2017 year-end tax planning – a year of uncertainty (updated)

(as also seen online at IRIS)

The Republican Congress is in the process of passing the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, a new tax law. President Trump is expected to sign it by Christmas.

The law was created and passed hastily and affects many aspects of the federal tax code, so many details are still not clear. Furthermore, regulations have yet to be issued. Also, while the provisions affecting corporations are permanent, most affecting individuals expire in 2026. Thus, tax planning is complicated.

How do you plan? Very carefully – you need to augment your traditional year-end planning by anticipating the impact of the many changes.

Note: many proposed changes did not make the final law, so be sure you are referring to the final version when making your planning decisions!

Planning steps

First, be practical:

  • Determine what income and deductions you can move from 2017 to 2018 or vice versa.

Second, review the impact:

  • What happens if you shift any of these amounts of income and deductions to the other year?

Finally, watch for the impact of the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”):

  • The exemption for the AMT and the threshold above which that exemption gets phased out both rise next year, so some deductions lost to the AMT in 2017 could have value in 2018. Others simply vanish next year, so you need to plan carefully!

Income

The new law lowers the tax brackets, so income will be generally subject to less tax in 2018.

Conclusion: You probably want to move income to next year if you can.

Exemptions and standard deduction

The new law eliminates personal exemptions and raises standard deductions to $12,000 for single filers and to $24,000 for married couples. These amounts will be indexed for inflation. The increased standard deduction may offset deductions that you lose, as discussed below. If you have children and others who are dependents, those tax credits are increased, which may help as well.

Conclusion: You probably want to move itemized deductions to 2017.

Itemized Deductions and Credits

The deduction for property taxes and for state and local income taxes is capped at $10,000.

Mortgage interest on new home purchases is deductible only for loans of up to $750,000 used to purchase your primary residence. Interest on home equity loans will not be deductible. (It is not clear if converting any part of home equity indebtedness that was used to purchase or improve your primary residence to a mortgage would make that interest deductible, subject to the cap.)

All miscellaneous deductions are eliminated. This includes investment and tax preparation fees, safe deposit box charges and unreimbursed employee expenses.

The casualty loss deduction is also eliminated and the bike to work exclusion ends.

Moving expenses will no longer be allowed (except for military personnel in certain cases).

The deduction of alimony will be eliminated for divorces occurring after 2018.

What survived? The deduction of student loan interest and medical expenses survived. The latter is subject to a 7.5% rather than a 10% floor. And, the new law repeals the reduction applied to itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers, which may help with some deductions.

Here are several items that were considered for limitation or elimination that remain unchanged:

Dependent care accounts, adoption expenses, tuition waivers and employer paid tuition, capital gains on the sale of your personal residence, the teacher deduction, electric car credit, Archer medical accounts and designating shares of stock or mutual funds sold.

Conclusion: you will want to move any of the eliminated deductions that you can prepay into 2017.

Note: a last-minute provision added to the new law makes prepaying 2018 income taxes in 2017 non-deductible.

Pass-through businesses

If you have income from a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership or S Corporation, you may be able to deduct 20% of that income, subject to certain rules on wages and a phaseout beginning at $157,500 for singles and $315,000 for married taxpayers. These rules are designed to avoid abuse seen when Kansas enacted a similar law.  (Watch for a post on this soon.)

Conclusion: read the fine print (e.g. rules for personal service firms) to see if there are any opportunities you can exploit.

Estate taxes

The credit before estate or gift taxes are due is doubled to $10,000,000, indexed for inflation.

Conclusion: you may want to postpone your year-end gift planning.

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2017 and 2018.

Good luck and best wishes for the holidays!

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Holiday Planning Series with the Squash Brothers, part I, tax planning

Watch our Holiday Planning Series, Part I, as Steven and the Squash Brothers discuss taxes, “starting backwards with tax planning now so you pay less next April.”

Next time, they discuss cash management.

Estate Planning – Techniques for Reducing Taxes in Large Estates

The change in the tax law from the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 gives us a two year window for significant estate tax planning, ending December 31, 2012.

Instead of a $1 million lifetime cap, you can now gift up to $5 million. When your spouse joins in, a major amount of wealth can be transferred. This makes it important to act now, because the law could change in for 2013.

Leveraged Gifting – you can use a defective irrevocable trust (the defective grantor trust is discussed below) to fund an installment purchase of assets from you to the trust over time. The trust is “defective” so that there is no taxable transaction and no gain; it is as if you are selling to yourself. With the installment sale, a note is used and has to bear interest at the IRS mandated rates, the lowest rate of interest allowed. The goal is to repay the note using appreciated assets, where the transfer back to you is also not taxed, and complete the repayment before you die. If it is not completed, the note is an asset taxable in your estate.

Dynasty Trust – you can use the increased generation skipping transfer tax (GST) to pass more to grandchildren and future generations. Again, the new limits allow you to pass far more on to future generations.

Life Insurance Trust – an irrevocable trust that holds insurance for whatever purpose you design, while be excluded from your taxable estate. Your trustee would purchase insurance on your life. The risks of this alternative are that it is irrevocable and that the cost of the permanent insurance is very high.

