2012 year-end tax planning – 2012 vs. 2013 tax strategies requiring action now

The goal for tax planning, as always, is to minimize the total that you pay for 2012 and 2013. However, this year is tricky. Here is why:
First, if your 2013 income is expected to be over $250,000 ($200,000 for singles), you cannot just accelerate write-offs from 2013 into 2012 and defer income to 2013 because your taxes will be higher in 2013. There is a new 3.8% tax that works like this, for example: recognizing a capital gain in 2012 avoids that tax in 2013 and also reduces your 2013 adjusted gross income, which may keep it below the threshold for imposing that tax next year. (See below for more details on the new tax.)
Second, regardless of who becomes President, Congress is likely to reduce the amount or value of itemized deductions. Thus, you may want to accelerate what you can into 2012.
Third, as always, combine your tax planning with your investment strategies, such as tax loss harvesting and rebalancing (see explanations at the end).
Last, there are other issues to review for 2012, including converting your Roth IRA; gifting to children and grandchildren for estate planning purposes (to use the $5 million unified credit); and funding college for children or grandchildren.
However, if you will owe the alternative minimum tax (AMT), you may have to revise your strategy. Many write-offs must be added back when you calculate the AMT liability, including sales taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, some medical and most miscellaneous deductions. Large gains can also trigger the tax if they cost you some of your AMT exemption.
The best tool for planning is to do a projection for both 2012 and 2013, then see what items you can affect to reduce the total tax for both years.
Assuming you will not have an AMT problem in either year, then in 2012 you could:
• Take a bonus this year to save the 0.9% for a high-income earner;
• Sell investment assets to save the 3.8% tax next year so the gain or income is in 2012 (e.g., sales of appreciated property or business interests, Roth IRA conversions, potential acceleration of bonuses or wages);
• Defer some itemized deductions to 2013 (but, be wary of the possibility that these will be capped in 2013 and can affect your AMT for either year);
• Accelerate income from your business or partnership, depending on whether it is an active or passive business; and
• Convert Roth IRAs in 2012 as noted above.
Then in 2013 and future years, you could:
• Purchase tax-exempt bonds;
• Review your asset allocation to see if you can increase your exposure to growth assets, or add to tax-exempt investments, rather than income producing assets. Also, place equities with high dividends and taxable bonds with high interest rates into retirement accounts;
• Bunch discretionary income into the same year whenever possible so that some years the MAGI stays under the threshold;
• While we do not recommend tax-deferred annuities, they can help save tax now to pay taxes in the future when the payments are withdrawn. (These are not recommended due to high fees, illiquidity and often poor performance);
• Add real estate investments where the income is sheltered by depreciation;
• Convert IRA assets to a Roth. Even though the future distributions from both traditional and Roth IRAs are not treated as net investment income, the Roth will not increase the threshold income; and
• Reduce AGI by “above-the-line” deductions, such as deductible contributions to IRAs and qualified plans, and health savings accounts and the possible return of the teach supplies deduction.
Note, however, Congress has not finalized the 2012 rules. Some expected steps are:
• An increase in the AMT exemption to $78,750 ($50,600 for singles), raising it from 2012 rather than dropping back to 2001 rates;
• Teacher $250 supplies deduction on page 1 of 1040, as mentioned above; and
• IRA $100,000 tax free gifts to charities.
Here are the details on the 2013 tax increases, enacted to help fund health care:
• A new 3.8% Medicare tax on the “net investment income,” including dividends, interest, and capital gains, of individuals with income above the thresholds ($250,000 if married and $200,000 if single);
• 0.9% increase (from 1.45% to 2.35%) in the employee portion of the Hospital Insurance Tax on wages above the same thresholds;
• Increase in the top two ordinary income tax rates (33% to 36% and 35% to 39.6%);
• Increase in the capital gains rate (15% to 20%);
• Increase in the tax rate on qualified dividends (15% to a top marginal rate of 39.6%).
• Reinstatement of personal exemption phase-outs and limits on itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers (effectively increasing tax rates by 1.2%).
• Reinstatement of higher federal estate and gift tax rates and lower exemption amounts.
If these changes take effect, the maximum individual tax rates in 2013 could be as high as follows:
2012 vs. 2013
Wages: 36.45 vs. 43.15%
Capital gains: 15 vs. 20%
Qualified dividends: 15 vs. 46.6%
Other passive income: 35 vs. 46.6%
Estate taxes: 35 vs. 55%
*Includes 1.45% employee portion of existing Hospital Insurance Tax.
**Estate and gift tax exemption also drops from $5.12 million to $1 million, if Congress does not act soon.
Explanations:
Tax-loss harvesting:
>Review your investments to find stocks, mutual funds or bonds that have gone down so that selling now will create a loss. This loss shelters realized gains and up to $3,000 of other income.
N.B. – If you replace the stock, mutual fund or bond, wait 30 days or use similar, but not identical, item. Otherwise, the “wash sale” rules eliminate realization of the loss.
Rebalancing:
>review your asset allocation to see if any portion is over or under-weighted. Then sell and buy to bring the allocation back in line. However, if you sell and re-buy now, before a dividend is declared, you will receive a 1099 for a taxable dividend in the new fund for investment returns in which you did not participate.

