Year-end Tax Planning and the Pandemic

Tax Planning and the Pandemic

We face a challenging time for planning:  The election resulted in a new President while the rate of Covid-19 infections (and deaths) continues to rise.  This has affected the economy, resulted in some tax law changes and may yield more stimulus to restore the economy.  Also, there may be more changes in 2021.  This post is intended to help you make the best tax-efficient moves before 2021 begins.  

2020 year-end tax planning – update on using the tax laws to save you money

In 2018, we provided a three-part series explaining the impact of the new tax law.  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.  This update replaces the third part from December 2018, as updated December in 2019 – it is our guide for year-end moves to reduce total taxes between 2020 and 2021.  But, before getting to the planning steps, we address the uncertainty caused by possible tax changes in 2021 and review some recent changes from earlier this year. 

Possible Tax Law Changes under Biden

President-Elect Biden campaigned on raising taxes for corporations and for individuals making over $400,000 of income.  However, even if the Senate seats in Georgia go to Democrats in January, the lack of a “Blue Wave,” a sweeping Democratic mandate, means that the tax hikes are unlikely to pass.  Furthermore, the President-Elect has made clear that controlling Covid-19 and economic recovery are the top priorities of his new administration. 

What did President-Elect Biden propose?  He would restore the 39.6% bracket for couples making $622,050 or more ($518,400 for singles), add a 12.4% social security tax for income over $400,000, place a 28% limit on itemized deductions for high income taxpayers, restore the 20% long-term capital gains rate for high income returns (and even apply ordinary rates on gains of taxpayers over $1 million), and limit the Qualified Business Income Deduction and opportunity zone credits.  For estate taxes, he would reduce the current $11.58 million exemption to a lower amount, perhaps $5 million or even $3.5 million, and eliminate the step-up in basis at death. 

While none of these changes are likely, there may be narrow tax hikes to fund infrastructure building and small tax breaks for lower earners (child/dependent care and elderly long-term care credits).  There may also be more stimulus action, such as more Paycheck Protection Program loans and business tax breaks for worker safety measures, as well as retirement savings incentives, tax extenders for items expiring this year, and tax breaks to encourage US manufacturing.  We will monitor activity on these matters for comment in future posts. 

Changes from the SECURE and CARES Acts for 2020

We wrote about the CARES act earlier this year, which waived the 10% penalty for coronavirus-related distributions from qualified plans of up to $100,000, with three years to pay the taxes due or redeposit as a roll-over, and suspension of required minimum distributions (“RMDs”). The act also allows larger plan loans.

The Secure Act delayed RMDs to age 72 and allowed individuals to contribute to IRAs after age 70 ½ if still working.   But the Act also limited the distribution of IRAs to a 10-year maximum for beneficiaries other than spouses and certain others, thus eliminating the “stretch IRA.” 

The Families First Act created credits for people unable to work due to Covid-19 illness and due to caring for others.  If you are affected, check to see if you are eligible for any of these tax credits. 

A reminder on the mortgage interest deductions

As you may recall, mortgage interest on new home purchases is deductible only for loans of up to $750,000 used to purchase your primary and secondary residences.  Interest on home equity loans is not deductible, except when the home equity indebtedness is used to purchase or improve your primary or secondary residence.

Check taxes already paid

Make sure your total paid to the IRS and state via withholdings and estimates meets the safe harbor rules.  If not, you could owe interest for under-withholding. 

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 $24,800 standard deduction for married couples (more for over 65 taxpayers, and $12,400 for single 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 (but you can also stop collecting receipts for those deductions). 

There is one exception from the CARES Act, which provides a $300 above the line charitable deduction for cash contributions.  You get this regardless of itemizing. 

Some possible deduction strategies

One technique for getting around the limit on deductions is to bunch certain deductions from two or more years into one year.  However, the only deduction that you can easily move is for 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, you can still use this bunching strategy to donate to a donor advised fund, from which you may be able to designate donations to particular charities in future years.

The tax planning steps

What can you move?  If you are able to itemize, determine what income and deductions you can move from 2020 to 2021 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 a review Roth conversion.  Roth distributions are not taxed, so converting a traditional or roll-over IRA to a Roth could be beneficial, as long as the tax cost now is not too great – see more at Roth or not to Roth?  With the waiver of the 10% penalty for early withdrawals, a Roth conversion may be more attractive.  Business owners will want to review our post on planning under 199A for QBID

What is the effect of moving?  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.

