Traders Should Focus On Q4 Estimated Taxes Due Jan. 15

September 25, 2020 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Many traders have substantial trading gains for 2020 YTD, and they might owe 2020 estimated taxes paid to the IRS quarterly. Unlike wages, taxes aren’t withheld from trading gains. Others can wait on tax payments until April 15, 2021, when they file their 2020 tax return or extension.

The first two-quarters of estimated tax payments were due July 15, 2020 (the postponed date due to Covid), Q3 was due on Sept. 15, 2020, and Q4 is due on Jan. 15, 2021. Many new traders didn’t submit estimated payments for the first three quarters, waiting to see what Q4 brings. With full transparency at year-end, traders can make Q4 payments with more clarity. Some traders view estimated taxes similar to a margin loan with interest rates of 5% for Q1 and Q2, and 3% for Q3.

The safe-harbor rule for paying estimated taxes says there’s no penalty for underpayment if the payment equals 90% of the current-year tax bill or 100% of the previous year’s amount (whichever is lower). If your prior-year adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeded $150,000 or $75,000 if married filing separately, then the safe-harbor rate rises to 110%. 

Suppose your 2019 tax liability was $40,000, and AGI was over $150,000. Assume 2020 taxes will be approximately $100,000, and you haven’t paid estimates going into Q4. Using the safe-harbor rule, you can spread out the payment, submitting $44,000 (110% of $40,000) with a Q4 voucher on Jan. 15, 2021, and paying the balance of $56,000 by April 15, 2021. This is an excellent option to consider instead of sending $90,000 in Q4 (90% of $100,000). Consider setting aside that tax money due April 15 rather than risking it in the financial markets in Q1 2021. I’ve seen some traders lose their tax money owed and get into trouble with the IRS. 

In the above example, the trader should calculate the underpayment of estimated tax penalties for Q1, Q2, and Q3 on the 2020 Form 2210. Consider using Form 2210’s Annualized Income Installment Method (page 4) if the trader generated most of his trading income later in the year. The default method on 2210 allocates the annual income to each quarter, respectively.

If your 2019 income tax liability is significantly higher than your 2020 tax liability, consider covering 90% of the current year’s taxes with estimated taxes. Check your state’s estimated tax rules, too.

Learn more about estimated taxes at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/estimated-taxes.

Employees have another way to avoid underpayment of estimated tax penalties on non-wage income. They can ask employers to increase their wage tax withholding in November and December, which the IRS treats as equally made throughout the year.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

Close