I Owe Tax on That?

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. Please call if you have any questions regarding your unique situation.

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