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.

Time saving ideas that pay off in tax planning, investments, technology and daily routines

Ben Franklin taught us that “time is money”. In addition, we all know that we have limited time, so every instant is important to us. In fact, each minute involves a choice about how you spend that time.
However, the best use is often hard to sort out. Moreover, tracking time minute by minutes can cloud the real issue, which is what the best use of your time may be.

Tracking your time: However, as a starting point, Laura Vanderkam suggests keeping a journal of how you spend each day. This can show you how much time you spend, say, checking your e-mail every 15 minutes. If you can evaluate your habits with some clear-headed objectivity, you may find ways to spend your time better.

What is your time worth? Here is a financial perspective on the use of your time. Ms. Vanderkam “what is your Minimum Wage” as way to have you test your use of time financially. Her example is the difference between buying and making your own tortillas. When she factored in the time spent against any cost savings, she arrived at a wage of $1.40 per hour. So, was that a good decision for the use of your time? Maybe if your tortillas taste so much better… but often, tortillas are tortillas.

Here are two more taken from my experience: driving an extra 25 miles to save ten cents per gallon on gas probably nets out to the same total expenditure, after factoring in the gas used to get there, let alone the time. Replacing the brakes or McPherson struts on your car may seem to save money. However, when you factor in six hours or more spent, and the clean up, you have a fairly low minimum wage calculation. It is often better hire an expert and spend time with family.

Dangers of Technology: Another author suggests three time wasters from new technology: texting, remote access and last minute preparation. Geoffrey James finds that each of these appears to save time, but embodies significant risks. For texting, the response is immediate and you have a full record of the communication. That may not be to your advantage in business or personal relationships. Remote access may mean you are never really on vacation, never really relax and recharge, so return in less than par shape. Easy access to information makes last minute work tempting. So much can be reviewed easily. However, this process is usually rushed, and rarely forms permanent memories like long-term studies. Therefore, technology in general can be good, but there are some technologies, or at least the ways in which we use them, that do not save you time and make you more productive.

Now, some ideas that payoff
One time saving idea that pays is gathering your tax information as it comes, saving you from hunting for it last minute. Also, saving each year’s information in an organized manner will save time if ever questions arise or, worse, you have an audit to counter. Finally, if you let your tax preparer know about any changes during the year, you have a chance to react and adjust your tax planning, rather than being told what you should have done when it is too.

The same holds true for evaluating any other financial change. Address it at the time, and save the documentation. For example, when you get a new document, you can now scan and save files on your computer (but be sure to have backups). This way, your information is more easily retrieved and searchable, so you can find the correct item quickly.

Investing: This is an area where too much attention is not the best use of your time but also risks making investment errors. Please see our comments at Faults of the individual investor…. Too much attention can lead you to override your long-term plan so spend the time on other matters. Your portfolio will be better off.

If you create or update your estate plan, be sure to change your beneficiary designations right away. You may even choose to fund trusts you have created, saving time for your executor (or the attorney she hires). See Estate planning overview…

If you have suggestions, or questions, let us know.

Tax Strategies Now save taxes later – year end planning

Now is the time to begin planning for 2009 taxes – and for 2010 tax strategies.

As with past years, the goal is to pay the least amount for 2009 and 2010 together. To do this, the common wisdom is to push income into 2010 and accelerate deductions into 2009. This is especially true if rates will go up in the future.

However, if you will be in the AMT for either year, or if one year with have especially large deductions or income, then the strategies change.

Also, there are some special considerations for planning this year:

* There are certain benefits only available in 2009 or 2010 such as the conversion to a Roth IRA with no income cap and the first time home buyer credit;
* Tax rates after 2010 are likely to go up as reductions in rates from the Bush tax laws end after 2010;
* You may have capital losses to shelter capital gains so you want to use them well;
* Furthermore, there may be taxes to pay for health care law and the stimulus package;
* Make sure you use your Flex account funds and any frequent flyer miles that will expire; and
* Finally, some features may be extended, such as the $8,000 first time home buyer credit.

Sitting down to review 2009 and 2010 could save you money. Also, the work you do now will help on what you owe for 2009 as well as the tax preparation.

There is a very good article with details on this from Kiplinger’s Tax Newsletter that I can forward to you if you wish – Let me know

Thanks,

Steven

Let us know if you have questions or comments. Thanks,

Steven