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People should have tax withheld from unemployment now to avoid a tax-time surprise

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans received or are currently receiving unemployment compensation, many of them for the first time. It’s important for these individuals to know that unemployment compensation is taxable.

People can have taxes withheld from this compensation now to help avoid owing taxes on this income when they file their income tax return next year.

By law, these benefits are taxable and must be reported on a federal income tax return for the tax year it was received. Taxable benefits include any of the special unemployment compensation authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Withholding is voluntary
Federal law allows recipients to choose a flat 10% withholding from these benefits to cover part or all their tax liability. To do this, recipients should complete Form W-4VVoluntary Withholding Request, and give it to the agency paying their benefits. Don't send the form to the IRS. If the paying agency has its own withholding request form, use it instead.

Recipients who don't choose voluntary withholding, or if the withholding isn’t enough, can make quarterly estimated tax payments. The payment for the first two quarters of 2020 was due on July 15. Third quarter is due September 15, 2020 and fourth quarter on January 15, 2021. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov to view all payment options.

Here are other types of payments taxpayers should check for withholding:

  • Benefits paid by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
  • Railroad unemployment compensation benefits
  • Disability benefits paid as a substitute for unemployment compensation
  • Trade readjustment allowances under the Trade Act of 1974
  • Unemployment assistance under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1974
  • Unemployment assistance under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 Program

Recipients who return to work before the end of the year can use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator to make sure the right amount of tax is taken out of their pay. This online tool is available only on IRS.gov, and it can help workers or pension recipients avoid or lessen year-end tax bills or can estimate a refund.

Reporting unemployment compensation
In January 2021, unemployment benefit recipients should receive a Form 1099-GCertain Government Payments, from the agency paying their benefits. This form will show the amount of unemployment compensation received during 2020 and any federal income tax withheld. Taxpayers should report this information, along with other income, on their 2020 federal tax return.


More information:
Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals
Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax
Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income

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