When you are dealing with injuries and property damage after an accident, the last thing on your mind is taxes. You have medical appointments to keep, repair shops to visit, and your focus is on getting better and healing.
Even though these things are taking up the majority of your time and energy, it’s a good idea to start thinking about the taxes you may owe after settling your personal injury case. Yes, some settlements and court financial awards are taxable. So, the next question is why some personal injury settlements remain off the tax radar and why others come to the IRS’s attention.
We’ll take a look at what is considered taxable and which parts of the settlement you can legally keep off of the IRS’s radar.
The Difference Between Settlements and Court Financial Awards
So, when it comes to the IRS, or Internal Revenue Service, the agency does not differentiate between personal injury settlements and court financial awards. Why are we covering this section?
The information may make it a little easier to file and pay your taxes. After all, you don’t want to pay more in taxes than you owe. The IRS does not have a savings program, so you aren’t going to watch your overpaid taxes gain interest and grow, and overpaying your taxes also does not always mean you get an automatic refund.
The difference between a settlement and a court award is simple: a settlement is reached between both parties to everyone’s satisfaction while settling means you can skip taking your case to court. A court award is the financial compensation you receive from a judge or jury: the court decides the amount of the financial award, leaving you and the defendant with little to no say.
Both settlements and court-determined awards have their own distinct advantages and downsides. Settlements often reduce the amount of time it takes for you to receive compensation, but settlements also leave you in control. You have the option of accepting or refusing the offered settlement amount.
With a court award, you’re gambling the compensation amount will cover all of your current and future expenses relating to the personal injury accident. The judge or jury can issue an award far greater than a settlement offer or noticeably less. Some states also have caps on personal injury claims, so it’s best to talk to your attorney before taking your case to court.
What Is Considered Taxable
Your personal injury claim should include a list of the expenses you’re seeking compensation for, and some of these items are taxable while others are not. Some helpful advice includes working with your personal injury attorney or a tax consultant since they’re familiar with tax codes pertaining to settlements and court awards.
What is considered taxable? Basically, the IRS taxes everything pertaining to income earned for working. A great example is your paycheck. The check stub should list the taxes deducted from your check. This typically includes federal, state, and local taxes. Since taxes are not automatically deducted from your settlement, you must submit payment to the IRS.
Some items that are taxable in personal injury settlements and court awards include:
- Any interest you earn on the financial award. If you deposit part of the settlement in a bank account, you will be taxed on the accrued interest. You can avoid this tax by keeping your money at home. However, this is neither a smart or safe decision. You do not want to be the person who hides money in their mattress.
- Compensation for lost wages is taxable.
- Punitive damage awards are also subject to current tax rates.
While breach of contract and copyright infringement is rarely part of a personal injury case, if you do end up suing for these items they are also taxable. Settlements regarding pension rights are something else the IRS will tax.
What Isn’t Taxable and How to Lower Your Tax Rate
After going through the list of what is considered taxable, you may be wondering when you won’t owe money to the IRS. You should be happy to learn that the IRS does not tax everything. According to the U.S. Code Section 26, compensation for physical and mental injuries/harm are non-taxable.
This means any financial compensation you receive for your injuries to pay medical expenses may not be subject to taxes. However, remember this is the IRS and there are exceptions to the code.
Your emotional distress compensation award may end up being taxable unless you can prove the mental trauma is a direct result of the accident and your injuries. You can also avoid paying the full tax amount by spreading the compensation payments out. This prevents your income level from being bumped up into a higher tax bracket.
You may also be able to lower the amount of taxes you owe by allocating damages to non-taxable categories. Instead of asking for even amounts to cover physical and emotional damage, ask for a higher amount to cover medical expenses. Since most mental distress claims are taxable, you can reduce the amount you owe to the IRS. Best of all, you’re still receiving the same compensation amount.
Are Attorney Fees Taxable
Unfortunately, you may end up paying taxes on your attorney fees. Why? Most attorneys work for a percentage of the settlement. You may agree to pay your attorney 30% of the award, leaving you with the larger 60%. However, the IRS will tax you on the entire settlement amount and not only on the portion you receive.
Paying your attorney upfront will negate the need to pay taxes on their fees. However, you’re still paying taxes on the full settlement amount minus any deductible items.
Talk to an Attorney About Your Taxes
Just like you do not want to file a personal injury lawsuit without guidance from a licensed attorney, you also don’t want to navigate the complex tax code on your own. After all, the consequences of doing so can not only be challenging but can also be extremely expensive if you wind up getting penalized.
Whether you talk to your attorney or a CPA, it’s always best to get advice from a professional when you are dealing with taxes and the IRS.