Second-to-die Life Insurance – a trust that purchases second-to-die life insurance crates a source to pay estate taxes while not increasing the taxable estate.

GRAT – Another alternative is the grantor retained annuity trust (“GRAT”), which uses some portion of your unified credit as a window through which to pass assets at a discount created by the IRS tables that tell us what the asset gifted will be worth at the end of the term of the trust. You receive annuity payments during the term and the principal passes to your children at the end of the term. (This is why it must be funded with “excess” wealth – if you give the trust a term of 20 years but live many years thereafter, there will be many years during which you have foregone the benefit of the assets gifted). The expectation is that the principal will actually be worth more than the amount you gift to the trust, with such increased value escaping estate taxes. Under the new law, there are no GRAT or value limitations.

Cautions: First, the securities laws will treat you as the owner of trust assets for any restrictions on dealing with publicly traded stock. Second, if you die before the end of the term, assets revert to your estate and the structure collapses to look as if nothing was done. Last, a twist: if you stipulate that the trust will not terminate at your death, you substantially reduce the amount that gets thrown back to your estate, reducing the risk of not living through the term of the trust.

Tax inclusive and exclusive – the Sam Walton strategy can used when you want to transfer more than your unified credit alone will allow. If you make a taxable gift, it is tax exclusive (the tax comes from other assets). Thus, the tax is calculated as a percent of the gift. If you die owning the asset and it then passes to your children, it is tax inclusive as the tax is calculated as the total amount, so less of the assets pass to your children. QPRT – The qualified personal residence trust (“QPRT”) uses the unified credit and discount of a future value like the GRAT but applies it to your residence. Thus, both the benefits and risks are similar; it is the asset that differs.

“Defective” grantor trust – The “defective” grantor trust is effective for gift tax purposes and “defective” for income tax purposes so that assets are not included in your estate and yet you pay the tax on their appreciation. Paying the income taxes without any gift tax cost effectively gives away additional wealth. Again, you can leverage this with an installment sale.

Family Limited Partnership – the family limited partnership (“FLP”) is a partnership that you form, acting as the general partners and the limited partners. You transfer assets into the FLP such as any commercial real estate or your shares in your company. When this is complete, you can gift limited partnership interests to your children. Because only the general partners have any say in the management of the FLP, the IRS allows for a discount to the value of the limited partners interest. This discount is 35 to 40%, so more is passed to children without using up your unified credit. Unlike the other alternatives delineated below, when you transfer limited partner interests, your children receive the benefit now. In addition, you have the burden of tax returns for the FLP, as well as tax liability for children who may not receive distributions from the FLP to cover the taxes.

Charitable Remainder Trust – This charitable remainder trust (“CRT”) is a trust that pays a fixed annuity to you and then distributes the remaining principal to charities. You get a gift charitable deduction for the net present value of the future distribution to charities.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trust – This reverses the CRT, where a trust that pays a fixed annuity to charities selected by its trustees and then returns the remaining principal to you or to your estate. You get a gift tax deduction for the actuarial value of the annuity payments to charities or an estate tax charitable deduction.

Caution – you have an investment risk in each vehicle, where failing to generate the larger principal value in the future that you count on to use the strategy will frustrate its purposes. This is the risk of selecting assets that are expected to soar in value but instead collapse. Therefore, none of these alternatives should be considered until you are comfortable that you have “excess” wealth to pass to your children or to a charity and comfortable that you can make a commitment to do so that cannot be reversed. If you say “no” out of lack of comfort or confidence in any strategy, then you will want to stick to a basic plan for now.

What about the Future? Most observers expect the $5 million exemption to stay, along with the 35% estate tax rate. The exemption could be lower, or the rate increased. All of this is reason to review the ideas below and then update your estate plan.

Please see Estate Planning.

Tax Trap: risk of double taxation on contributions to Qualified Plans by certain states.

If you contribute to a Keogh, SEP-IRA, Money-Purchase or Profit-Sharing Plan as a self-employed taxpayer, or if you have made deductible contributions to an IRA, then you may have a tax issue on distributions from that plan or IRA. (Obviously, this does not apply to Roth IRAs but it can apply to roll-over IRAs.)

Many states follow the federal tax rules, allowing a deduction to these plans. However, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, among others, does not.

That is, in the case of contributions to all of these Plans and even a traditional IRA, Massachusetts gives you no deduction on the contribution. Therefore, you have to take a deduction for that contribution against later distributions. Otherwise, you have paid tax twice on that amount.

To say it differently, because Massachusetts does not allow a deduction at the time of the contribution, i.e., it was “after-tax” money when contributed, you must offset those amounts against withdrawals, amortizing over time, so that you are not taxed on the after-tax contribution when it comes back out as a part of the distributions.

Therefore, you will want to track the contributions made, so that the total can offset the amount taxed by Massachusetts when you withdraw.

We are addressing this issue in an appeal to the Massachusetts DOR Appellate Court, as certain plans face double taxation.