Tax Bill Provisions to Consider Before You Jingle All the Way

And the award for the busiest profession during the 2017 year-end holiday season goes to… preparers and planners…..the crowd goes wild and applauds loudly. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our President, our senate and our House of Representatives for this “gift”. Without their last minute help and effort, no one could have made this Christmas to New Year’s period any busier for us.”

Laughing all the way…

The new tax law hasn’t been fully ratified by the U.S. House and Senate yet, but all indications are that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will be sent to the President’s desk in the next two days. As you probably know, the House and Senate versions were somewhat different. What does the new bill look like?

Tax simplification? “Fuggetaboutit!” (think Italian mobster)

Despite the promise of tax “reform” or “simplification,” the bill actually adds hundreds of pages to our tax laws. And the initial idea of reducing the number of tax brackets was apparently tossed aside in the final version; the new bill maintains seven different tax rates: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. Most people will see their bracket go down by one to four percentage points, with the higher reductions going to people with higher income. And the tax brackets, going forward, will be indexed to inflation, meaning that the “real” income brackets will remain approximately the same from year to year.

The new brackets break down like this:

Individual Taxpayers

Income $0-$9,525 – 10% of taxable income
$9,526-$38,700 – $952.50 + 12% of the amount over $9,526
$38,701-$82,500 – $4,453 + 22% of the amount over $38,700
$82,501-$157,500 – $14,089.50 + 24% of the amount over $82,500
$157, 501-$200,000 – $32,089.50 + 32% of the amount over $157,500
$200,001-$500,000 – 45,689.50 + 35% of the amount over $200,000
$500,001+ – $150,689.50 + 37% of the amount over $500,000

Joint Return Taxpayers

Income $0-$19,050 – 10% of taxable income
$19,051-$77,400 – $1,905 + 12% of the amount over $19,050
$77,401-$165,000 – $8,907 + 22% of the amount over $77,400
$165,001-$315,000 – $28,179 + 24% of the amount over $165,000
$315,001-$400,000 – $64,179 + 32% of the amount over $315,000
$400,001-$600,000 – $91,379 + 35% of the amount over $400,000
$600,000+ – $161,379 + 37% of the amount over $600,000

Taxes for trusts and estates were also changed to:

$0-$2,550 – 10% of taxable income
$2,551-$9,150 – $255 + 24% of the amount over $2,550
$9,151-$12,500 – $1,839 + 35% of the amount over $9,150
$12,501+ – $3,011.50 + 37% of the amount over $12,500

Tax geeks like me note that the current 10% tax bracket is little changed, and the 15% bracket is now 12%, while the 25% and 28% tax bracket are replaced with 22% and 24% and a new 32% rate. Notice that in the lower brackets, the joint return (mostly for married couples) are double the individual bracket thresholds, eliminating the so-called “marriage penalty.” However in the higher brackets, the 35% rate extends to individuals up to $500,000, but married couples with $600,000 in income fall into that bracket. In the top bracket, the marriage penalty is more significant; individuals fall into it at $500,000, while couples are paying a 37% rate at $600,000 of adjusted gross income. That means more two-income couples will be calculating their taxes filed jointly and separately to arrive at the lowest resulting tax.

Making spirits bright…

Other provisions: the standard deduction is basically doubled, to $12,000 (single) or $24,000 (joint), $18,000 (head of household), and persons who are over 65, blind or disabled can add $1,300 to their standard deduction (currently $1,250).

The bill calls for no personal exemptions for 2018 and beyond (currently $4,050). For married couples with more than two children, this means that the new standard deduction ($24,000 in 2018) will be less than their current total standard deduction plus personal exemptions ($24,850 with three children in 2017). And the Pease limitation, a gradual phaseout of itemized deductions as taxpayers reached higher income brackets, has been eliminated. The Pease limitation added up to 3% to a high income taxpayer’s rates.

Despite the hopes of many taxpayers, the dreaded alternative minimum tax (AMT), remains in the bill. The individual exemption amount is $70,300; for joint filers it’s $109,400. But for the first time, the AMT exemption amounts will be indexed to inflation, so fewer taxpayers will be ensnared by the AMT. Even without this change, fewer taxpayers would be subject to the AMT because, as described below, the maximum deduction for (state and local income, sales, property) taxes is reduced beginning in 2018, and for most taxpayers, it was the deduction of those taxes that made them subject to the AMT.

