Unlike recent years, in which the tax rules have been fairly stable, 2018 brings extensive changes as a result of a large tax overhaul that passed Congress last December. These changes will affect how your 2018 taxes will be calculated. Here’s a quick recap of the new rules, followed by some thoughts on steps we can take to reduce your bill.
This letter is just a sample of some of the tax law updates and ways you can impact your tax savings. To take a deeper dive into tax planning, you can read our 2018 Tax Planning Guide. We also encourage you to contact your tax advisor as soon as possible to discuss the items listed below.
This letter is broken up by INDIVIDUAL PLANNING and BUSINESS PLANNING.
INDIVIDUAL PLANNING: Tax Updates
State and Local Income and Property Taxes. New for 2018, there is a $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local income and property taxes. No deduction is allowed for foreign property taxes.
Mortgage Interest. The mortgage interest deduction on acquisition indebtedness (e.g., mortgages) of more than $750,000 obtained after December 14, 2017, is limited to the portion of the interest allocable to $750,000 ($375,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately). In the case of acquisition indebtedness incurred before December 15, 2017, the limitation is the same as it was under prior law: $1,000,000 ($500,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately). Additionally, no deduction is allowed for interest paid on home equity indebtedness. However, to the extent the debt is used for certain purposes, the interest on the debt may still be deductible.
Child and Dependent Care Expenses. If you paid someone to take care of your child or a dependent so you can work or look for work, you may be entitled to a tax credit for up to 35 percent of the expenses paid. Various qualifications must be met in order to be eligible for the credit, but if you incurred such expenses, you may qualify.
Medical, Dental, and Vision Expenses. For 2018, you can deduct medical, dental, and vision expenses to the extent they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In order to take this deduction in following years, such expenses must exceed 10 percent of your AGI. Thus, to the extent you are planning any elective medical, dental, or vision procedures, the expenses of which you can accelerate into 2018, the bunching up of those expenses in 2018 may help reduce your taxable income if you will be itemizing deductions. Such expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness. They do not include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health, such as vitamins, or the costs of cosmetic surgery, unless the surgery is necessary to ameliorate a deformity resulting from a congenital abnormality, a personal injury, or a disfiguring disease.
Charitable Contributions. Whether it makes sense to take an itemized deduction for your charitable contributions depends on whether your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. It’s also worth noting that a new change in the law increases the maximum contribution percentage limit from 50 percent of your contribution base to 60 percent for cash contributions to public charities.
Education-Related Expenses. If you have any student loans outstanding, the interest you paid on those loans may be deductible. A deduction of up to $2,500 of interest paid on a qualified student loan is deductible in computing adjusted gross income. The deduction is phased out if your modified adjusted gross income is between $65,000 and $80,000 ($130,000 and $160,000 if filing a joint return).
If you are an educator and spend your own money on school supplies, up to $250 may be deductible from gross income.
Individual Healthcare Penalty. While the tax penalty on individuals who fail to carry health insurance, which was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, has been eliminated for tax years after 2018, the penalty still applies for 2018 unless a taxpayer is exempt from the penalty because the taxpayer’s income falls beneath a certain level.
INDIVIDUAL PLANNING: Steps to Save
Life Events. Life events can significantly impact your taxes. For example, if you are using head of household or surviving spouse filing status for 2018, but will change to a filing tax status of single for 2019, your tax rate will go up. Thus, accelerating income into 2018 and pushing deductions into 2019 may also yield tax savings.
Retirement Plans Considerations. If certain requirements are met, contributions to an individual retirement account (IRA) may be deductible. Even if you are not eligible to deduct contributions, contributing after-tax money to an IRA may be advantageous because it will allow you to later convert that traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA, including earnings, are free of tax, while earnings on a traditional IRA are taxable when withdrawn.
If you already have a traditional IRA, we should evaluate whether it is appropriate to convert it to a Roth IRA this year.
Capital Gains and Losses. If your stock portfolio includes stocks that have lost value since you originally invested and you’ve decided you want to divest yourself of them, we should evaluate whether you might benefit from selling off appreciated stocks, particularly those that would generate a short-term capital gain, and using the resulting gain to limit your exposure to a long-term capital loss, the deduction of which is limited. And any net capital gain you may reap, will be taxed at the substantially reduced capital gain tax rate.
Flex Spending Accounts. Generally, you will lose any amounts remaining in a health flexible spending account at the end of the year unless your employer allows you to use the account until March 15, 2019, in which case you’ll have until then. You should check with your employer to see if they give employees the optional grace period to March 15.
