Year-end tax planning – how to minimize the total tax paid in 2014 and 2015

This year, when projecting your potential taxes, you have to factor in the changes from 2013 that affect 2014 and 2015, which can be daunting. That is:

  • You have the standard plan: “defer income/accelerate deductions unless you are in the alternative minimum tax (“AMT”)” (see below).
  • But then you also have the new 3.8% surtax, with rules that do not play well with the others!
  • Finally, the tax rates changed again for 2014 (see the table below).

If any of this is not clear, please ask questions.

Can you act?
To make your review of 2014 planning less daunting, take these separate steps: (1) ask “can you act?” – determine what you can do reviewing the “what can you act on” list below; then (2), if you can act on any of the items in 2014 or 2015 – moving from one year to the other, or delaying further – then ask “what impact does your acting have?” ; and finally, ask “what happens if I take all of these actions?” – determine the impact of all possible moves in concert, especially vis a vis the AMT. Preparing tax projections for both years is the best way to find out how to act most effectively to reduce taxes. It permits you to see which moves have the best results in which years, so that the total tax paid in the two years is minimized.

What can you act on?
Wages – Can you defer or accelerate between years or even convert income into deferred income, such as stock options, or income to be received at retirement? Can you convert compensation into tax-free fringes?

AMT – the AMT is the 28% flat rate calculated differently than the marginal rate of up to 39.6%. If your deductions bring the regular tax down too low, the AMT kicks in, so that the deductions are wasted and need to be moved to another year, if possible. Otherwise, you will want to increase income for that year to “pull yourself out of the AMT.” The AMT exemptions amounts for 2014 are $52,800 for individuals and $82,100 for married couples filing jointly.

The 3.8% Medicare surtax – This affects all income for 2014 and beyond, but only to the extent of the lesser of (a) net investment income or (b) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (“AGI”) over the threshold, which is $250,000 ($200,000 for single taxpayers). Investment income includes interest, dividends, capital gains, annuities, royalties and passive rental income but excludes pensions and IRA distributions. The 3.8% surtax must be covered with your withholdings and estimated payments to avoid penalties and interest. See our post at Update on the impact of the 3.8% Medicare surtax .

Standard Deduction – up in 2014 to $6,200 for single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing separately, $12,400 for married couples filing jointly, and $9,100 for heads of household.

Schedule A itemized deductions – can you shift income and deductions for the maximum benefit, given the income-based deduction thresholds?

  • //Miscellaneous// – only the amount above 2% is allowed on Schedule A. Miscellaneous expenses include items such as unreimbursed employee expenses, tax preparation fees and investment-related expenses.
  • //Other Deductions// – certain itemized deductions are phased out once your AGI exceeds $305,050 for married filing jointly ($254,200 for singles), so that your itemized deductions are reduced by 3%, on up to 80% of the deduction, for the excess of your AGI above $305,050 ($254,200 for single filers).

N.B. – (a) many of the deductions affected by the phase-out are the ones not allowed in the AMT calculation and (b) investment interest is not subject to reduction on Schedule A.

Schedule C income and expenses – can you defer or accelerate between years so that the net income falls in the best year?

Investment income – can you shift interest, dividends, and capital gains? The tax rate on capital gains was as low as 0% in 2013, with a cap at 15%. However, that cap went up to 20% in 2014 for AGI over $457,600, for married filing jointly ($406,750 for single; $12,150 for trusts and estates). You net losses against gains, with up to $3,000 of an excess loss over gains being allowed to shelter other income and losses you do not use carry to the next year.

Notes

  • (a) capital gains include the sale of a primary residence (above the $250,000 per owner shelter);
  • (b) if you sell to recognize a loss, and want to hold the stock again, be aware of the wash sale rule which bars recognition of the loss if you re-purchase substantially the same security within 30 days, even if it is in different accounts you own, including repurchasing in your IRA;
  • (c) an installment sale that spreads gain over several years; a like-kind exchanges involve investment property, which means you can swap, rent and later convert to residential; and
  • (d) purchasing mutual funds late in the year can lead to dividend and capital gains distributions where the mutual fund price changes but your investment does not, such that you have no economic gain for the distribution on which you pay taxes – you are effectively pre-paying taxes because you did not purchase after the declared distribution date.

Investment income also includes passive income and losses (rental property, limited partnerships and LLCs). If you can re-characterize any activities as material participation rather than passive by grouping together to meet the material participation rules, you have a one-time election to regroup (see final regulations on when and how you elect issued early in 2014).

