Are Your Taxes Going Up In 2021?
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) is the hallmark legislation of the Trump administration, and no American taxpayer was unaffected. But was this legislation a Trojan horse that could lead to you paying higher taxes starting in 2021?
The Joint Committee on Taxation released a chart indicating that federal taxes for those making between $10,000 and $30,000 would actually go up starting in 2021.
The new tax brackets for 2021 have the same rates, and the only changes are the income brackets that have been adjusted for inflation. What's driving this higher tax rate for these particular brackets?
That links back to the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The TCJA lowered the individual mandate penalty, the penalty paid to the government if you do not have a health insurance policy, to zero. This means there will be no tax implications to not carrying an insurance policy.
Under the ACA, individuals within 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level were eligible to receive tax credits to offset the costs of these plans. With no individual mandate penalty, the expectation is that less people will sign up for insurance. Less people signing up for insurance will lead to less people receiving the tax credits, which would lead to an increase in the average tax rate across this group.
That doesn't mean that you are in the clear if you make above $30,000. Remember how income brackets are adjusted for inflation? The TCJA also changed how inflation is calculated. Tax brackets used to be adjusted off of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), an index that tracks the prices of goods and services across different geographical areas.
The Consumer Price Index tracks how much more you are paying because of inflation each year. But the IRS now measures inflation against the chained CPI. The idea behind the chained CPI is that if prices rise, customers will change their purchasing habits and substitute goods. For example, if the price of orange juice rises faster than the price of apple juice, chained CPI assumes that people will lower the amount of orange juice that they are buying and substitute that by buying more apple juice. CPI tracks a fixed basket of goods while the basket of goods tracked by chained CPI changes periodically.
Because chained CPI assumes that consumers are going to seek out substitutes for products with rising price tags, it rises more slowly than traditional CPI. Thus, the IRS will adjust tax brackets upward more gradually, and you are likely to move into a higher tax bracket faster than you would under the old calculations.
Chained CPI calculates the cost of everyday goods rising more slowly than calculations based on traditional CPI.Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
If the cost of consumer prices rises 2% and you receive a similar 2% raise, normally you would be able to maintain your lifestyle. However, if the tax brackets only increase 1.5% because tax brackets are now tied to chained CPI, you will be paying more in taxes because your income and expenses will be rising faster than the rate the IRS is using. Because the tax rate is being adjusted for 2021 and will be adjusted in future years, this will compound over time, and has led to a slew of recent articles discussing a tax hike starting in 2021.
Congress passed the TCJA through budget reconciliation to avoid a filibuster, but that meant that the law could not increase the long-term budget deficit. As a result, Republicans decided to include a provision to have the individual tax cuts expire in 2025 while making the lower corporate tax rates and the chained CPI method of adjusting tax brackets permanent. The increased standard deduction and the larger child tax credit will also expire at this time. And because of the continued use of the chained CPI method, people will actually be paying higher taxes after the TCJA then they would if it had never been passed in the first place.
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!