Accelerating Income into 2018. Depending on your projected income for 2018, it may make sense to accelerate income into 2018 if you expect 2019 income to be significantly higher because of increased income or substantially decreased deductions. Options for accelerating income include: (1) harvesting gains from your investment portfolio, keeping in mind the 3.8 percent NIIT; (2) converting a retirement account into a Roth IRA and recognizing the conversion income this year; (3) taking IRA distributions this year rather than next year; (4) if you are self-employed and have clients with receivables on hand, try to get them to pay before year end; and (5) settling any outstanding lawsuits or insurance claims that will generate income this year.
Deferring Income into 2019. If it looks like you may have a significant decrease in income next year, either from a reduction in income or an increase in deductions, it may make sense to defer income into 2019 or later years. Some options for deferring income include: (1) if you are due a year-end bonus, having your employer pay the bonus in January 2019; (2) if you are considering selling assets that will generate a gain, postponing the sale until 2019; (3) if you are considering exercising stock options, delaying the exercise of those options; (4) if you are planning on selling appreciated property, consider an installment sale with larger payments being received in 2019; and (5) consider parking investments in deferred annuities.
Accelerating Deductions into 2018. If you expect a decrease in income next year, accelerating deductions into the current year can offset the higher income this year. Some options include: (1) prepaying property taxes in December, keeping in mind the $10,000 limitation on deducting state income and property taxes; (2) if you owe state income taxes, making up any shortfall in December rather than waiting until your state income tax return is due (and similarly keeping in mind the $10,000 limitation); (3) making your January mortgage payment in December; (4) since medical expenses are deductible in 2019 only to the extent they exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income and because a lower threshold of 7.5 percent applies in 2018, bunching large medical bills not covered by insurance into 2018 to help overcome this threshold; (5) making any large charitable contributions in 2018, rather than 2019; (6) selling some or all loss stocks; and (7) if you qualify for a health savings account, setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable.
Deferring Deductions into 2019. If you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income next year, it may be advantageous to push deductions into 2019 by: (1) postponing year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent deductions are available for such payments, until next year; and (2) postponing the sale of any loss-generating property.
BUSINESS PLANNING: Tax Updates
Section 179 Deduction. For 2018, businesses can write off up to $1,000,000 of qualifying property under Section 179. The theory is that the money a business saves on taxes, as a result of deducting the full amount of equipment and other business property, can be reinvested back into the business. Additionally, writing off an asset in the year it is purchased, saves you the time and money it takes to keep track of the remaining basis of an asset after its yearly depreciation. The $1,000,000 amount is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount by which the cost of the qualifying property placed in service during the tax year exceeds $2,500,000.
In addition, the definition of property that qualifies for the Section 179 deduction has been expanded to include certain depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging or in connection with furnishing lodging, as well as any of the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems.
New Deduction for Qualified Business Income. One of the biggest changes for 2018 is the new qualified business income deduction. If you are a sole proprietor, a partner in a partnership, a member in an LLC taxed as a partnership, or a shareholder in an S corporation, you may be entitled to a deduction for qualified business income for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026. Trusts and estates are also eligible for this deduction.
While there are important restrictions to taking this deduction, the amount of the deduction is generally 20 percent of qualifying business income from a qualified trade or business. A qualified trade or business means any trade or business other than (1) a specified service trade or business, or (2) the trade or business of being an employee. A “specified service trade or business” is defined as any trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, including investing and investment management, trading, or dealing in securities, partnership interests, or commodities, and any trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees. Engineering and architecture services are specifically excluded from the definition of a specified service trade or business.
New Interest Deduction Limitations. You may have heard about a new limitation on the deduction of interest expense. Effective for 2018, the deduction for business interest is limited to the sum of business interest income plus 30 percent of adjusted taxable income for the tax year. However, there is an exception to this limitation for certain small taxpayers, certain real estate businesses that make an election to be exempt from this rule, businesses with floor plan financing (i.e., a specialized type of financing used by car dealerships), and for certain regulated utilities.
The new law exempts from the interest expense limitation taxpayers with average annual gross receipts for the three-taxable year period ending with the prior taxable year that do not exceed $25 million. Further, at the taxpayer’s election, any real property development, redevelopment, construction, reconstruction, acquisition, conversion, rental, operation, management, leasing, or brokerage trade or business is not treated as a trade or business for purposes of the limitation, and therefore the limitation does not apply to such trades or businesses.