Thanks to the Kiplinger’s Tax Newsletter, Sapers & Wallack and others for ideas and information.

Update on estate planning – what should you gift now?

Estate planning remains stuck in limbo. That is, after 2012, the $5 million credit for gift and estate taxes goes away and we could be back at a $1 million credit. Also, the generation skipping tax limit now at $5 million would decrease. Finally, the portability of estate tax exemptions between spouses expires, meaning that the survivor can no longer use any credit amount not used by the first spouse, which would allow more to pass on estate tax free.
So far, Congress has taken no action. Many expect the 35% rate and a credit of at least $3 million to be the law for 2013 on. However, Congress failed to fix the estate tax for 2010 so nothing is certain.

Planning: This means you need to review your estate plan, especially your gifting strategies, and act now to take advantage of the higher gift tax credit. You can gift up to $5 million of assets free of gift tax now, or $10 million for married couples. The benefit is that all future income and appreciation on these gifts is removed from your estate. The downside is that the gifts are irrevocable, so you must be certain that what you pass on now you will not need later.
You always want to select assets that you expect will grow in value. If the assets decline, the strategy is frustrated. An example of what could go wrong is gift of a home at peak values that is now worth far less.

Remember that you have the annual gift tax exclusion allowing you and your spouse can each give $13,000 per year to any individual without eating away at your gift and estate tax credit. And note: any payments made to colleges or hospitals for the benefit of another person are not counted at all. (No gift tax return is required for these excluded amounts.)

How do you effectively structure the gift? Here are some examples:
• Family limited liability company (FLLC): With real estate or business assets, you can transfer minority interests in the FLLC to children or grandchildren. You retain control and the amount you gift is discounted because the minority interests lack control and lack marketability. You will need an appraisal for the value and the discount.
• Dynasty trust: This type of trust is designed to pass assets on multiple generations. Distributions can be made to the first generations, but they never actually receive a final amount – they rely on the trustee for any amounts to be distributed to them.
• Grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT): This trust transfers assets to children after a specified term while retaining a fixed annuity. The amount you gift is discounted, because children do not receive it until the end of the term. If the amount transfers, you succeed in transferring a discounted amount that becomes worth much more to the next generation.
• Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) Like the GRAT, your children receive your house in the future, so the value of the gift made now is discounted. You can even stay in the house after that term, but you have to pay rent, which is in effect another gift.

One note of caution: some have expressed the concern that if Congress does not act, the IRS could try to take back the excess in some fashion. Be sure to consult with your estate tax advisor before taking any moves.
We added gifting as a “to do” on the Finance Health Day page .

New Estate Planning Pitfalls – Need for careful planning and follow-through

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. However, this comes with some serious planning issues. Here are two:

One pitfall of the new law: The new portable credit requires a proactive election by the executor at the first death. Like the frequent failure to make proper QTIP and GST allocation elections, this is an area subject to risks. For example, if the assets are in trust, the survivors may choose not to appoint an executor, missing the opportunity to save the unused credit for the second death.

