How Unemployment Can Really Drive Up Your Tax Bill

Avoid these mistakes when receiving unemployment benefits.

Back in September of 2015, I lost my job and decided to take unemployment benefits for the first time in my life while I looked for a new one. Even the significantly reduced income that the unemployment benefits provided was a needed cushion since we’d closed on a new home the same week I lost my job. I’d crunched the numbers, and taking the benefits was going to be a better alternative than using money from our emergency fund (which was tied to the markets and had fallen significantly just the month before).

What I didn’t account for was taxes, so when I received that 1099-G form from the unemployment commission last spring, I was confused. I owed income tax on the benefits I’d received, which were already just 25% of what my income had been? Seriously? It felt unfair that my employers had been paying into unemployment insurance all these years so I’d have the benefit if I ever needed it, and now the government was going to take a good-sized chunk of that money I needed to keep our family afloat.

After a couple of hours of grumping, I bucked up, talked to our accountant and moved on. Of course it was my fault that I didn’t ask the right questions and do the necessary research to see what the tax consequences of receiving unemployment benefits would be. I was more mad at myself than anything, but the reality was that, instead of getting a refund, I was going to be paying Uncle Sam a couple thousand dollars.

Here’s how you can avoid having to do the same:

1. Get Those Taxes Withheld

If you’re currently unemployed, are receiving benefits and aren’t having taxes withheld, request that they do so now. Yes, your benefit amount will decrease, but it’s easier to cut back a little each week now than it is to come up with a larger lump sum when your taxes come due.

2. Review Your Filing Options

If you received unemployment benefits in 2016 and didn’t have taxes withheld, you’re going to have to pay them. Fortunately, there are some ways to mitigate just how much.

“You do have to claim your unemployment income, but remember your new lower income may make you eligible for tax benefits you couldn’t qualify for before,” said Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert with TurboTax. “You also may be eligible for tax deductions and credits which can lower your tax liability.”

For example, you could qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is worth up to $6,269 for a family with three or more children. There’s also the Child Tax Credit of $1,000 for each dependent under 17 years old, and Education Tax Credits like the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can be up to $2,000. (You can find a quick guide to common tax exemptions and deductions here.)

“Credits are great because they lower your tax liability dollar for dollar,” Greene-Lewis said. “Also don’t forget what the IRS calls above-the-line deductions like deductible expenses for educator expenses paid up to $250, student loan interest up to $2,500, moving expenses for a job, and deductible IRA contributions, which can lower your taxable income.

“If you make below the IRS income filing threshold of $10,350 single ($20,700 married filing jointly), you also may not be required to file your taxes, however, you should if you had federal taxes deducted in your paycheck,” she said.

It could be worth your time and effort to get some guidance from a tax professional if you’re feeling uncertain about how all these credits work. If you can’t afford to pay a professional and you made less than $54,000 last year, there are free tax preparation services provided by the IRS. You may have to stand in line for a bit, but it could end up saving you significantly on your taxes.

3. Don’t Avoid Filing or Paying Your Taxes

Getting into trouble with the IRS is the last thing you want to deal with coming off of a stint of unemployment, so if you’ve reviewed all of the above options and find you’re still going to have a hefty tax bill due that you simply can’t afford, don’t panic, and definitely don’t put off dealing with the situation.

First, if you’re once again employed and can qualify for a credit card with a 0% introductory offer for purchases, you could pay your tax bill using that card and pay it off over time without any interest or penalties. It’s a good idea to check your credit scores before applying to ensure you qualify. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, here on Credit.com.

If that’s not an option for you, you could consider using a credit card you already have, especially if it has a low APR, but you’ll end up paying significant interest, which will end up just costing you more money and probably isn’t a great idea. Instead, your best bet is likely talking to the IRS and asking for an installment agreement. That, Greene-Lewis said, allows you to pay your tax liability over a six-year period if necessary.

Think you’re going to owe Uncle Sam this year? You can find 7 ways to potentially cut your tax bill here.

Image: PK-Photos

 

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How to Apply for a Credit Card When You’re Unemployed

applying-for-credit-cards-while-unemployed

When you’re unemployed, applying for a new credit card is probably one of the last things on your mind. But even when you don’t have a job, you might still need a card for the security, convenience, rewards and benefits it offers. If you’re eyeing a new piece of plastic, read on to learn how to apply for a credit card, despite your situation.

Reporting Income

Not having a job doesn’t preclude you from being able to repay a loan. In fact, when asked to provide your income, you are permitted to include many sources besides a day job. Retirees can include income from Social Security or investments, while others can list disability payments. Alimony and child support payments may also be mentioned.

