Legal Settlements

This is a two-part article addressing questions that arise when people receive lump sums. For the entire article, click here

I recently helped a number of people who are in the midst of receiving a cash settlement from a lawsuit, and had to point out that winning a lawsuit is not “free money.” In addition to having survived personal injury and a long-drawn out legal case, there may be tax implications to a legal settlement.

Lost wages or profits

If you are unfairly dismissed from employment, you may receive a settlement for lost wages, benefits, severance, back pay, or other income. According to the IRS, this settlement is considered regular income, even though severance pay is often tax free in Israel. This kind of settlement is also subject to the Social Security wage base table and Medicare tax rates for the year in which you were paid. Reporting legal compensation for lost wages is similar to reporting income for regular pay when you were employed.

Interest payments

Interest on any settlement, as with any income, is taxable and should be reported as “interest income.”

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are taxable and therefore must be reported, even if received in a settlement for personal or physical illness or injuries.

Estimate tax

Make estimated tax payments early if you know you’re going to owe at least $1,000 in income tax from having to report receipt of a legal settlement amount.

Taxation on settlements is complicated. Remember to speak with a qualified tax advisor to get advice since this article is just for general information. We help people manage their U.S. investment account, not file their tax returns.

Free information

To get this complete article along with the IRS’s information about what you need to report to the IRS regarding a legal settlement, click here.

Douglas Goldstein, CFP®, is the Director of Profile Investment Service, Ltd., which specializes in helping people who live in Israel with their US dollar assets and American investment and retirement accounts. He helps olim meet their financial goals through asset allocation, financial planning, and using money managers.

Published December 27, 2016.

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