Checking your income tax planning now is a good idea – tax planning can be done year-round. As with any planning, acting while you can have an impact is best. Tax laws may change before the end of 2022, e.g. Secure Act 2.0 may be adopted, but it’s still wise to know where you stand now.
First question: did you get a tax refund, or did you owe?
Some people enjoy seeing a big refund, but as you may have heard, you are giving the government an interest-free loan with your money. If you want to save, there are better ways, like an auto-debit to an IRA or to a savings account.
Not sure what happened to your refund? There is a updated IRS tool for “where’s my refund” that now goes back three years at “Where’s My Refund?”
The tool confirms receipt of your tax return, shows if the refund has been approved and indicates when it will be or has been sent. If three weeks pass without receiving the refund, then you may want to contact the IRS.
If you owed a significant amount for 2021, the IRS has another tool that helps make sure you have enough withheld for 2022 at Tax Withholding Estimator. This way you can avoid penalties and interest for under withholding.
If you do not get clear answers using the estimator tool, try comparing your 2022 paystub to your 2021 tax return, review the IRS guidance at Publication 505, or contact us for help.
Second question: what happens if you act now?
Marginal vs. average tax rate
Knowing the rate at which additional net income will be taxed helps you make decisions such as the one in the next section, whether to convert an IRA to a Roth IRA or not.
The marginal rate is your tax bracket, the rate at which the last portion of your income is taxed. Any additional income would be taxed at this rate. Your average tax rate is the percentage of income taxes to total taxable income. You can have a low average rate but hit a high marginal rate, which may mean that taking more income into the current year would be costly.
Time to convert to a Roth IRA?
The decision to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA depends on several factors. One is the rate of tax you pay now compared to the rate you expect to pay in retirement. If your rate will be the same at retirement as now, then there are many reasons to convert, such as no required minimum distributions at retirement for a Roth IRA. If your tax rate at retirement will be significantly less than currently, then converting now would be less tax efficient.
Many of the expected tax law changes have not materialized, but legislation remains in flux. This means we plan year-end moves while we continue to monitor new legislation. It is safe to bet that income tax rates will rise over the next several years. This may mean putting year-end tax planning on its head, where you increase taxable income for 2021. The goal is to lessen income ultimately taxed in future years. However, you may not want to delay taking deductions until 2022 (so planning not completely on its head?) For the standard approach, see our 2020 year-end post.
Roth Conversion – One way to increase income now, avoiding future income, is to convert part of an IRA to a Roth IRA, converting from taxable to non-taxable distributions in the future. Decide on the amount to convert by projecting the impact of the conversion on your marginal tax rate. Converting to a Roth also saves you from required minimum distributions, RMDs, in future years (but non-spouse beneficiaries still face the 10-year limit from the SECURE Act on IRA distributions).
Back-Door Roth – Along with converting, the “back-door Roth” is still available, at least for 2021, so you can put more retirement funds aside with no tax on future distributions. That is, for those who cannot contribute to a Roth due to income limits, they can contribute to a non-deductible IRA and then convert that IRA to a Roth IRA. If you have other IRAs, that may affect the amount that is taxed, so review this carefully first to see if it still makes sense.
More income – Other ways to increase income for 2021 include billing more for your S Corp., LLC or partnership in 2021, exercising stock options, and selling ESPP shares.
Capital gains – You probably do not want to accelerate capital gains, as those should still be tax at a lower rate in future years.
On to other considerations: first, SALT deductions
The limit on state and local taxes, or SALT, may increase from $10,000 to $80,000. Also, a number of states have created pass-through entity elections so that the S Corp., LLC or partnership pays the tax and deducts against the income of the shareholder/member/partner. This way, their net federal taxable income is reduced, and they get a credit for the payment on their personal tax returns.
The SALT changes may affect your itemized deduction strategy if you are bunching.
Check the details
Declare Crypto – If you had any crypto currency transactions during the year, selling, buying or receiving, be sure to declare on your federal 1040 filing.
Unemployment tax – Remember, unemployment benefits are fully taxable for 2021, so be sure you withheld taxes or paid estimates.
