SYCAMORE – Carmeda “Carme” Gregory has worked for H&R Block for more than 45 years and describes the 2020 tax year as a year “like nothing any of us have experienced before.”
Gregory is a tax professional at H&R Block, 2600 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore. She volunteers with several nonprofits and has been an ambassador for the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce for more than 45 years and has served on its board of directors. She was the first woman honored by the chamber on its Wall of Fame and is a past Athena Award recipient.
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 also brought about a rise in unemployment claims, three stimulus checks and new tax laws. Because of the pandemic, this year’s tax deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17.
Tax preparation at H&R Block can be completed in person face-to-face, virtually, by dropping off the necessary paperwork or by telephone.
For more information or to schedule an appointment at H&R Block, call 815-758-0101.
Gregory spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about how the pandemic has changed tax season this year.
Milton: How has tax preparation changed over time?
Gregory: I have been with H&R Block for more than 45 years, and there has been a lot of changes in that time. The biggest changes have been in electronic filing and online tax preparation. You now have the ability to complete complicated returns online. There have also been changes in what we call the “kiddie tax,” child tax credits and the addition of dependents. Years ago, you didn’t need to put in your child’s social security numbers, just the parents’. One year, late at night, a man came to me and he had eight or nine dependents. The last two were named Tom and Jerry. I made a joke, asking him if they were a cat and mouse. Straight-faced, he told me no, they were his dog and cat, and he had been claiming them for years.
Milton: Tell me about the stimulus payments.
Gregory: We’ve never had stimulus payments that large in the past. The first was $1,200 per adult and $500 per qualified child. The second was $600 per qualified individual, both adults and children. The third, $1,400, was also per qualified individual. The stimulus payments are primarily based on tax returns and dependents in each household. Payments were also based off of [Supplemental Security Income,] [Social Security Disability Insurance] and veteran disability payments.
Milton: Do stimulus payments need to be repaid?
Gregory: If you received a stimulus check legitimately, it does not need to be repaid. However, there are a few interesting cases where the money does have to be repaid.
Milton: What is an example of one of those cases?
Gregory: If a person died before Jan 1, 2020, they are not eligible for the $1,400 stimulus payment. If the person died Dec. 31, 2019, or before, and the estate or family received a check for that person, that money would have to be repaid.
Milton: What’s another interesting case?
Gregory: Let’s say parents divorced and they alternate years as to when they claim Junior on their tax return. The parent that claimed Junior in 2019 receives the additional stimulus check money for him because he is listed as that parent’s dependent. He is only eligible to be claimed by one parent, whichever parent claimed him as their dependent in 2019. The parent claiming on 2020 may not be eligible to receive another stimulus for the same child.
Milton: How is unemployment different this year?
Gregory: There has been about a 40% increase in unemployment this year. There has been more since now, under COVID relief, self-employed people could apply for and claim unemployment. This had not happened before. Under the recent law signed by President Biden, people are able to receive $10,200 in unemployment tax-free for 2020. Illinois has just recently announced they would honor this also, and $10,200 is not taxable to the state.
Milton: Have there been more scams due to the rise in unemployment claims?
Gregory: There have been a lot of scams going on. People have been receiving scam calls and have had their social security numbers, phone numbers and birthdays used fraudulently. There has definitely been an increase in that this year with all of the unemployment claims as well.
Milton: What are some other changes to the tax system this year?
Gregory: Starting in 2021, each child age 6 and older is now $3,000, up from $2,000, and each child younger than 6 is now $3,600, up from $2,000.
Milton: What should someone do if they have questions?
Gregory: It’s best to call and ask a tax professional or the IRS if you have any questions. The IRS phone lines have been jammed, though. The average wait time is 48 minutes.
Milton: Why have you stayed at your job for more than 45 years?
Gregory: I have fun with my job, and I love the staff I have, the people I work with and my clients. I have multiple generations of clients. I enjoy being with them every step of the way: marriage, new houses, cars, children, births, deaths, lottery winnings – life in general. One client said that after her mother, I was the first person she called after she received her United States citizenship. Another client came by with their newborn baby, who was less than six hours old. I love what I do, and the people I get to know through my work.