A Last-Minute 2019 Holiday Gift from Congress

Leave it to Congress to pass a last-minute tax bill to cap off 2019 and send CPAs and estate planning attorneys scrambling. They call it the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act” (FCAA). I call it the “CPA and Attorney Employment Security Bill.”

As a year-end holiday gift, Congress included a number of individual and business-friendly tax provisions in its year-end spending package that was signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019. The FCAA, (oddly considered a 2020 Act) brought back to life many deductions and credits that had expired at the end of 2017, as well as a few others that had either expired at the end of 2018 or were scheduled to expire at the end of 2019. In addition, new disaster-related tax provisions have been added and substantial changes were made to retirement-related tax provisions. Some of the funding for these changes will come from increases made to various penalty provisions – notably increases in the penalties for failing to timely file a tax return or timely pay the tax due.

To the extent that you could have benefited from any of the resurrected 2017 tax provisions on your 2018 tax return, we should file an amended return to claim any refunds you may be due. The 2020 Act changes may also affect your 2019 tax liability.

Some of the retirement-related (and quite significant) provisions which may be of interest to you include the following:

Repeal of Maximum Age for Traditional IRA Contributions

The prohibition on contributions to a traditional IRA by an individual who has attained age 70½ has been repealed.

Increase in Age for Required Beginning Date for Mandatory Distributions

The required beginning date for required minimum distributions has been increased to 72 years old from 70 ½ years old. The former rules continue to apply to employees and IRA owners who attain age 70½ prior to January 1, 2020. The new provision is effective for distributions required to be made after December 31, 2019, with respect to individuals who attain age 70½ after December 31, 2019.

Inherited IRA’s Must Be Distributed within 10 Years

A stretch IRA was an estate planning strategy that extended the tax-deferred status of an inherited IRA when it is passed to a non-spouse beneficiary. Theoretically, an IRA could be passed on from generation to generation while beneficiaries enjoyed tax-deferred and/or tax-free growth. The passage of this Act now shortens that period considerably.

Under the new law, most beneficiaries will have to withdraw all the distributions from their inherited account and pay taxes on it within 10 years. Exceptions are made for spouses, your minor children and the chronically ill or disabled.

For those who inherit an IRA after January 1, 2020, the stretch IRA is no longer available. For those who inherited an IRA before January 1, 2020, you can continue to defer your tax liability as usual.

If you have an estate plan that includes a pass-through trust as a beneficiary, you will need to set up an appointment with your estate planning attorney to avoid a potential tax “disaster” for trust beneficiaries at the conclusion of the 10th year. I will have more about this in a separate post soon. If you have minor children (or grandchildren) and don’t have a trust, you will want to talk to an estate planning attorney as well.

Penalty-Free Withdrawals from Retirement Plans for Individuals in Case of Birth of Child or Adoption

A new exception to the 10-percent early withdrawal tax applies in the case of a qualified birth or adoption distribution of up to $5,000 from an applicable eligible retirement plan. A qualified birth or adoption distribution is a distribution from an applicable eligible retirement plan to an individual if made during the one-year period beginning on the date on which a child of the individual is born or on which the legal adoption by the individual of an eligible adoptee is finalized. An eligible adoptee means any individual (other than a child of the taxpayer’s spouse) who has not attained age 18 or is physically or mentally incapable of self-support.

Certain Taxable Non-Tuition Fellowship and Stipend Payments Treated As Compensation for IRA Purposes

For tax years after 2019, an amount includible in an individual’s income and paid to the individual to aid the individual in the pursuit of graduate or postdoctoral study or research (such as a fellowship, stipend, or similar amount) is treated as compensation for purposes of IRA contributions.

 

The following is a recap of the provisions that have been extended and that may require the filing of an amended tax return for 2018.

Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses

The deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses is now available for 2018, 2019, and 2020 and applies to qualified education expenses paid during the year for yourself, your spouse, or a dependent. The maximum deduction is $4,000 of expenses if your modified adjusted gross income does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 in the case of a joint return). If your income is more than that, you can still deduct $2,000, as long as your adjusted gross income does not exceed $80,000 ($160,000 in the case of a joint return).

