Year-end Tax Planning 2022-2023 and Inflation

Why year-end planning?

We are told to act before year end because it is our last chance to have an impact on our 2022 taxes.  Planning throughout the year could be even better, if you recognize when to act, but most of us are pulled in so many directions that it is hard to organize and act until there is an external pressure, such as the looming end to the calendar year.  So, when you are ready to take stock of your situation, you can make the planning effort even more productive by reviewing your investments, estate plan, and finances, not just your taxes – consider it a “financial checkup.” 

Overview

This year, there are changes that occurred due to inflation as well as legislation.  While we had expected tax increases, none materialized (there may still be tax law changes, but legislation such as the “SECURE Act 2.0,” child credit and tax extenders all remain in flux).  We review the changes that did occur before turning to actual year-end tax planning strategies. 

Impact of inflation

Is there ever a good side to inflation?  Perhaps the IRS adjustments to several tax-related thresholds that change for 2023 count, such as these:

The standard deduction MFJ             $27,700                       up from $25,900

The gift and estate tax credit              $12.92 million             from just over $12 million

The annual gift tax exclusion             $17,000                       up from $16,000

401(k) maximum contribution             $22,500                       plus $7,500 (for over 50)

IRA max.                                            $6,500                         plus $1,000

SEP-IRA max.                                    $66,000

The tax brackets at which rates increase have also gone up, so more is taxed at lower the brackets.

Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act passed this summer and included changes to tax laws regarding energy saving credits.  The Act also contained other provisions, such as the 15% AMT for C corporations and 1% stock buyback tax.  It’s unfortunate that the abbreviation for the act is IRA, as we already have that in our tax lexicon. 

Beginning in 2023, this new law changes conditions for obtaining the $7,500 credit for new electric vehicles (EVs) and adds a $4,000 credit for used EVs (EVs that are 2 or more years old).  The Act also expanded the reporting requirements for the credits on your tax returns.  Finally, EV buyers can monetize the credit at purchase to reduce the sale price, rather than wait for their tax filing.  Remember there is also a credit for installing a home charger.

To obtain a credit for new EVs, the battery’s minerals must be extracted or processed in the US or a free-trade partner.  The battery must also be manufactured or assembled in North America.  Final assembly of the EV must be in North America.  There are price ceilings on EVs and income limits on claiming taxpayers. 

The Act extend and expanded home energy credits but also expanded the reporting requirements.

Tax planning

Start with this goal: to lessen the total tax due in 2022 and 2023 combined.  Usually that means delaying income to 2023 and accelerating deductions to 2022.  For 2022-2023, the jump in the standard deduction could mean losing itemized deductions in 2023, so pay special attention to what you can shift to 2022.  As we pointed out our post for 2021 year-end planning, if you are concerned about future tax rate increases, you can use a Roth Conversions to bring future income into 2022.

Now to the planning:  Can you act at all? 

Each year, we advise that you be practical, focusing on where you can actually make moves.  For many, the high standard deduction (which is even more for over age 65 taxpayers) means you will not itemize (i.e., your total for itemized deductions is less than the standard amount so you take the higher standard deduction).  And, if you are not itemizing, you have fewer ways in which to affect change in the taxes due in either year.  If you can itemize, you have more tools for planning. 

Tools – income

You can reduce taxable income by maximizing your retirement contributions with your employer via 401(k) or 403(b) plans and IRA contributions if you are below the thresholds.  If you are self-employed, you can contribute to your own qualified plan such as a SEP-IRA. 

You may also be able to contribute to a health savings or flex account.  Be sure to see to use any flex account balances before they expire. 

Review your investments to see if you can take losses to reduce capital gains and up to $3,000 of ordinary income.  ax loss harvesting reduces net taxable capital gains, but be sure not to run afoul of the wash-sale rule.

Tools – deductions

Review your unreimbursed medical expenses, which you can deduct if the total is over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. 

State and local taxes are capped at $10,000, so you may not be able to shift much between years.  And it is difficult to accelerate mortgage interest on first and second homes.  

Often, the place for the most change is in charitable deductions, where you can bunch two- or three-years’ worth into a single year so you can itemize.  You can use a donor advised fund (“DAF”) to bunch, by contributing all in one year, then having the DAF send annual amounts.  Also, you can transfer up to $100,000 from a traditional IRA directly to charity if you are over 70½.  Note that Congress has not extended the $300 above the line charitable deduction. 

Before you finish, check withholdings and estimates paid

Especially if you increase income in 2022, review your total paid to the IRS and state via withholdings and estimates make sure that you meet the safe harbor rules.  If not, you could owe interest for under-withholding.

And remember your estate plan review

As noted above, the federal gift and estate tax credit  is close to $12 million for 2022 and increases to $12.92 million in 2023.  If you have excess wealth, you may want to gift while you can, especially if you want to use certain trusts, like a GRAT or QPRT.  For more on estate planning updates, see our estate planning checkup post

  • If you do review your estate plan documents, also review beneficiary designations and asset ownership to make sure everything is current and flows correctly. 