Charities – If you cannot itemize, you still get up to $300 as an above the line charitable deduction, and up to $600 for a married couple.
Child credits – There are changes in the credits for children and dependent care. Let us know if you have questions on the benefits and strategies for maximizing.
Kiddie tax – The so-called kiddie tax has been restored to pre-TCJA terms, so you may want to review filings for the last two years.
Address change – You will want to file form 8822B to indicate the change of address if your corporation, LLC or partnership moves. On that form, you can also change the responsible party so that the IRS knows whom to contact – this is quite important if you sell your business!
IT PIN – If you are concerned about identity theft, consider obtaining an IT PIN as discussed in our post on IRS scams.
Flex and retirement accounts – Check to see if you have any flex account balances that expire; contribute the maximum to your qualified plans; and setup a new qualified plan if you have a new business.
Before you finish, check withholdings and estimates paid
Especially if you increase income in 2021, review your total paid to the IRS and state via withholdings and estimates make sure that you meet the safe harbor rules. If not, you could owe interest for under-withholding.
IRS disaster relief
Have you received a penalty notice from the IRS? The Pandemic was declared a federal disaster. This means it may provide an exemption to the penalties if you can show that you suffered from the Pandemic.
And remember your estate plan review
While you review your taxes, review your estate plan as well. The federal gift and estate tax credit is close to $12 million for 2021, but that may change in 2022. So, if you have excess wealth, you may want to gift while you can, especially if you want to use certain trusts, like a GRAT or QPRT, that may no longer be permitted in future years. For more on estate planning updates, see our estate planning checkup post.
Update: the annual exclusion for gifts rises from $15,000 per person, per year to $16,000 next year.
If you do review your estate plan documents, also review beneficiary designations and asset ownership to make sure everything is current and flows correctly.
As you review your 2021-2022 tax planning, consider the impact of future tax rate increases: will bringing future income into 2021 avoid taxes on future income? Then follow through on the details.
Let us know if you have any questions.
Good luck and best wishes for happy and healthy holidays!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Investing has changed as times have changed … financial planning rules need to change too
In the past, when asked by a client about adding principal payments to reduce mortgage debt, so that the mortgage would be paid off sooner, I advised them to invest that payment instead.
That advice was based on the financial planning rule that you do not pay off debt when the after-tax cost of the debt is less than the after-tax return on the investments. Instead, you use cash flow to add to the investment because this is how you increase your net worth – the total of all investments less all debt – over time.
Also, by not paying down your mortgage quickly, you had the added benefit of not tying up working capital in your home. You cannot sell a bedroom when you need funds for a child going to college.
But that was then … things are different now ….
All components of the financial planning rule need to be reevaluated: Interest rates and inflation are at or near historic lows. The tax law on deduction of mortgage and other interest on debts has changed. The disruption to the economy from the Pandemic has hurt businesses and that will affect future investment returns.
Interest rates – With interest rates so low, the investment return on cash is near zero and the return on bonds is very low. Rates are almost certain to rise, which will make bonds today worth less in the future (when low interest bonds compete against newer bonds that offer higher interest rates, they are re-priced to match the new rate and that decreases what anyone will pay for the old bonds).
Tax deductions – The Tax Cut and Jobs Act made the standard deduction the option for more than two-thirds of taxpayers. With the standard deduction, there is no benefit because the mortgage interest is not actually deducted to lower your net taxes due. That means that the after-tax cost of mortgage debt is no better than the before-tax cost.
Investment returns – to get a better sense of the likely investment returns for that side of the rule, I spoke to Hal Hallstein IV of the Sankala Group, LLC out of Boulder, CO. He referred me to their post on Money Supply & Discount Rates, in which they discuss the impact of stimulus checks and PPP loans in an economy where recipients are likely to invest those funds or make financial purchases because simple consumption, travel and entertainment, has been shut down. They also discuss the threshold return required for making an investment decision, viz. the discount rate. In the post, he states:
But simultaneously, we also know buying bonds with zero yields won’t work for people’s retirements, which realistically require 3% yields. Where does this leave us?