Expansion of Section 529 Plans

Several changes were made to the rules involving Section 529 plans – tax-advantaged savings plans designed to accumulate funds for future educational needs. First, tax-free distributions for higher education expenses now to apply to expenses for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the participation of a designated beneficiary in an apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship program must be registered and certified with the Secretary of Labor under Section 1 of the National Apprenticeship Act. Second, tax-free treatment applies to distributions of certain amounts used to make payments on the principal or interest of a qualified education loan. No individual may receive more than $10,000 of such distributions, in aggregate, over the course of the individual’s lifetime. Third, a special rule allows tax-free distributions to a sibling of a designated beneficiary (i.e., a brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister). This rule allows a 529 account holder to make a student loan distribution to a sibling of the designated beneficiary without changing the designated beneficiary of the account.

Treatment of Mortgage Insurance Premiums as Qualified Residence Interest

For 2018, 2019, and 2020, you can treat amounts paid during the year for qualified mortgage insurance as qualified residence interest. The insurance must be in connection with acquisition debt for a qualified residence.

Exclusion from Gross Income of Discharge of Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness

For 2018, 2019, and 2020, gross income does not include the discharge of indebtedness of a taxpayer if the debt discharged is qualified principal residence indebtedness which is discharged before January 1, 2021.

Elimination of Certain Kiddie Tax Provisions

If you have a child that was subject to the new kiddie tax rules that went into effect in 2018, those rules have now been repealed retroactive to the date they were adopted. As a result, the onerous trust and estate tax rates that applied to the child’s unearned income in 2018 no longer apply. Similarly, the reduced AMT exemption amount for such children has been eliminated.

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit

The nonbusiness energy property credit is extended to property placed in service in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The nonbusiness energy property credit is available for (1) 10 percent of the amounts paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the tax year, and (2) the amount of residential energy property expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year.

Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit

The credit for alternative fuel refueling property has been extended to property placed in service in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The credit is equal to 30 percent of the cost of any qualified alternative fuel vehicle refueling property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year.

Two-Wheeled Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit

The credit available for the purchase of a qualified two-wheeled plug-in electric drive motor vehicle is extended to vehicles acquired in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Other changes made by the 2020 Act which may affect your 2019 tax return and future tax returns includes the following:

Reduction in Medical Expense Deduction Floor

The floor for deducting medical expenses for 2019 and 2020 has been reduced from 10 percent of adjusted gross income to 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. In addition, there is no adjustment to the medical expense deduction when computing the alternative minimum tax for 2019 and 2020.

 

Disaster-related provisions in the 2020 Act include the following:

Exception to Penalty for Using Retirement Funds

An exception to the 10-percent early withdrawal tax on a retirement-related distribution applies in the case of “qualified disaster distributions” from a qualified retirement plan, a Code Sec. 403(b) plan, or an individual retirement account (IRA). In addition, income attributable to a qualified disaster distribution may be included in income ratably over three years, and the amount of a qualified disaster distribution may be recontributed to an eligible retirement plan within three years. A “qualified disaster distribution” is any distribution from an eligible retirement plan made on or after the first day of the incident period of a qualified disaster and before June 18, 2020, to an individual whose principal place of abode at any time during the incident period is located in the qualified disaster area and who has sustained an economic loss by reason of such disaster, regardless of whether a distribution otherwise would be permissible.

Special Rules for Qualified Disaster-Related Personal Casualty Losses

Under a new provision, in the case of a qualified disaster-related personal casualty loss which arose as the result of a net disaster loss, such loss is deductible without regard to whether aggregate net losses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. In order to be deductible, however, such losses must exceed $500 per casualty. Such losses may be claimed in addition to the standard deduction and may be claimed even if you are subject to the alternative minimum tax.

Special Rule for Determining Earned Income

If you qualify, you may elect to calculate your earned income tax credit and additional child tax credit for an applicable tax year using your earned income from the prior tax year. Qualified individuals are permitted to make the election with respect to an applicable tax year only if their earned income for such tax year is less than their earned income for the preceding tax year. You are a qualified individual if (1) at any time during the incident period of a qualified disaster, you had your principal residence in the applicable qualified disaster zone, or (2) during any portion of such incident period, you were not in the applicable qualified disaster zone but your principal residence was in the applicable qualified disaster area and you were displaced from such principal place of abode by reason of the qualified disaster.

Automatic Extension of Filing Deadlines in the Case of Federally Declared Disasters

In the case of a federally declared disaster, qualified taxpayers get a mandatory 60-day extension period for filing and paying taxes.

Business Provisions

Please look to a separate post concerning business provisions from the Act to be posted on January 1, 2020.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. 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.