Summary

As you review your 2022-2023 tax planning, determine what you can shift and project the impact.  Then follow through on the details. 

Let us know if you have any questions. 

Good luck and best wishes for happy and healthy holidays!

We address the impact of inflation on tax thresholds for 2022 and 2023 that affect your year-end tax planning.  We also review the Inflation Reduction Act and EV credits.  As in the recent years, many taxpayers will not be itemizing because of higher standard deduction (rising to $27,700 for married couples in 2023), unless they bunch charitable deductions from two or more years into one year.

Rethinking Investing and Paying off Debts

the best path may have changed ….

Investing has changed as times have changed … financial planning rules need to change too

Old thinking

In the past, when asked by a client about adding principal payments to reduce mortgage debt, so that the mortgage would be paid off sooner, I advised them to invest that payment instead.  

That advice was based on the financial planning rule that you do not pay off debt when the after-tax cost of the debt is less than the after-tax return on the investments.  Instead, you use cash flow to add to the investment because this is how you increase your net worth – the total of all investments less all debt – over time. 

Also, by not paying down your mortgage quickly, you had the added benefit of not tying up working capital in your home.  You cannot sell a bedroom when you need funds for a child going to college. 

But that was then … things are different now ….

Changes

All components of the financial planning rule need to be reevaluated:  Interest rates and inflation are at or near historic lows.  The tax law on deduction of mortgage and other interest on debts has changed.  The disruption to the economy from the Pandemic has hurt businesses and that will affect future investment returns. 

Interest rates – With interest rates so low, the investment return on cash is near zero and the return on bonds is very low.  Rates are almost certain to rise, which will make bonds today worth less in the future (when low interest bonds compete against newer bonds that offer higher interest rates, they are re-priced to match the new rate and that decreases what anyone will pay for the old bonds). 

Tax deductions – The Tax Cut and Jobs Act made the standard deduction the option for more than two-thirds of taxpayers.  With the standard deduction, there is no benefit because the mortgage interest is not actually deducted to lower your net taxes due.  That means that the after-tax cost of mortgage debt is no better than the before-tax cost. 

Investment returns – to get a better sense of the likely investment returns for that side of the rule, I spoke to Hal Hallstein IV of the Sankala Group, LLC out of Boulder, CO.  He referred me to their post on Money Supply & Discount Rates, in which they discuss the impact of stimulus checks and PPP loans in an economy where recipients are likely to invest those funds or make financial purchases because simple consumption, travel and entertainment, has been shut down.  They also discuss the threshold return required for making an investment decision, viz. the discount rate.  In the post, he states:

But simultaneously, we also know buying bonds with zero yields won’t work for people’s retirements, which realistically require 3% yields. Where does this leave us?

He then presents a rationale for owning gold, an asset he has always avoided, as have I.  But now it serves as a protection against a downturn when you have a portfolio that invests primarily in the stock market. 

In our conversation, we compared the weighted cost of capital, the blended rate on all your debt, against the expected return from investing, which he pegs at 3.5 to 4.25% over the next decade, due to high equity valuations in the US and low interest rates.* 

One note of caution: to get those returns will require tolerating substantial volatility.

All of this leads to the following:  if your mortgage is at 3.5%, and you get no deduction value, and your potential return is 3.5% before taxes, on which you will have some tax hit, now or later, then paying off the debt is a better choice financially than adding to your investments.

New planning ideas

When you apply the debt to investment rule above, more people may find it best to pay down debt. 

For a mortgage, added to your monthly payment will have a substantial impact over time, cutting the total interest paid.  If you have a Roth IRA, it may even make sense to distribute funds to pay a student loan or car loan, depending on the loan interest rate.

There are still some reasons not to switch from retirement investing to debt reduction, such as when your employer offers a match for contributions.  For a good set of considerations to review before acting, see the Betterment 5-Step Action Plan.

Conclusion

While the planning rule used to lead to the conclusion that you are best off adding to investments rather than accelerating paying off long-term debt like a mortgage or car loan, the conclusion from applying that rule has flipped.  Many will increase their net worth by paying down debt sooner. 

I hope you and your loved ones are all managing this as well as you can during the Pandemic. 

Thank you, and be well

Steven

  * Sankala Group LLC’s communications should not be considered by any client or prospective client as a solicitation or recommendation to affect any transactions in securities. Any direct communication by Sankala Group LLC with a client or prospective client will be carried out by a representative that is either registered with or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration in the state where the prospective client resides. Sankala Group LLC does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information presented in this communication, or by any unaffiliated third party. All such information is provided solely for illustrative purposes.

Steven A. Branson, retirement, investing, Financial Strategies, debt, discount rate, decision making, newsletter, cost of capital

Coronavirus – concerns for your health and finances

This is my busy time, working long hours preparing income tax returns, but I wanted to respond to your concerns.

News of the coronavirus spread and its impact on the economy and stock markets is constant.

People ask: “can I get the virus from a package delivered to me from China” (the answer via the CDC is “no”).

As some say, it’s not “if” but “when” in terms of you being in contact.  That is upsetting.

At that same time, experts ask us all not to panic.  And financial people urge us to stay the course.

