2018 year-end tax planning – Part III on using the new tax law to save you money

In our first part, we discussed the impact of the new law on personal taxes, and in our second part, we discussed planning for small businesses. In this part, we give you a guide for year-end moves to reduce total taxes between 2018 and 2019. Can you act at all? Review the changes in itemized deductions

Each year, we advise that you be practical, focusing on where you can actually make moves. For many, the new $24,000 standard deduction for married couples, $12,000 for single taxpayers, means you will not itemize (i.e., your total for itemized deductions is less than the standard amount). If you are not itemizing, you have fewer ways in which to affect change in the taxes due in either year (you can also stop collecting receipts for those deductions!).

Some possible deduction strategies

One technique for getting around the limit is to bunch deductions from two or more years into one year. The only deduction that you can really move is charitable donations, because your state, local and real estate taxes are limited to a $10,000 maximum and you cannot accelerate, or delay, significant amounts of mortgage interest.

If you do not want any one charity to receive the full amount in one year, then donate to a donor advised fund from which you may be able to designate donations to particular charities in future years.

If you are 70½ or older, you have the option of distributing up to $100,000 from your IRA or other qualified plan to an IRS- approved charity, and having none of the distribution taxed.

The deduction of unreimbursed business expenses was terminated by the new tax law. One possible strategy is to form an LLC or S Corp., report the business expenses on form 1065 or 1120S, and then take those on Schedule E to offset other income. You will need a valid business purpose to form the LLC or S Corp. and take expenses.

You may also be able to report business expenses on Schedule C as relating to self-employment. Again, you must have a valid business purpose. Also, the IRS could apply the hobby loss rule to disallow the deductions, if you do not show a profit for the business in two out of five years. Thus, it is best to consult with an attorney before trying any of these ideas.

The tax planning steps

If you are able to itemize, determine what income and deductions you can move from 2018 to 2019 or vice versa. You want to minimize total taxes for both years. Make sure your planning includes the 3.8% Medicare tax on high income and review Roth conversions. And review our post on planning under 199A for QBID.

Next, review the impact of moving income and expense to see what happens if you shift any of these amounts from one year to the other year.

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

  • The exemption for the AMT and the threshold above which that exemption gets phased out both rise for 2018, so fewer taxpayers will owe the AMT.

Capital gains

Review your unrealized losses to see if you can shelter gains, reducing your total taxable income. If you have more losses than gains, you can take up to $3,000 of capital losses against other income. If you sell an asset that would prefer to retain, in order to realize gains in 2018, make sure you do not run afoul of the wash-sale rule (any loss on an asset that you repurchase in 30 days will be disallowed, so you have to either wait or buy a similar asset that fits your asset allocation while not counting as a wash sale).

If you have net gains, consider using appreciated stock for charitable donations – that way you avoid the tax on the gain while still getting the full fair market value for your charitable donation.

  • One note of caution: many mutual funds will make capital gains distributions to shareholders in December. Shareholders may be surprised on the amount of taxable gain, even for funds that had little net appreciation.

More on itemized deductions 

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, except when the home equity indebtedness is used to purchase or improve your primary residence.

As you may recall, all miscellaneous deductions were eliminated. This includes investment and tax preparation fees, safe deposit box charges and unreimbursed employee business expenses. And moving expenses are no longer allowed (except for military personnel in certain cases).

Under the new law, medical expenses are subject to a 7.5% threshold before becoming deductible.

More year-end planning

While you review your taxes, consider reviewing your estate plan and beneficiary designations. The federal exemption doubled to just over $11 million in 2018, so fewer people will owe any federal estate tax. However, many states still impose estate taxes on smaller estates. If you have “excess wealth” and want to reduce your taxable estate by gifting assets to children or others, you can give $15,000 per person, per year now. If your spouse joins you, that is $30,000 per person.

If you do review your estate plan documents, also review beneficiary designations to make sure everything is current. And review your medical directive and durable power of attorney.

If you have not maxed-out your 401(k) plan, IRA,Health Savings Account or flex plan account, consider doing so before the end of the year.

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2018 and 2019.

Good luck and best wishes for the holidays!

Business Taxes, Part II of III on year-end tax planning

This is Part II of three parts on year-end tax planning under the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. In our first part, we discussed the impact of the new law on personal taxes. In this part, we focus on small businesses.

Choice of Entity for Small Businesses

One of the biggest changes from the new tax law is the massive reduction in the tax rate for regular or “C” corporations. That may sound very appealing, but does this mean you should convert your S Corp. or LLC into a C Corp.? It could, if you expect to keep net income in your business.

If that is not your plan, i.e., if you want to take out money for yourself and other members, then use a pass-through entity instead of a C Corp. While a C Corp. may only pay taxes of 21% on its income, the amount the C Corp. distributes, via dividends or otherwise, will be taxed again to shareholders. If the shareholders are in the highest bracket, then income that started in the corporation had to pay over 52% in total taxes before getting into shareholders pockets. If you are a pass-through such as an LLC or partnership, then no tax is imposed at the entity level and entity members may qualify for the QBID on their personal returns – see below.

Be clear on your goals: do you want to leave net income in to grow the business for sale or an IPO? Or do you want to distribute net income to business members?  Deciding makes the choice clear.

Section 199A QBID

In our first part, we discussed the qualified business income deduction of 20% for certain pass-entities.. The deduction is complicated and subject to limitation. One such limitation is the total income of the taxpayer reported on her individual or joint tax return. The deduction phases out for high income taxpayers, starting at $157,500 of income for single taxpayers and $315,000 for married taxpayers, and phasing out when income exceeds $207,500 for single taxpayers and $415,000 for married taxpayers. There are wage and capital limits that can bring back a deduction when the phase out is exceeded, but that does not help service businesses as discussed below.