Also, the portable exemption amount only applies to the unused exemption from the last spouse. For multiple marriages, only the most recent spouse’s amount is available. In addition, an election must be made in the estate of the first spouse to die to preserve the unused exemption and allow for its use by the last deceased spouse.

Second, old trusts that had too much going to the credit portion, the beneficiaries of which are not your spouse, then he or she could be left with very little from your estate.

Please see Estate Planning Overview for definitions and tax impacts, and “to do” list.

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 planning: 2009 tips and traps, and 2010 changes

Tax law changes for 2009 will require you to submit more information to your tax preparer to ensure that you get the most of tax credits and deductions. If the person working on your tax returns does not have all the proper information, you could pay too much or your return could be rejected.

Here is an overview of tax changes to consider when gathering your information:

* Making Work Pay Credit (“MWPC”), is a $400 credit to offset a reduction in withholdings enacted early in 2009. It is phased out for higher income and offset by the Economic Recovery Payment, described below. You could end up owing taxes if the credit does fully offset the reduction in withholdings (affects 2009 and 2010).
* Economic Recovery Payment (“ERP”) is a payment received as part of your social security benefits (for 2009 only), and affects the MWPC so that failing to report it could result in your tax return being rejected. The payment itself is not taxable.
* Government Retiree Credit (“GRC”) is for those not receiving social security, but affects the MWPC (2009 only). The new Schedule M reconciles the MWPC, ERP and GRC so you need all the information.
* First Time Home Buyer’s Credit is a $8,000 credit that applies to first time buyers purchasing between certain dates and requires a paper filing (electronic filings will not get the credit). If you buy the home in 2010, you have the option of amending your 2009 taxes for the credit. Note that this credit gets repaid over time on future tax returns beginning in 2010.
* Tax credit for long term home owners buying a new home, between certain dates, also requires a paper filing to avoid being rejected.
* American Opportunity Tax Credit (an expanded Hope Credit) allows use of the credit for two year more years than the Hope Credit, covering junior and senior years of college when the Hope Credit was not available.
* New Vehicle Purchase sales tax deduction (2009 only) is an additional Schedule A item, so long as your are not taking the general sales tax deduction.
* Energy Credit for solar power, fuel cells and certain energy efficient improvements are Schedule A deductions. There are two types of credit depending on what improvements were made to your home and taking the deductions requires you to have documentation.
* The Cash for Clunkers voucher is not considered income (2009 only).
* A tax refund can be used to buy U.S. Series I bonds.
* There is an AMT patch which helps for 2009, but falls back for 2010.
* There is an increased casualty and theft loss limit that helps for 2009.
* Note that a dependent child’s income is taxed when it exceeds $1,900.
* The Tuition and Fees Deduction applies to 2009.
* Unemployment Compensation has $2,400 excluded from taxable income (2009 only).
* Educator’s Expense enhanced for 2009.

Note that not all states accept the IRS changes, so the information and outcome could be different.

For 2010, some old provisions return and some new changes require action now:

* 2010 conversion to a Roth IRA has no income limit and two years to pay the taxes (please see To convert or not traditional IRA to Roth IRA).
* Certain changes lost for 2010 worth repeating (see What to watch out for in 2010 – investing, taxes and more):
* AMT patch falls back;
* Casualty and theft loss limits fall back;
* Educator and tuition and fees deductions against adjusted gross income are not available;
* Deduction of state and local sales taxes ends;
* Exclusion of $2,400 of unemployment income ends; and
* Exclusion of income from qualified distributions from IRAs to charities ends.
* The estate tax still has not been enacted retroactively, as expected (see Estate Planning – will we have a new tax law in time).

As we said before, tax planning involves a multi-year view to optimize what you end up paying (please see More Strategies – Three Year Planning…., Tax Credits and all Continued, and What to watch out for in 2010 – investing, taxes and more)

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

Steven