so it doesn’t matter how long ago the debt occurred. If you do default on a federal loan, contact the U.S. Department of Education right away to see if you can arrange a new repayment plan.

If you die still owing debt on a federal student loan, the debt will be discharged and your spouse or other heirs will not have to repay the loan. If you have a private student loan, whether your spouse or estate will be liable to pay back the debt will depend on the individual loan. You should check with your lender to find out the discharge policies. Depending on the loan, the lender may try to collect from the estate or any co-signers. In a community property state (where all assets acquired during a marriage are considered owned by both spouses equally), the spouse may be liable for the debt (some community property states have exceptions for student loan debt).

For tips from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help navigate problems with student loans, click here.

A Tax Break to Help Working Caregivers Pay for Day Care

Paying for day care is one of the biggest expenses faced by working adults with young children, a dependent parent, or a child with a disability, but there is a tax credit available to help working caregivers defray the costs of day care (called “adult day care” in the case of the elderly).

In order to qualify for the tax credit, you must have a dependent who cannot be left alone and who has lived with you for more than half the year. Qualifying dependents may be the following:

  • A child who is under age 13 when the care is provided
  • A spouse who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care
  • An individual who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care and either is your dependent or could have been your dependent except that his or her income is too high ($4,150 or more) or he or she files a joint return.

Even though you can no longer receive a deduction for claiming a parent (or child) as a dependent, you can still receive this tax credit if your parent (or other relative) qualifies as a dependent. This means you must provide more than half of their support for the year. Support includes amounts spent to provide food, lodging, clothing, education, medical and dental care, recreation, transportation, and similar necessities. Even if you do not pay more than half your parent’s total support for the year, you may still be able to claim your parent as a dependent if you pay more than 10 percent of your parent’s support for the year, and, with others, collectively contribute to more than half of your parent’s support.

The total expenses you can use to calculate the credit is $3,000 for one child or dependent or up to $6,000 for two or more children or dependents. So if you spent $10,000 on care, you can only use $3,000 of it toward the credit. Once you know your work-related day care expenses, to calculate the credit, you need to multiply the expenses by a percentage of between 20 and 35, depending on your income. (A chart giving the percentage rates is in IRS Publication 503.) For example, if you earn $15,000 or less and have the maximum $3,000 eligible for the credit, to figure out your credit you multiply $3,000 by 35 percent. If you earn $43,000 or more, you multiply $3,000 by 20 percent. (A tax credit is directly subtracted from the tax you owe, in contrast to a tax deduction, which decreases your taxable income.)

The care can be provided in or out of the home, by an individual or by a licensed care center, but the care provider cannot be a spouse, dependent, or the child’s parent. The main purpose of the care must be the dependent’s well-being and protection, and expenses for care should not include amounts you pay for food, lodging, clothing, education, and entertainment.

To get the credit, you must report the name, address, and either the care provider’s Social Security number or employer identification number on the tax return. To find out if you are eligible to claim the credit, click here.

For more information about the credit from the IRS, click here and here.

Preparing for the Future of Your Child with Special Needs: What is the “Turning 22” Law?

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 688 (“M.G.L. c. 688”) 688 is the Massachusetts state law that is referred to as the “Turning 22 Law”. It takes effect when a disabled or special needs student turns 22 or graduates from high school, whichever comes first. Chapter 688 creates a process to help special needs individuals transition out of special education services and into adulthood. A special needs child who is entering adulthood will only qualify for Chapter 688 if they have been receiving special education services.

At least two years before the Turning 22 Law takes effect for an individual, the education authority who has been providing special education services will determine whether the special needs individual needs continuing habilitative services, which are health care services that help a person keep, learn, or improve skills and functioning for daily living. If the individual is deemed to need continuing services, the education authority will notify the Bureau of Transitional Planning about the disabled person, and will provide the Bureau with the record of the special education services the person has received, as well as the expected termination date for services currently being received.

The special needs individual will either be determined to be disabled under the Social Security regulations, or he or she will be referred to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (“Mass Rehab Commission”) for an evaluation to determine if he or she is considered disabled. If determined to be disabled, a transitional plan will be developed by a predetermined state agency, which may be either the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (“DSS”), the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, or the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (“DMH”).

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