Elimination of Entertainment Deduction. The new tax law also eliminated business deductions for entertainment. As a result, no deduction is allowed with respect to: (1) an activity generally considered to be entertainment, amusement or recreation; (2) membership dues with respect to any club organized for business, pleasure, recreation or other social purposes; or (3) a facility or portion thereof used in connection with any of the above items. Under prior law, there was an exception to this rule for entertainment, amusement, or recreation directly related to (or, in certain cases, associated with) the active conduct of a trade or business. This is no longer the case.
In addition, no deduction is allowed for expenses associated with providing any qualified transportation fringe benefits to your employees, except as necessary for ensuring the safety of an employee, including any expense incurred for providing transportation (or any payment or reimbursement) for commuting between the employee’s residence and place of employment.
A business may still generally deduct 50 percent of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business (e.g., meals consumed by employees during work travel). If meals are combined with entertainment, the meal portion needs to be separately stated in order for the business to deduct the meal expense.
Changes to Partnership Rules. Several changes were made to the partnership tax rules. First, gain or loss from the sale or exchange of a partnership interest is treated as effectively connected with a U.S. trade or business to the extent that the transferor would have had effectively connected gain or loss had the partnership sold all of its assets at fair market value as of the date of the sale or exchange. Any gain or loss from the hypothetical asset sale by the partnership is allocated to interests in the partnership in the same manner as nonseparately stated income and loss.
Second, the transferee of a partnership interest must withhold 10 percent of the amount realized on the sale or exchange of the partnership interest unless the transferor certifies that the transferor is not a nonresident alien individual or foreign corporation.
Third, the definition of a substantial built-in loss has been modified so that a substantial built-in loss is considered to exist if the transferee of a partnership interest would be allocated a net loss in excess of $250,000 upon a hypothetical disposition by the partnership of all of the partnership’s assets in a fully taxable transaction for cash equal to the assets’ fair market value, immediately after the transfer of the partnership interest. This could necessitate the adjustment of the basis of partnership property.
Fourth, TCJA modifies the basis limitation on partner losses to provide that a partner’s distributive share of items that are not deductible in computing the partnership’s taxable income, and not properly chargeable to capital account, are allowed only to the extent of the partner’s adjusted basis in the partner’s partnership interest at the end of the partnership tax year in which an expenditure occurs. Thus, the basis limitation on partner losses applies to a partner’s distributive share of charitable contributions and foreign taxes.
Lastly, the rule providing for technical terminations of partnerships has been repealed.
Changes to S Corporation Rules. Several changes were also made to the tax rules involving S corporations. First, income that must be taken into account when an S corporation revokes its S corporation election is taken into account ratably over six years, rather than the four years under prior law. Second, a nonresident alien individual can be a potential current beneficiary of an electing small business trust (ESBT). Third, the charitable contribution deduction of an ESBT is not determined by the rules generally applicable to trusts but rather by the rules applicable to individuals. Thus, the percentage limitations and carryforward provisions applicable to individuals apply to charitable contributions made by the portion of an ESBT holding S corporation stock.
BUSINESS PLANNING: Ways to Save
Section 179 Expensing and Bonus Depreciation. As discussed above, the Section 179 expensing and bonus depreciation rules have been generously enhanced under TCJA. These changes may create new opportunities to reduce current year tax liabilities through the acquisition of qualifying property – including property placed in service between now and the end of the year.
Vehicle-Related Deductions and Substantiation of Deductions. Expenses relating to business vehicles can add up to major deductions. If your business could use a large passenger vehicle, consider purchasing a sport utility vehicle weighing more than 6,000 pounds. Vehicles under that weight limit are considered listed property and deductions are more limited. However, if the vehicle is more than 6,000 pounds, in some cases the entire of the cost of the vehicle can be immediately expensed.
Retirement Plans and Other Fringe Benefits. Benefits are very attractive to employees. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to consider using benefits rather than higher wages to attract employees. While your business is not required to have a retirement plan, there are many advantages to having one. By starting a retirement savings plan, you not only help your employees save for the future, you can also use such a plan to attract and retain qualified employees. Retaining employees longer can impact your bottom line as well by reducing training costs. In addition, as a business owner, you can take advantage of the plan yourself, and so can your spouse. By offering a retirement plan, you also generate tax savings to your business because employer contributions are deductible and the assets in the retirement plan grow tax free. Additionally, a tax credit is available to certain small employers for the costs of starting a retirement plan. Please let us know if this is an option you would like to discuss further.
This letter only covers some of the year-end tax planning moves that could potentially benefit you and your business. Please contact us if you have questions, want more information, or would like us to help in designing a year-end planning package that delivers the best tax results for your particular circumstances.