Congress appears poised to enact a major tax reform law that could potentially make fundamental changes in the way you and your family calculate your federal income tax bill, and the amount of federal tax you will pay. This e-mail is designed to help you cope with the changes Congress is hammering into shape right now—to take advantage of tax breaks that may be heading your way, and to soften the impact of any crackdowns. Keep in mind, however, that while most experts expect a major tax law to be enacted this year, it’s by no means a sure bet. So keep a close eye for further updates regarding this tax reform bill, and be ready to swing into action on or before the President signs it into law.

Lower tax rates coming

Both the tax bill that has passed the House of Representatives and the one before the Senate would reduce tax rates for many taxpayers, effective for the 2018 tax year. Additionally, businesses may see their tax bills cut, although the final form of the relief isn’t clear right now.

The general plan of action to take advantage of lower tax rates next year would be to defer income into next year or to accelerate deductions into this year. Some possibilities follow:

  • If you are thinking of converting a regular IRA to a Roth IRA, postpone your move until next year. That way you’ll defer income from the conversion until next year and hopefully have it taxed at lower rates.
  • Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2017. For example, this may be the case where a person’s marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year or where lower income in 2018 will result in a higher tax credit for an individual who plans to purchase health insurance on a health exchange and is eligible for a premium assistance credit.
  • Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase your 2017 deductions even if you don’t pay your credit card bill until after the end of the year.
  • Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. For example, you can sell the original holding, then buy back the same security at least 31 days later.
  • If you become eligible in December of 2017 to make health savings account (HSA) contributions, you can make a full year’s worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2017.
  • Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2017, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes, and also that both the House and Senate have proposed the repeal of AMT in their bills effective for future tax years. Disallowed expenses for AMT include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. If you are subject to the AMT for 2017, or suspect you might be, we will need to further discuss the timing of payments for these expenses.
  • The reduction or cancellation of debt generally results in taxable income to the debtor unless a special exclusion applies. So if you are planning to make a deal with creditors involving debt reduction, consider postponing action until January to defer any debt cancellation income into 2018.

Disappearing deductions, larger standard deduction

Beginning next year, both the House-passed tax reform bill and the version before the Senate would repeal or reduce many popular tax deductions in exchange for a larger standard deduction. Here’s what you can do about this right now:

  • The House-passed tax reform bill would eliminate the deduction for nonbusiness state and local income or sales tax, but would allow an up-to-$10,000 deduction for real estate taxes on your home. The bill before the Senate would ban all nonbusiness deductions for state and local income, sales tax, and real estate tax. If you anticipate purchasing a vehicle, motor home, or boat it may be advisable to do so in 2017. If you are an employee who expects to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding on those taxes. That way, additional amounts of state and local taxes withheld before the end of the year will be deductible in 2017. Similarly, pay the last installment of estimated state and local taxes for 2017 by Dec. 31 rather than on the 2018 due date, or prepay real estate taxes on your home, if you won’t be subject to AMT.
  • Neither the House-passed bill nor the bill before the Senate would repeal the itemized deduction for charitable contributions. But because most other itemized deductions would be eliminated in exchange for a larger standard deduction (e.g., in both bills, $24,000 for joint filers), charitable contributions after 2017 may not yield a tax benefit for many. If you think you will fall in this category, consider accelerating some charitable giving into 2017.
  • The House-passed bill, but not the one before the Senate, would eliminate the itemized deduction for medical expenses. If this deduction is indeed chopped in the final tax bill, and you are able to claim medical expenses as an itemized deduction this year, consider accelerating “discretionary” medical expenses into this year. For example, order and pay for new glasses, arrange to take care of needed dental work, or install a stair lift for a disabled person before the end of the year.

Other year-end strategies

Here are some other “last minute” moves that could wind up saving tax dollars in the event tax reform is passed:

  • The exercise of an incentive stock option (ISO) can result in AMT complications. But both the Senate and House versions of the tax reform bill call for the AMT to be repealed next year. So if you hold any ISOs, it may be wise to hold off exercising them until next year.
  • If you’ve got your eye on a plug-in electric vehicle, buying one before year-end could yield you an up-to-$7,500 discount in the form of a tax credit. The House-passed bill, but not the one before the Senate, would eliminate this credit after 2017.
  • Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retirement plan). RMDs from IRAs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70-½.
  • If you’re in the process of selling your principal residence and you wrap up the sale before year end, up to $250,000 of your profit ($500,000 for certain joint filers) will be tax-free if you owned and used the property as your main home for at least two of the five years before the sale. However, under the House-passed bill and the bill before the Senate, the $250,000/$500,000 tax free amounts would apply to post-2017 sales only if you own and use the property as your main home for five out of the previous eight years.
  • Under current rules, alimony payments generally are an above-the line deduction for the payor and included in the income of the payee. Under the House-passed tax bill but not the version before the Senate, alimony payments would not be deductible by the payor or includible in the income of the payee, generally effective for any divorce decree or separation agreement executed after 2017. So if you’re in the middle of a divorce or separation agreement, and you’ll wind up on the paying end, it would be worth your while to wrap things up before year end if the House-passed bill carries the day. On the other hand, if you’ll wind up on the receiving end, it would be worth your while to wrap things up next year.
  • Both the House-passed bill and the version before the Senate would repeal the deduction for moving expenses after 2017 (except for certain members of the Armed Forces), so if you’re about to embark on a job-related move, try to incur your deductible moving expenses before year-end.
  • Make gifts sheltered by using the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. The exclusion applies to gifts of up to $14,000 made in 2017 to each of an unlimited number of individuals. You can’t carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. Such transfers may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.

Please keep in mind that we have described only some of the year-end moves that should be considered in light of the tax reform package currently before Congress—which, it bears emphasizing, may or may not actually become law. If you would like more details about any aspect of how the proposed legislation may affect you, please do not hesitate to call us at 239-433-5554.

#MNMW