Married applicants can list any household income they have access to, even if they’re unemployed. Originally, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 prevented using household income on a credit card application, in order to prevent adult children from applying for a line of credit using their parent’s income. However, this rule had the effect of denying credit to non-working spouses, so it was later amended to permit applicants to use their spouse’s income, so long as they have access to it.

Other Ways to Apply

If you don’t have a lot of income or it’s not high enough, you still have some options. One is applying for a secured credit card, which works much like standard credit cards but requires a refundable security deposit in order to start the account. Nearly all secured card applicants are approved so long as they can verify their identity and have no pending bankruptcies.

Once a secured card account is open, cardholders receive monthly statements and are expected to at least make the minimum payment before it comes due. When they carry a balance, secured credit card users incur interest charges at the rate noted by their issuer. Secured cards typically offer the same security and convenience of standard credit cards; many also feature travel insurance and purchase protection benefits.

Another option is having someone co-sign your application. When you do that, both applicants become individually responsible for repayment of charges. If one doesn’t pay, the other becomes responsible.

Finally, some credit card users simply become authorized users on another person’s account. Just remember, the primary cardholder is always responsible for repayment.

Credit cards are an essential tool for many Americans, even those who are unemployed. By using all possible sources of income or taking a different route altogether, you’ll increase your chances of getting that new piece of plastic.

If you’re considering adding a new credit card to your wallet, be sure you know where your credit stands first, as this will determine the types of rates you may qualify for. You can view two of your credit scores, updated monthly, for free on Credit.com.

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This Trick Can Help You Deal With a Tough Job Search

tough_job_search

Being unemployed is a drag. Tales of “funemployment” aside, life after a job loss – especially one that comes without any warning – is often rough both financially and emotionally. In the days after you’re let go, you’re likely busy updating your resume, adding contacts on LinkedIn, and sending out cover letters. But after an initial spurt of activity, you may get frustrated if your job search efforts don’t seem to be yielding results.

After a few weeks of unemployment, your resolution to meet up with your old co-workers for coffee turns into a commitment to keeping up with the Kardashians. Your goal of applying for two or three jobs per day suddenly seems too ambitious — now you’re barely applying to two or three jobs per week. And you can’t remember the last time you put on real pants (no, pajamas don’t count) and left the house.

Welcome to the job search doldrums. The longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to stay positive and keep your motivation up. The unemployed are more likely to report being treated for depression than people with full-time jobs, a 2013 Gallup survey found, with the rate of depression increasing the longer someone has been out of a job. Those who’d been unemployed for half a year or more also reported being less happy and were more likely to be socially isolated than people who had jobs or hadn’t been out of work for months.

It’s not clear whether unemployment triggers depression or other psychological problems, or if “unhappy or less positive job seekers are less likely to be able to get jobs in the first place,” according to Gallup. In either case, job seekers who are struggling to keep their spirits up need a way to turn things around. Now, researchers at Ohio State University have pinpointed specific skills that might help depressed job seekers find work.

Unemployed people who used skills taught as part of cognitive behavioral (CB) therapy for depression were more likely to find a new job, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Depression Can Hamper a Job Search

“Searching for a job is difficult in any circumstance, but it may be even more difficult for people who are depressed,” Daniel Strunk, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “But we found that there are specific skills that can help not only manage the symptoms of depression but also make it more likely that a person will receive a job offer.”

Seventy-five unemployed people participated in the study. Each took two surveys, three months apart, completing a variety of questionnaires designed to measure symptoms of depression and other psychological variables, like brooding and a “negative cognitive style.” They were also asked how often they used cognitive behavioral skills, like rethinking negative thoughts or breaking up overwhelming tasks into smaller chunks.

The more a person relied on cognitive behavioral skills, the greater the likelihood of their depressive symptoms improving in the months between the two surveys. The unemployed people who used CB skills were also more likely to have received a job offer in the intervening months than those who didn’t draw on those coping techniques.

“The people who got jobs in our study were more likely to be putting into practice the skills that we try to teach people in cognitive therapy,” Strunk said. The study didn’t ask whether people had learned their coping skills in therapy or not, but Strunk said most of them likely came by those skills without additional help or guidance.

“Some people just naturally catch themselves when they have negative thoughts and refocus on the positive and use other CB skills,” he said. “These are the people who were more likely to find a job.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you how to overcome negative thinking so you can respond more effectively to life’s challenges and stressors. While it’s frequently part of the treatment for conditions like PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression, the techniques practiced during CBT can “help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

In the case of the unemployed, relying on CB skills may make it easier to deal with common job search frustrations like hearing, “Thanks, but no thanks,” from a prospective employer. “Rejection is so much a part of the process of job seeking. Using cognitive behavioral skills are an important way one can deal with that,” Strunk said.