The AMT – Finally, watch for the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”).  The AMT affects fewer people, but it is still wise to review so you avoid it. 

Retirement contributions

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.  The contributions reduce your tax able income while adding to savings.  But check out our post on paying debts vs. investing.

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 provision was great when you had an RMD to satisfy, but that was suspended for 2020.  That should not stop you if you still have the charitable intent. 

Business expenses

The deduction of unreimbursed business expenses was terminated by the new tax law.  That hurts many who are working from home this year, as they cannot deduct associated costs. 

We wrote about forming an LLC or S Corp. to report business expenses or taking expenses on Schedule C in our 2018 Part III post, but that applies to expenses for that business and we stressed that you will need a valid business purpose to form the LLC or S Corp. or use Schedule C for self-employment and take expenses.  Be sure to consult with an attorney before trying any of these ideas. 

Capital gains

Review your unrealized losses to see if you can “harvest” those losses to offset or “shelter” realized 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 you would prefer to retain, in order to shelter gains in 2020, 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 30 days or purchase a similar asset that fits your portfolio while not counting against the wash sale rule).  N.B. – when buying mutual funds late in the year, check for distribution dates so you do not purchase just before dividend and capital gains distributions, as you will owe taxes on those distributions. 

If you have significant unrealized 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.  That is very effective tax leverage!

Estate plan review

While you review your taxes, review your estate plan as well.  The federal exemption is over $11 million in 2020, so fewer people will owe any federal estate tax.  However, that may change in 2021; also, many states still impose estate taxes on smaller estates. 

The individual gift and estate tax exemption is due to return to $5 million, adjusted for inflation, in 2026 and could be lowered sooner, as noted above.  That tax rate could also go up. 

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.  This includes funding a 529 plan for education cost – expanded to provide for more than just college – or an ABLE account for disabled dependents.  Note, however, that holding appreciated assets for the step up in basis at death may be better than gifting, but this could be eliminated as noted above. 

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.  

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2020 and 2021. 

Good luck and best wishes for happy and healthy holidays!

Year-end tax planning – 2019 update on using the tax laws to save you money

we hope your planning does not look like this!

Last year, we provided a three-part series explaining the impact of the new tax law.  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 update the third part posted last year, which is our guide for year-end moves to reduce total taxes between 2019 and 2020. 

Can you act at all?   

Each year we advise that you be practical, focusing on where you can actually take action. 

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 so you take the higher, standard deduction).  The standard deduction goes up when you reach 65. 

If you are not itemizing, you have fewer ways in which to affect change in the taxes due in either year (but 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 one deduction that you can easily move is for charitable donations.  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 a single year, you can still use this bunching strategy.  Donate to a donor advised fund, from which you may be able to designate donations to particular charities in future years.

IRA donations:  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. 

Capital Gains:  Review your portfolio.  You may be able to “harvest losses” to offset capital gains realized on stock sales or mutual fund capital gains distributions.  If you have substantial unrealized gains, consider donating to a charity.  See below. 

The tax planning steps

If you are able to itemize, determine what income and deductions you can move from 2019 to 2020 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 (Roth distributions are not taxed, so converting a traditional or roll-over IRA to a Roth could be beneficial, as long as the tax cost now is not too great).  And business owners will want to 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.

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

  • The exemption for the AMT and the threshold above which that exemption gets phased out are now higher than before 2018, so fewer taxpayers will owe the AMT.  

Finally, 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.

Capital gains

Your mutual funds may have large capital gains distributions.  Christine Benz says, “Brace yourself: 2019 is apt to be another not-so-happy capital gains distribution season, with many growth-oriented mutual funds dishing out sizable payouts.”  

Review your unrealized losses to see if you can “harvest” those losses to offset or “shelter” realized 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 you would prefer to retain, in order to shelter gains in 2019, 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 30 days or purchase a similar asset that fits your asset allocation while not counting against the wash sale rule). 

If you have significant unrealized 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.  

Some reminders on itemized deductions

As you may recall, mortgage interest on new home purchases is deductible only for loans of up to $750,000 used to purchase or improve your primary or secondary residence.  Interest on home equity loans will not be deductible, except when the home equity indebtedness is used to purchase or improve the residence.

Also, 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). 

Check taxes paid

Make sure your total paid in withholdings and estimates meets the safe harbor rules.  If not, you could owe interest for under-withholding. 

