As the end of the year approaches, it is a good time to think of planning moves that may help lower your tax bill for this year and possibly the next.
Year-end planning for 2018 takes place against the backdrop of a new tax law—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—that make major changes in the tax rules for individuals and businesses. For individuals, there are new, lower income tax rates, a substantially increased standard deduction, severely limited itemized deductions and no personal exemptions, an increased child tax credit, and a watered-down alternative minimum tax (AMT), among many other changes.
For businesses, the corporate tax rate is cut to 21%, the corporate AMT is gone, there are new limits on business interest deductions, and significantly liberalized expensing and depreciation rules. One of the most significant changes is a new 20% deduction for non-corporate taxpayers with qualified business income from pass-through entities.
We have highlighted a few ideas based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. Not all actions will apply in your situation, but you may benefit from many of them.
Year-End Tax Planning Moves for Individuals
Higher-income earners must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income. The surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of: (1) net investment income (NII), or (2) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over a threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers or surviving spouses, $125,000 for a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case). As year-end nears, a taxpayer’s approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on his estimated MAGI and NII for the year. Some taxpayers should consider ways to minimize (e.g., through deferral) additional NII for the balance of the year, others should try to see if they can reduce MAGI other than NII, and other individuals will need to consider ways to minimize both NII and other types of MAGI.
Long-term capital gain from sales of assets held for over one year is taxed at 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on the taxpayer’s taxable income. The 0% rate generally applies to the excess of long-term capital gain over any short-term capital loss to the extent that it, when added to regular taxable income, is not more than the “maximum zero rate amount” (e.g., $77,200 for a married couple). If the 0% rate applies to long-term capital gains you took earlier this year—for example, you are a joint filer who made a profit of $5,000 on the sale of stock bought in 2009, and other taxable income for 2018 is $70,000—then before year-end, try not to sell assets yielding a capital loss because the first $5,000 of such losses won’t yield a benefit this year. And if you hold long-term appreciated-in-value assets, consider selling enough of them to generate long-term capital gains sheltered by the 0% rate.
Postpone Income and Accelerate Deductions
Postpone income until 2019 and accelerate deductions into 2018 if doing so will enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2018 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include deductible IRA contributions, child tax credits, higher education tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to accelerate income into 2018. For example, that may be the case where a person will have a more favorable filing status this year than next (e.g., head of household versus individual filing status), or expects to be in a higher tax bracket next year.
You may want to consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your AGI for 2018, and possibly reduce tax breaks geared to AGI (or modified AGI). This strategy can work well in a scenario where your income is low in a particular year.
Beginning in 2018, many taxpayers who claimed itemized deductions year after year may not elect to do so. That’s because the basic standard deduction has been increased (to $24,000 for joint filers, $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for marrieds filing separately). In addition, many itemized deductions have been cut back or abolished. No more than $10,000 of state and local taxes may be deducted; miscellaneous itemized deductions and unreimbursed employee expenses are no longer deductible; and personal casualty and theft losses are deductible only if they’re attributable to a federally declared disaster and only to the extent the $100-per-casualty and 10%-of-AGI limits are met. You can still itemize medical expenses to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, state and local taxes up to $10,000, your charitable contributions, plus interest deductions on a restricted amount of qualifying residence debt, but payments of those items won’t save taxes if they don’t cumulatively exceed the new, higher standard deduction amounts.
Some taxpayers may be able to work around the new reality by applying a “bunching strategy” to pull or push discretionary medical expenses and charitable contributions into the year where they will do some tax good. For example, if a taxpayer knows he or she will be able to itemize deductions this year but not next year, the taxpayer may be able to make two years’ worth of charitable contributions this year, instead of spreading out donations over 2018 and 2019. You might consider funding a donor-advised fund to accomplish this.
Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase your 2018 deductions even if you don’t pay your credit card bill until after the end of the year.
If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year and you will be itemizing in 2018, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2018. But remember that state and local tax deductions are limited to $10,000 per year.
Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retirement plan). RMDs from IRAs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½. (That start date also applies to company plans, but non-5% company owners who continue working may defer RMDs until April 1 following the year they retire.) Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. Thus, if you turned age 70½ in 2018, you can delay the first required distribution to 2019, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2019 – the amount required for 2018 plus the amount required for 2019. Think twice before delaying 2018 distributions to 2019, as bunching income into 2019 might push you into a higher tax bracket or have a detrimental impact on various income tax deductions that are reduced at higher income levels. However, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2019 if you will be in a substantially lower bracket that year.
RMD’s to Charity
If you are age 70½ or older by the end of 2018, have traditional IRAs, and particularly if you can’t itemize your deductions, consider making 2018 charitable donations via qualified charitable distributions from your IRAs. Such distributions are made directly to charities from your IRAs. The amount of the contribution is neither included in your gross income nor deductible on Schedule A, Form 1040, but the amount of the qualified charitable distribution reduces the amount of your required minimum distribution, resulting in tax savings.
Consider increasing the amount you set aside for next year in your employer’s health flexible spending account (FSA), if you set aside too little for this year.
If you become eligible in December of 2018 to make health savings account (HSA) contributions, you can make a full year’s worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2018.
Don’t Forget Family Gifts
Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year, which may save gift and estate taxes. The exclusion applies to gifts of up to $15,000 made in 2018 to each of an unlimited number of individuals. You can’t carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. Such transfers may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax. However, with today’s increased gift and estate tax exemptions, many families no longer need to make gifts to reduce an otherwise taxable estate and leaving appreciated assets in the estate can be beneficial to the beneficiaries due to the stepped-up basis they will receive.
Year-End Tax-Planning Moves for Businesses & Business Owners
For tax years beginning after 2017, taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their “qualified business income”. For 2018, if taxable income exceeds $315,000 for a married couple filing jointly, or $157,500 for all other taxpayers, the deduction may be limited based on whether the taxpayer is engaged in a service-type trade or business (such as law, accounting, health, or consulting), the amount of W-2 wages paid by the trade or business, and/or the unadjusted basis of qualified property (such as machinery and equipment) held by the trade or business. The limitations are phased in for joint filers with taxable income between $315,000 and $415,000 and for all other taxpayers with taxable income between $157,500 and $207,500.
Taxpayers may be able to achieve significant savings by deferring income or accelerating deductions, such as retirement contributions, to come under the dollar thresholds (or be subject to a smaller phase out of the deduction) for 2018. Depending on their business model, taxpayers also may be able to increase the new deduction by increasing W-2 wages before year-end. The rules are quite complex, so you may want to call us to discuss.
Expensing Newly-Acquired Assets
Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the liberalized business property expensing option. For tax years beginning in 2018, the expensing limit is $1,000,000, and the investment ceiling limit is $2,500,000. Expensing is generally available for most depreciable property (other than buildings), and off-the-shelf computer software. For property placed in service in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, expensing also is available for qualified improvement property (generally, any interior improvement to a building’s interior, but not for enlargement of a building.
A corporation (other than a “large” corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss (NOL) for 2018 (and substantial net income in 2019) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2019 income (or to defer just enough of its 2018 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2018. This will permit the corporation to base its 2019 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2018 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2019 taxable income.
These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. Again, by contacting us, we can tailor a plan that will work best for you.
For further information please contact: Fran Rucker at email@example.com