He then presents a rationale for owning gold, an asset he has always avoided, as have I. But now it serves as a protection against a downturn when you have a portfolio that invests primarily in the stock market.
In our conversation, we compared the weighted cost of capital, the blended rate on all your debt, against the expected return from investing, which he pegs at 3.5 to 4.25% over the next decade, due to high equity valuations in the US and low interest rates.*
One note of caution: to get those returns will require tolerating substantial volatility.
All of this leads to the following: if your mortgage is at 3.5%, and you get no deduction value, and your potential return is 3.5% before taxes, on which you will have some tax hit, now or later, then paying off the debt is a better choice financially than adding to your investments.
New planning ideas
When you apply the debt to investment rule above, more people may find it best to pay down debt.
For a mortgage, added to your monthly payment will have a substantial impact over time, cutting the total interest paid. If you have a Roth IRA, it may even make sense to distribute funds to pay a student loan or car loan, depending on the loan interest rate.
There are still some reasons not to switch from retirement investing to debt reduction, such as when your employer offers a match for contributions. For a good set of considerations to review before acting, see the Betterment 5-Step Action Plan.
While the planning rule used to lead to the conclusion that you are best off adding to investments rather than accelerating paying off long-term debt like a mortgage or car loan, the conclusion from applying that rule has flipped. Many will increase their net worth by paying down debt sooner.
I hope you and your loved ones are all managing this as well as you can during the Pandemic.
Thank you, and be well
* Sankala Group LLC’s communications should not be considered by any client or prospective client as a solicitation or recommendation to affect any transactions in securities. Any direct communication by Sankala Group LLC with a client or prospective client will be carried out by a representative that is either registered with or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration in the state where the prospective client resides. Sankala Group LLC does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information presented in this communication, or by any unaffiliated third party. All such information is provided solely for illustrative purposes.
Steven A. Branson, retirement, investing, Financial Strategies, debt, discount rate, decision making, newsletter, cost of capital
The IRS extended all of the following deadlines to July 15th:
2019 return or extension filing;
Payment of 2019 taxes due;
Q1 2020 estimate payment; and
Q2 2020 estimate payment.
Most states have followed the same delayed dates (but not all). Let me know if you have a question on payment and filing.
So “tax season” will be over soon, yea!
Stimulus checks and other changes
Many people are asking about their stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Act also has other provisions including tax credits for self-employed affected by Covid-19, student loan payment delays, and relief on mortgage payments and rent.
Of the many posts regarding the stimulus checks and benefits, student loans and 401(k) distributions, here is a good summary from the NY Times.
And if you received a check for a deceased relative (over 1 million were sent!), you need to return it to the Treasury, sorry.
CARES Act includes benefits for small businesses: Payroll Protection Program loans; payroll deposit delays; and tax credits. The SBA funds for the PPP ran out initially, but Congress added more funding.
The key is to file so that the loan is forgiven, so that the funds become a grant. The forgiven loan is not treated as income.
If you need more information on these programs, let me know.
2020 tax law changes
The required minimum distributions or RMDs are suspended for 2020. This way, you do not need to sell funds at a low to withdraw and may even be able to redeposit funds that you already withdrew.
The CARES Act waives the 10% penalty for early withdrawals from qualified plans for up to $100,000 for coronavirus-related circumstances. The distribution is taxed over three years. And, if the funds withdrawn are repaid to the plan within 3 years, that is treated as a tax-free roll over. The act also allows loan from the plan up to the lesser of the vested balance and $100,000.
For 2020, there is an above-the-line charitable donation deduction up to $300. This should help charities that are responding to those impacted helping them raise money now.
More Scams and Hackers
Be wary of messages asking for personal information because scams are on the rise. And be careful working from home, as there are more hacker attempts to gain access via the home connections to companies.
If you want help dealing with any, let me know.
Being cooped up is challenging, even if it is the best way to stay healthy. Make sure you practice self-care so you can handle this!
I hope you and your loved ones are all managing this as well as you can.
If you want to just talk, I would be glad to set up a time, just let me know!