Estate plan review

While you review your taxes, consider reviewing your estate plan and your beneficiary designations.  The federal exemption is just over $11 million in 2019, 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.  If your spouse joins you, that is $30,000 per person.  This includes funding a 529 plan for education costs – expanded to provide for more than just college. 

Note, however, that holding appreciated assets for the step up in basis at death may be better for your heirs than gifting. 

Check on 2018

Check to see if you over-paid a penalty for under-withholding.  If you filed early, the penalty calculation may have over-stated the total you owe, so you will want to review your 2018 filing. 

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2019 and 2020. 

Good luck and best wishes for the holidays!

Tax Planning Hacks for your Itemized Deductions and more

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act brought the most significant changes to our income taxes in the last thirty years.  We continue to assess its impact in this post, which provides updates and some strategies for items discussed at the end of 2018 in these three posts:

As a quick summary of the posts, in the first post, we discussed the impact of the new law on personal taxes; in the second post, we discussed planning for small businesses; and in our third post, we provided a practical guide for year-end action.   

Itemized deduction strategies

As we noted in these tax planning posts, far fewer US Taxpayers will itemize because of the increased $24,000 standard deduction for married couples ($12,000 for individuals).  One estimate is that the number will be about 6% of all taxpayers for 2018, down from over 30% in prior years. 

Bunching your itemized deductions into a single year is one way to push your total above the standard deduction amount, and thus restore the tax deduction benefit for such items as charitable donations.  We discussed bunching and giving to donor advised funds in our third post.  As we noted then, charitable donations are the easiest Schedule A items to which to apply bunching.

Miscellaneous deductions are gone;
Or are they? 

Now that the miscellaneous itemized deductions are gone, can you do anything with tax prep and investment fees? 

Take tax prep fees on other schedules

For the tax preparation fees, you can deduct those amounts on Schedule C, Schedule E (page 1), or Schedule F.  And, if you have K-1s, input the fees as unreimbursed expenses so that the fees flow to Schedule E (page 2).

Capitalize investment fees

As for investment fees, there is support for capitalizing these costs, but the support is not dispositive.  This interpretation of the Treasury regulations is that you can capitalize the cost of evaluating the value of stocks purchased and sold.  You would need to elect to capitalize the related fee for each transaction, so this could be a great deal of work, depending on the amount of fees and number of stocks purchased or sold in a given year.  Taking this approach seems fair, as the treatment parallels treatment of fees in mutual fund, where the advisory fees are netted out before capital gain and dividend distributions to shareholders. 

Notes:  First, that there is a Treasury memorandum that says you cannot add carrying costs to basis.  Second, even if you could, capitalizing takes a great deal of work so it may not be worth the effort. 

Kiddie tax

The first $1,050 of unearned income for children who are dependents is not taxed in 2018.  Amounts above that level are taxed at the same rate as trusts and estates.  Those brackets are quite compressed compared to individual brackets.  Nonetheless, a child of a parent in the 37% tax bracket can still have $12,500 of income taxed at a lower rate.  That could save taxes on college funds (but compare to sheltering in a 529 plan).

Child tax credit

The $2,000 child credit phases out at much higher adjusted income levels for 2018:  over $400,000 for married couples, $200,000 for single taxpayers.  If your child is age 17 or over, you lose the $2,000 credit, but you may qualify for the $500 dependent credit.   This credit could not only applies to college students, it covers disabled children, elderly parents and other family that are your dependents.      

QBID for rental real estate

The IRS regulations provide a safe harbor for people who spend 250 or more hours a year on activities related to their rental properties.  You will need to keep records of your time and maintain separate bank accounts for the activities. 

Enterprise Zone rollovers  

You can roll over gain from stock or other capital assets to investments in an enterprise zone, delaying tax on the gain, and even eliminating tax on a portion.  We will post more on this at a future date.

Estate taxes

With the doubling of the federal gift and estate tax credit, few estates will be subject to federal estate tax.  This means that gifting is not nearly as important as retaining low basis assets for the step at death.  By this we mean that keeping assets in your name results in those assets are treated as having basis equal to the fair market value at death, so your heirs only pay tax on any gain that occurs after your death. 

Conclusion

There have been many changes to our tax law, so if you are not sure how you are affected, contact me for some planning. Maybe we can help you save on taxes!

Steven

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!

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