Tax season 2020 will look different: Here’s how to prepare

(BPT) - It's no secret that 2020 has been a tumultuous year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans found themselves out of work - at least temporarily - and received unemployment benefits. Others may have experienced employment changes, like working from home or taking on multiple jobs. All of these factors will have even more of an impact come time to file income taxes on tax day, April 15, 2021.

'For many, the 2020 tax season will likely look different,' says Mark Steber, Chief Tax Information Officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services. 'The pandemic brought unexpected, overwhelming changes.'

To help you prepare and get the maximum tax refund you deserve, Steber offers the following tax tips.

1. Understand how unemployment benefits work

If you received unemployment benefits this year, it may have been for the first time. Make sure you're aware of how they affect your taxes.

Unemployment benefits are taxable and must be reported to the IRS on your tax return. Taxable benefits also include any special compensation authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earlier this year. That means if you did not withhold enough taxes from your unemployment benefits, you could see a big tax bill or a much smaller tax refund than you normally receive.

Unemployment benefits can affect tax credits. Unemployment is considered unearned income, so it won't count toward certain credits. For example, you must have earned income to qualify for the Child Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Additionally, your adjusted gross income must be below certain levels to get certain credits.

2. Set money aside to cover unexpected taxes

If you received unemployment benefits and did not withhold any federal or state income tax, you'll need to pay tax on that money. To prepare, consider setting money aside now to cover those taxes on your 2020 return and brace yourself for a much smaller refund or no refund at all this tax season.

3. Take advantage of possible deductions

Every taxpayer will get a charitable donation deduction for 2020. Make a list of any IRS-approved donations you made this year and locate any receipts. Whether itemizing or taking the standard deduction, under the CARES Act, all taxpayers are eligible to deduct up to $300 worth of monetary donations to qualified organizations.

And while many Americans have been working at home for months, a home office deduction is not guaranteed. The home office deduction is only available to those who are self-employed.

4. Consider major life changes

Life goes on, even during a pandemic, and life changes can bring sizeable tax implications. Some changes that cause the biggest impact include getting married or divorced, having a baby or adopting a child, buying or selling property, retiring, or starting a business. If you experienced any of these events in 2020, know that your return will look different.

5. Keep track of important documents

Even if your taxes won't be affected by unemployment, make sure you gather all your documents, such as W-2 forms and 1099s for interest dividends and even retirement distributions. Remember to include the Notice 1444 you received with your stimulus check for your 2020 tax records. Collect your charitable contribution totals, mortgage interest, property taxes you've paid, and any additional state and local income taxes paid for the year. If you were furloughed and able to pick up a temporary job, gather your W-2s for each job you worked. If you worked a side gig, make sure to keep a record of your income, the miles you drove, and any additional expenses. And if you're not filing single, be on the lookout for family members that may have been impacted to make your tax return more complicated.

No matter your 2020 situation, follow these tips to prepare for any unexpected tax implications. For more information and help during the 2020 tax season, visit

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