The deduction is “below the line,” so it does not reduce self-employment taxes or any items that are keyed to adjusted gross income (“AGI”). It also does not affect net operating losses.

Another limit is on income from a service business. This is defined as income from the following:

Health, law, accounting, consulting, financial services, performing arts, actuarial science, athletics, brokerage services, investing or trading in securities, or any business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of its employees (there are now regulations on this last type, but those do not answer all questions).

Architects and engineers were excluded from the list in the final bill.

For those within the definition of service business, QBID drops to zero when the phase out is exceeded.

If you are bumping up against any limits for 2018, you will want to review ways to defer income to 2019 or reduce taxable income in 2018 by increasing your deductions.

Businesses use of Home

The new tax law imposes limits on Schedule A deductions, including state and local income and real estate taxes. If some of your real estate taxes otherwise subject this limit are for a home office or other business use, then the business portion is not limited and can be used to shelter business income.

New Rules on Entity-level Audits

Under the new tax law, LLCs and partnerships face substantial changes for the IRS audit procedures:

  1. Beginning in 2018, the IRS can audit such entities at the partnership or LLC level under the Centralized Partnership Audit Rules or “CPAR.” This gives the IRS new powers, one of which is the ability to impose a tax at the entity level and let the partners sort it all out, rather than the pre-2018 requirement to audit each partner; and
  2. The IRS would contact the Partnership Representative for the entity. If no PR has been designated, then the entity loses by default.

This means (a) updating your operating agreement to designate the PR in place of the tax matters partner and (b) electing out of the CPAR rules on your 2018 tax filing to avoid application of these unfavorable rules.

What is a WISP?

You have probably received e-mails and other notices asking you to review updated privacy policies from various vendors. Many of these were generated in response to adoption of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) by the European Union in May of 2018.

What too few companies know is that there are laws in the US that require implementation of privacy safeguarding. One affecting companies doing business in Massachusetts is the Standards for the Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth in force since 2010.

If you are affected and have not either established or reviewed your company’s WISP (written information security program), please act right away to avoid liability for any potential breach.  Also, check the laws of any other state in which your do business to see what laws apply to your use of personal information.

Conclusion

If any of this raises questions for your year-end planning, let me know. I will be glad to see if can help.

Facebook page for our law firm

We are excited to announce the Facebook page for our law firm.

We hope you use this to keep informed about changes in the tax law and other financial planning issues.

Please check it out and “like” the new page.  Also, feel free to give us feedback.

Thank you

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.

Year-end planning, 2016 version

The election of Donald J. Trump could have a significant impact on your finances. Individual and corporate tax laws may change, the Affordable Care Act may be eliminated, trade war may ensue, infrastructure building may boost jobs and sectors of the economy, and national defense and diplomacy could lead almost anywhere – your guess is as good as anyone else’s.

So then, how do you incorporate this into year-end planning? Very carefully!

Corporate Taxes

Our analysis starts with a review of his proposal to limit corporate income taxes to 15% as a way to illustrate how tricky planning is:

Analysis of the way this limit applies to pass-through entities suggests that the 10-year cost could be anywhere from $4.4 trillion, assuming owners of pass-throughs pay 33% tax, to $5.9 trillion, assuming owners only pay a 15% tax.

Those are hefty cost numbers, which is why it is tricky to assume that any major tax changes will be enacted in 2017.

Income Taxes

There could be three rates on ordinary income: 12%, 25% and 33%, with the latter starting at $225,001 for married filers and $112,501 for single filers. The 0.9% and 3.8% Affordable Care Act surtaxes on upper-incomers would be eliminated. So would the AMT (“alternative minimum tax”). The 20% maximum capital gains tax would remain. Standard deductions would go up, personal exemptions would be eliminated and breaks for dependent care would be increased.

Check here for 2017 tax rates.

Estate taxes

The President Elect has revised his estate tax proposal, calling now for pre-death tax on appreciation in assets of large estates, subject to a $10-million-per-couple exemption. This may be accomplished by limiting the step-up in basis for heirs who inherit capital assets from large estates.

Another change would be elimination of the IRS’s proposal to restrict the use of valuation discounts for gift and estate tax purposes on intrafamily transfers of closely held firms.

Investing and retirement

Infrastructure building could boost certain investments, while conflicts on trade agreements could hurt many.

His proposed tax changes for retirement plans include extending the age for which contributions to IRAs are allowed and delaying required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Okay, enough, how does one act now?

Some moves still make sense

Tax plan – deferring income into 2017 and adding deductions to 2016 should work well, unless doing so puts you in the AMT, in which case the reverse will work best.

Most of our suggestions from our 2015 year-end planning post still work, including RMDs, 3.8% Medicare surtax, itemized deductions, stock options, investment income and sole proprietor and small business income. Also check out our estate planning post for more ideas.

If your deductions include donating to charities, gifting appreciated assets leverages your donation. That is, you can avoid the income tax on capital gains while still benefiting from the charitable deduction. Watch for the rules on exceeding 30% of your adjusted gross income and donating to private charities.

Research Your Charities

Check out websites like such as ImpactMatters and GiveWell to make sure what you donate has the best impact. Other tools include Agora for Good, a tool to track donation impact over many sectors.

Investing – your strategy should not be altered in any dramatic way now.

If you do sell mutual funds, be sure to wait to buy replacement funds until after the dividend distribution date, so you do not end up with a taxable distribution on gains in which you did not participate

Summary

Many of the income and estate tax rules may change during 2017. However, for now, your safest plan is to assume little changes and stick to the “traditional” techniques outlined above.

If you have any questions, please contact me!