How is my Settlement Taxed?

How is my settlement taxed?  If you are involved in a lawsuit and are anticipating compensation for damages, this is a question you may be asking yourself and it is important to understand the tax implications related to your settlement.  The article below has been prepared by John McGuire, a tax attorney and business attorney at The McGuire Law Firm to discuss the taxation of settlements for lost wages, lost profits and loss in value of property.  Please remember that this article is for informational purposes only and to consult directly with your attorney and tax advisors.

If your lawsuit is an employment related lawsuit for a claim such as involuntary termination or unlawful discrimination, the proceeds received for lost wages, severance pay or back pay are considered taxable wages and are subject to self-employment tax.  Thus, these settlement proceeds are subject to federal income tax, social security tax and Medicare tax.  Furthermore, these proceeds should be subject to withholding and therefore the payor (generally the employer) should issue a W-2 to reporting the wages or salary (income) and taxes withheld.  You would thereafter need to report this income on your 1040 individual income tax return.

What about lost profits from a trade or business.  Settlement proceeds received from lost profits will also be subject to self-employment tax and would be included in your business income.  Issues and facts may vary, but in general, proceeds for lost profit would be reported as income to your business as if the business had made the money.

What if your lawsuit involves property and the lost value of property or loss in value of property?  If the settlement amount for a loss in value of property is less than the adjusted basis in the property, than the settlement amount should not be taxable, but you need to remember to thereafter reduce the adjusted basis in the property by the settlement amount for future gain or loss determinations.  On the other hand, if the settlement amount you receive exceeds the adjusted basis in the property, this excess amount is income.  The income may be capital gain income, and a full discussion of this issue would be better served in a separate article.  You can review the instructions for Form 4797 and Schedule D, which discuss capital gain & loss, and the Sale of Business Property.

What if a portion of my settlement proceeds are allocated for interest?  Generally, the interest portion of the settlement would be taxable as interest income, and thus would subject to ordinary income tax.

What about punitive damages?  Punitive damages are generally considered “other income” and thus would be subject to ordinary income tax.Please note, you may be required to make estimated tax payments based upon your settlement amount, which you can review under IRS Publication 505.

John R. McGuire is a tax attorney and business attorney at The McGuire Law Firm.  John’s practice focuses primarily on tax issues & matters before the IRS, tax planning for businesses & individuals and business transactions and contracts from the formation of a business to the sale of a business.  John can be reached at John@jmtaxlaw.com

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You can contact The McGuire Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with a tax attorney in Denver, Colorado or Golden, Colorado.