Roth conversions – can you convert an IRA to a Roth IRA, so that future distributions are not subject to tax? Be sure to pay the tax with funds outside of the IRA so that the conversion has maximum benefit.

Stock options – can you exercise a non-qualified option (“NQ”), which is treated as ordinary income, or instead exercise ISOs, which can be investment income (but create an AMT)? Disqualifying an ISO converts it into a NQ, so that you have control over the type and timing of the income.

Required minimum distributions (“RMD”) – If you turned age 70½ in 2014, you can take a distribution in 2014 instead of next year to decrease your 2015 income – but the IRA distribution is not subject to the surtax so this would be done for the Schedule A phase outs (see below).
A direct distribution from an IRA to a charity allows you to give up to $100,000 (per person) of your RMD and lower your AGI for purposes of determining taxes.

Estate taxes – Federal Estate Tax Exemption for estates of decedents who die in 2014 is $5,340,000, up from $5,250,000 for 2013.

Gifting – can you shift assets by gifting within the $14,000 per year/per person annual gift tax exclusion, or even by filing a gift tax return to use some of your unified credit now, so that income is in the lower tax bracket of new owner? You may want to combine this estate tax savings strategy with income tax savings ideas so that you shift an income-producing asset to someone in a lower tax bracket.

Inherited IRA – be sure to divide an inherited IRA among beneficiaries to get the maximum life expectancy for RMD calculations for each.

If you made it this far, I hope you have a good idea of your 2014-2015 tax plan, or else a set of questions to ask so we can help devise one for you! //Please contact us//.

Federal Tax Rates for 2014:
[[image:2014-federal-tax-rates.jpg|large|link=source]][[file:2014-federal-tax-rates.pdf]]

Update on Roth conversions – to do or not to do?

In deciding whether to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth, there are many factors to weigh. At present, uncertainty about potential income tax reform makes the decision even more difficult: you are making a decision on what provides greater tax advantages, conversion or not, without confidence in the future tax impact.
Nonetheless, converting makes good tax sense if you expect your future marginal tax rate in retirement to be the same or greater than the rate on the conversion. However, if you expect your tax rate in retirement to be lower, then you will pay more taxes on conversion than you will in retirement.
There are other reasons to consider converting now:
> First, converting an IRA or other plan to a Roth account means that the assets are no longer subject to the Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”) requirement reached at age 70½, thus allowing you to retain assets as long you wish. At death, your heirs must start withdrawing from the account, but the withdrawals will be income tax-free.
> Second, if you believe your IRA assets will grow significantly over time then it is advantageous to convert. If you convert now, you will have a lower conversion rate (less of the total will have been subject to income taxes). This calculation applies whether your current IRA assets are depressed or have yet to appreciate.
There is a reason not to convert now:
> If you’re single and the conversion puts your AGI over $200,000 (or you’re married and the conversion puts your AGI above $250,000), then the 3.8% Medicare surtax on unearned income may be triggered. However, you can avoid this (and other unintended consequences) by doing partial conversions over multiple years.
What if you err? If you convert and then your account value falls, you have until October 15th of the following year to undo the conversion, thus revering the income taxes paid.
Planning: If you’re considering a conversion, give us a call and we can help you make the right decision for you!

Roth Conversions – decisions on 2010, recharacterize now or pay taxes over two years?

You can still decide as late as October 15th (if you extend filing of your tax returns) to either recharacterize or pay the taxes in 2011 and 2012 instead of on your 2010 taxes for your 2010 conversion to a Roth IRA.

Recharacterize – if you have the misfortune of losing value on the IRA after converting, you can “un-convert” by “recharacterizing” the Roth IRA as a traditional IRA using an IRA-to-IRA transfer (do not distribute funds to yourself, as that distribution voids the recharacterization). You can do this for all or a portion of the account. Once you do so, you cannot convert again until later of 30 days after the recharacterization or the year after the year of the original conversion.
This strategy is useful to address a decreased IRA value or to shift the conversion into future years with less income, so you are in a lower tax bracket.

Tax payments
– 2010 is the only year where you can choose to have the income of the conversion split in half and carried onto your 2011 and 2012 tax returns. This (1) spreads the time to come up with funds to pay the taxes (you never want to use the funds in the IRA as that defeats the purpose) and (2) gives you earnings on funds already available to pay the taxes until the payment due date.

Note: if you are paying taxes on the conversion with your 2010 taxes, the amounts are due April 18, 2011, even if you extend to have the option of recharacterizing. If you do recharacterize, then you will have over paid and have a refund due …. until you convert again.