If you do not already have a plan, here is a good overview with links to CDC posts on making a plan with your family – NY Times prepare for coronavirus

As for the stock market, here is a good NY Times piece discussing the rationale for sticking to your long-term investment plan:  The Market Is Moving. Most People Should Sit Still.

Here is a more sobering assessment:  It’s a ‘Swimming Naked’ Moment: The Financial System Has a Real Test

In the end, if you developed a good long-term investment strategy, staying the course should be the best response as it was in the 2008 financial crisis.

Let me know if you want to talk and I hope you and your family stay healthy!

  • Steven

Do you need to amend for tax extenders, SALT workarounds, state tax domicile and empowerment zone gains?

This tax update may give you reasons to amend your tax returns regarding the tax extenders, SALT workarounds, domicile audits and empowerment zones. Let me know if you need help.

Tax Deduction Superhero?

Tax extenders

Many tax returns were prepared assuming that Congress would pass a law for the “tax extenders” as it has in past years. However, the bill extending deductions and credits for 2018 and 2019 has not passed. Other matters have the attention of Congress.

The tax extenders include 26 tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017 and 2018. Some are for businesses, such as motor speedway depreciation, biodiesel credits, and disaster relief. Others are for individuals, such as retaining the 7.5% threshold instead of 10% for medical expenses, the private mortgage insurance (PMI) deduction, exclusion of up to $2 million from income from mortgage debt forgiveness on your home, and an above-the-line deduction college tuition and qualified expenses.

If you filed your 2018 returns relying on passage, and the extender bill does not pass, you could face an inquiry form the IRS. If you filed without relying on the extenders, and the bill does pass, you may be able to amend your 2018 filing to obtain a refund.

SALT and work around attempts by states

As you know from the first post in our series on the Tax Cut and Job Act (“TCJA”), the new tax law places a $10,000 cap on state and local taxes, or “SALT.” This includes state and city income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and excise taxes.

Some states, including New York and New Jersey, felt that TCJA targeted them and responded with workarounds. One such measure provides that certain payments of state income taxes would be treated as charitable contributions, so that the full amount would be allowed as part of your Schedule A deductions.

The IRS reacted by indicating that only the IRS determines what are allowable Schedule A deductions and this workaround was not one of them. As Christy Rakoczy Bieber wrote recently on creditkarma.com:

If you’re counting on a SALT cap workaround from your state to keep your federal taxes low, you may face an unpleasant surprise at tax time since the IRS has made clear it won’t allow you to take deductions for charitable donations if you received tax credits.

Trying to avoid the state taxes

Some people with homes in more than one state have taken another approach to SALT limits by claiming to be residents of the state imposing less income taxes. For example, if you have homes in Massachusetts and in Florida, you would clearly pick Florida because there is no state income tax.

If you do pick a no or low-income tax state, be careful. The state that is missing out on tax revenue may conduct a domicile audit. Having the documentation to prove your residency is key. While residency is based on your “state of mind,” an audit would focus on a list of facts, including where you spend more time, the state in which you have a driver’s license and vote, where you receive your mail, and where you worship. Be sure to take the necessary steps and retain proof.

Empowerment Zone rollovers and Qualified Small Business Stock Sales (QSBS)

There are provisions for favorable treatment of certain capital gains transactions. Here are two:

  • If you purchased stock in a qualified small business, you may be able to exclude gain on the sale. The exclusion is even higher for certain empowerment zones, and;
  • You can roll over gain from certain sales into investments in an empowerment zone, delaying or even reducing the tax on the gain. There are opportunity funds into which you can invest for this deferral. If you think you need to amend, or if you have any questions on this post or any other matter, let me know. I am here to help.
thinking about a refund?

If you think you need to amend, or if you have any questions on this post or any other matter, let me know. I am here to help.

Getting unbiased advice on your finances

Unlike many sources of financial planning guidance, we do not charge a fee based on your assets or a commission for purchasing investments or insurance. We will help you set up investments and find the insurance that you need. For all our help, we simply charge for our time.

Why pay for financial advice when you can get it on the internet for free

(she’s thinking about the question)

Many investment firms have websites offering free advice on managing your finances. However, nothing on the internet is truly free. The advice may direct you to investments from which the firm receives a commission or the website may be a lead generation site.

What is lead generation?

Awhile back, I did a post on how a website that provides “free” use of a gamified retirement calculator. Using the calculator was fun and free. However, when you delved deeper, reading the company’s ADV disclosure, you learned that the website may receive referral fees from vendors for referring users to financial products, such as lenders for a user who needs to refinance her mortgage or Schwab, Fidelity or TD Ameritrade for users who want to rollover a 401(k). In other words, the site generates leads for which it gets paid. That hardly sounds free!

When to pay

If free is not the answer, that means you pay for advice. That can be good, because when you are the sole source of compensation, then planner has no hidden agenda – she serves your needs only.

I know finances are not fun and planning sounds like bad homework, so paying only makes it worse. At the same time, I see how spending the time to plan can make peoples lives so much better.

I hope you contact me and let me know what you think.