Roth IRA Conversions after Age 70-1/2

A Roth IRA conversion allows you to move a sum of money from a traditional/rollover IRA into a Roth IRA, pay the taxes due, and thereby convert the future distributions into a tax-free stream out of the Roth IRA for yourself or your heirs.  You probably already know that the IRS requires you to start taking mandatory distributions from your traditional IRA when you turn 70 1/2, even if you don’t actually need the money.  A Roth IRA has no such annual minimum distribution requirement for the original owner and spouse. So the question is: can you do a Roth conversion at that late date, and thereby defer distributions forever?

The answer is that you CAN do a Roth conversion at any time, including after age 70 1/2.  But that might not be ideal tax planning.  Why?  Because at the time of the conversion, you would have to pay ordinary income taxes on the amount converted—basically, paying Uncle Sam up-front for what you would owe on all future distributions.  So, from a tax standpoint, you’re either paying taxes on yearly distributions or all at once.  (Or, if it’s a partial conversion, on the amount transferred over.)  If the goal was to avoid having to pay taxes on that money until you needed it, the conversion kind of defeats the purpose. Unless, of course, you have little other taxable income, and adding a Roth Conversion amount costs you little or nothing in taxes

The traditional reason people made Roth conversions was to pay taxes at a lower rate today than the rate they expect to have to pay on distributions in the future.  They might also want to convert in order to leave the Roth IRA dollars to heirs who might be in a higher tax bracket (keep in mind that a heir who is not your spouse is required to take a minimum, albeit non-taxable, distribution from a Roth IRA).  But with the new Republican Administration taking over, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, tax rates are odds-on favorites to go down, not up, in the near future.

If you still want to go ahead and make a conversion after the mandatory distribution date, the law says that you have to take your mandatory withdrawal from your IRA before you do your conversion. That means that you can’t make a 100% conversion of your traditional IRA if you are subject to minimum distribution requirements.  Regardless, you or your tax advisor should “run the numbers” to ensure that you understand the taxes and tax rates that apply before and after the Roth Conversion.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other tax or financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. 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.

Source:
http://time.com/money/4568635/roth-ira-conversion-year-turn-70-%C2%BD/?xid=tcoshare

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

What Is a Stretch IRA?

A stretch IRA is a traditional IRA that passes from the account owner to a younger beneficiary at the time of the account owner’s death. Since the younger beneficiary has a longer life expectancy than the original IRA owner, he or she will be able to “stretch” the life of the IRA by receiving smaller required minimum distributions (RMDs) each year over his or her life span. More money can then remain in the IRA with the potential for continued tax-deferred growth.

Creating a stretch IRA has no effect on the account owner’s RMD requirements, which continue to be based on his or her life expectancy. Once the account owner dies, however, beneficiaries begin taking RMDs based on their own life expectancies. Whereas the owner of a stretch IRA must begin receiving RMDs after reaching age 70 1/2, beneficiaries of a stretch IRA begin receiving RMDs after the account owner’s death. In either scenario, distributions are taxable to the payee at then-current income tax rates.

It’s worth noting that beneficiaries also have the right to receive the full value of their inherited IRA assets by the end of the fifth year following the year of the account owner’s death. However, by opting to take only the required minimum amount instead, a beneficiary can theoretically stretch the IRA and tax-deferred growth throughout his or her lifetime.

If you do not currently have any IRA beneficiaries, employing the stretch technique by naming a (human) beneficiary could provide significant long-term benefits. Special rules apply to naming a trust or estate as IRA beneficiaries, so it’s best to consult a tax or financial planner to discuss the consequences and pitfalls.

Added Perspectives

Your enhanced ability to stretch IRA assets is a direct result of an IRS decision to simplify the rules regarding RMDs from IRAs. The new rules allow beneficiaries to be named after the account owner’s RMDs have begun, and beneficiary designations can be changed after the account owner’s death (although no new beneficiaries can be named at that point). Also, the amount of a beneficiary’s RMD is based on his or her own life expectancy, even if the original account owner’s RMDs had already begun.

Note that the rules presented in this article apply to traditional IRAs bequeathed to a non-spousal beneficiary. Special rules apply to spousal beneficiaries.

So if you’re unlikely to deplete your IRA assets during your lifetime, consider creating a multi-generational stretch IRA. By doing so, you could build long-term financial security for a loved one while minimizing estate taxes.

If you would like to review your current beneficiary designations or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. 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.

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