Unemployment benefits saved a lot of American households this past year. Furloughs and lay-offs were at an all-time high due to the pandemic, leaving many without a lot of options.
However, unemployment comes with taxes that few people understand, or know about. Whether you’re considering applying for unemployment, or have already started utilizing these benefits, you should know how this affects your taxes.
Social Security and Medicare taxes are not something you have to pay for while receiving unemployment benefits. The taxes that are required for you to pay are federal and state taxes (depending on the jurisdiction). Some states wave income taxes for unemployment—states such as California and New Jersey for example. If your state’s benefits program is not tax-exempt like Florida and Nevada, you should opt to withhold taxes from each check.
Withholding Unemployment Taxes
Withholding is presented as an option when completing weekly or bi-weekly check-ins for your unemployment benefits. By withholding, you’re paying taxes upfront, rather than letting them accumulate throughout the year. If you choose not to withhold, then you’ll be expected to pay back the IRS when you file your return.
The flat rate for federal tax withheld is 10% of the benefits. This amount certainly adds up to a sizeable sum by the end of the year if it’s not paid weekly. If the taxes go unpaid, you could be at risk of liability.
To avoid liability, you can send quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS, fill out a W-4V with your unemployment office, or if you started working again you may qualify for EITC— Earned Income Tax Credit. Your EITC amount could reduce or cover the amount you owe in unemployment taxes.
What to do if you have a liability
If you’re expecting to owe more than you can pay at the time that you file your return, there are options available to you. You can contact the IRS to set up an installment plan, which allows you to make monthly payments until the balance is paid in full.