The researchers want to conduct more research into the link between CB skills, depression, and job search behaviors. For now, the study results suggest that job seekers, especially those who are depressed, may benefit from either drawing on their natural coping skills or working with a therapist who can help them learn new strategies to manage the stress of being unemployed and find a new job.

“Using cognitive behavioral skills, people can overcome some of the negative thinking that may be holding them back and making it less likely to succeed in their job search,” Strunk said.

[Editor’s Note: If you’re concerned about how your credit is being impacted while you’re unemployed, you can check your free credit reports once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you’d like to monitor your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card provides you with an easy to understand breakdown of the information in your credit report using letter grades, along with two free credit scores that are updated monthly.]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  

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The Biggest Workplace Productivity Killers

productivity-at-work

Do you waste time at work? No, of course you don’t. Never! You’re very productive. And do you have a smartphone? Yes, you do, but that’s not relevant to your work quality. Sure, it’s usually within sight while you’re working, but that doesn’t mean it’s distracting you. As we’ve already established, you’re no time-waster. Your phone just sits there on your desk. It doesn’t keep you from doing your job.

Yeah, about that: 83% of workers have smartphones, and 82% keep it within eye contact while working, according to a new survey. About two-thirds of people with smartphones use them several times throughout the workday.

So it should come as no surprise that 55% of employers say that cellphone use is the most common cause of productivity loss.

These figures come from a Career Builder survey of 3,031 full-time workers over the age of 18, and 2,186 hiring and human resource managers (the survey didn’t include self-employed or government workers.) The results have margins of error of plus or minus 1.78 and 2.1 percentage points, respectively. Error margins vary among sub-samples.

Of course, some people use their personal phones for work matters, but 65% of workers say they don’t have their work email on their smartphones. While only 10% of workers with smartphones said it’s decreasing their productivity, 81% said they use their phones for things unrelated to work while they’re on the clock. Those two things are at odds.

The most common activity? Sending personal messages (65% of people using their smartphones for non-work things admitted to that one). Checking the weather was next common (51%), followed by reading the news (44%), playing games (24%) and shopping (24%).

Distracted employees result in about 2 hours of lost productivity per day, 75% of the employers surveyed said. It’s not just phone use: Many employers (41%) blamed the internet, 39% blamed gossip and 37% blamed social media. Conversations with co-workers, smoke breaks or other breaks, email and meetings were also cited as common distractions.

Lost productivity can come back to the workers who are causing it — wasting time could cost your company money (which they need to pay you), and if you’re distracted enough, you might find yourself in jeopardy of losing your job. Unexpected job loss can wreak havoc on your finances (and it’s one of the reasons to have emergency savings to fall back on), and then there’s the need to find a new job, which is stressful and might even involve potential employers checking your credit.

While checking your phone at work might not be the best idea, checking your credit scores is. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 30 days, from Credit.com.

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Can I Retire and Collect Unemployment?

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Q. Is it possible to collect unemployment as soon as I retire? I plan to retire the end of this year at age 61. I’ll have a pension, and I have a 401K. I’ve never collected unemployment and I’ve worked since I got my working papers. I’m asking because a co-worker recently retired and filed for unemployment. — New life coming

A. Nice try, but nope.

It’s one thing if a worker is fired and decides to retire early instead of search for a new job.

You can only file for unemployment benefits if you get fired or laid off, said Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton, N.J.

“You cannot say that you want some time off and expect to get paid,” Lynch said. “It does not work like that.”

Lynch said if you have a very understanding employer, you can see if they will terminate your employment instead of you officially retiring, but that’s not honest, nor is it the best interest of your employer.

“The more claims that a company has against them [for unemployment benefits], the more it increases the tax that they have to pay, so most employers will not ‘do you a favor’ and let you go,” Lynch said. “That may also be considered ‘fraud’ so I am not sure if I would even suggest it.”

Lynch said it’s terrific that you’ve always been employed, and that’s probably left you in a better position than those who have had to use the unemployment system.

“Hopefully you have taken advantage of that and you are now in a better position to retire,” he said.

And before you start thinking about retiring, it’s good to make sure you’re debt-free. If you are struggling with high-interest credit card debt, now is the time to pay it down. Carrying too much credit card debt can lower your credit score (you can see your credit scores for free on Credit.com).

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