Interestingly, the new tax bill retains the old capital gains and qualified dividend tax brackets—based on the prior brackets. The 0% capital gains rate will be in place for individuals with $38,600 or less in income ($77,200 for joint filers), and the 15% rate will apply to individuals earning between $38,600 and $452,400 (between $77,400 and $479,000 for joint filers). Above those amounts, capital gains and qualified dividends will be taxed at a 20% rate.

Misfortune seemed his lot…

In addition, the rules governing Roth conversion recharacterizations will be repealed. Under the old law, if a person converted from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and the account lost value over the next year and a half, they could simply undo (recharacterize) the transaction, no harm no foul. Under the new rules, recharactization would no longer be allowed. This makes more accurate tax projections essential going forward, along with a good working crystal ball.

Before the tax act, fewer than 30% of taxpayers itemized their deductions. With the higher standard deductions, many more people will no longer file Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Their deductions will simply not be enough to exceed the standard deduction, especially given the other changes in the tax bill. This makes year-end planning and projecting even more essential.

For many taxpayers who can itemize deductions, their taxable income number will likely be higher under the new tax plan, because many itemized deductions have been reduced or eliminated. Among them: there will be a $10,000 limit on how much any individual can deduct for state and local income, sales, and property tax payments. Before you rush to write a check to the state or your local government, know that a provision in the bill states that any 2018 state income taxes paid by the end of 2017 are not deductible in 2017, and instead will be treated as having been paid at the end of calendar year 2018. It’s not clear yet what happens if your 2017 state withholding exceeds your state liability. Normally, you would deduct the full amount on your current return and report the excess (refund) as income in the following year. But prior year state income tax refunds are no longer includible in income starting in 2018. Nothing is mentioned about paying and deducting already issued property tax bills due early in 2018, so it makes sense to figure out whether paying them in 2017 or 2018 yields a higher tax benefit. If you are in the AMT for 2017, prepaying any taxes will not yield a benefit.

The mortgage interest deduction will be limited to $750,000 of principal for new mortgages (down from a current $1 million limit); any mortgage interest payments on principal amounts above that limit will not be deductible. However, the charitable contribution deduction limit will rise from 50% of a person’s adjusted gross income to 60% under the new bill. If you think you’ll be ineligible to itemize starting in 2018, it makes sense to evaluate accelerating some planned 2018 charitable contributions to 2017, including any non-cash contributions.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions such as safe deposit box fees, unreimbursed employee business expenses, tax preparation fees, investment expenses and other deductions (currently subject to a reduction by 2% of adjusted gross income) are no longer deductible in any amount beginning in 2018. Here again, it make sense to see if prepaying some of those expenses makes sense (it does not if you’re in the AMT for 2017). Any prepayment amount and timing must be reasonable in the eyes of the IRS.

What about estate taxes? The bill doubles the estate tax exemption from, currently, $5.6 million (projected for 2018) to $11.2 million; $22.4 million for couples. Meanwhile, Congress maintained the step-up in basis, which means that people who inherit low-basis stock or real estate will see the embedded capital gains go away upon receipt, because the assets will have a cost basis equal to their fair market value on the date of death.

Public “C” Corporations saw their highest marginal tax rate drop from 35% to 21%, the largest one-time rate cut in U.S. history for the nation’s largest companies.

And pass-through entities like partnerships, S corporations, limited liability companies and sole proprietorships will receive a 20% deduction on taxes for “qualified business income,” which explicitly does NOT include wages or investment income. This is one of the more complicated areas of the tax bill, and will require working closely with your accountant or CPA to assess whether your pass-through entity will save money converting to a C Corporation.

As things stand today, all of these provisions are due to “sunset” after the year 2025, at which point the entire tax regime will revert to what we have now.

Assuming the tax bill is signed into law this week, and it likely will, you’ll have just over a week to project your 2017 and 2018 taxes, and decide which deductions (or income) you may want to defer to 2018 or accelerate into 2017. Only by projecting both years and finding the least combined liability will you know what planning tactics makes sense for you. We can help.

Oh what fun it is…

If you would like to review your current taxes, investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.


The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

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