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Answers to Your Tax Questions

Last week was an interesting week in the tax office.  You all had questions about the tax law that Congress passed on December 22.  Most of the provisions in the new law take effect now (2018) and all of us get little time to digest and understand the ramifications of this new law as we plan for the new year.

Let’s go through what the new law means to you.  I have summarized the major points that will affect individuals.

Standard Deduction versus Itemized Deductions

Most of our clients file a Schedule A to claim itemized deductions including medical expense, real estate taxes paid, state taxes paid, mortgage interest and mortgage insurance premiums, charitable contributions, investment fees and employee business expenses.

Big changes are coming in this area for 2018.  First, the 2018 standard deduction is almost double what it was in 2017.  Real estate tax and state income tax (SALT) deductions will be limited to $10,000.  This will affect a wide range (both younger and older) clients.  If you don’t have mortgage interest to deduct or significant charitable contributions, you will likely take the standard deduction for 2018.

The higher standard deduction may sound good, but you should consider strategy to make the most of your deductions.  You may be able to load up charitable deductions every other year by making your charitable contributions for 2018 in January 2019 and also in December 2019.  This will help you get “a benefit” for those contributions on your tax return.

For 2018 and 2019, out of pocket medical deductions are deductible when they exceed 7.5% of income.  If it makes sense for elective medical expenses, you may also load those up into one year or another.

For most of my clients, the mortgage interest deduction will not change.  You will still get to deduct 100% of your mortgage interest paid.  However, if you have a home equity line of credit you will lose the deduction for that interest unless the loan proceeds were used for a business purpose.  Also, after December 15, 2017, if you acquire a house which has a mortgage over $750,000 your mortgage interest deduction will be limited to the interest paid on principal up to $750,000.

Personal Exemption and Child Credit

The personal exemption is now gone.  The new tax law takes away this benefit and possibly tries to replace it with a higher standard deduction and a higher child credit.  The good news is that families with children will get a higher benefit ($2,000 per child under 17) if their adjusted gross income is under $400,000 for MFJ or $200,000 for Single taxpayers.  In the OLD tax law, you started to lose the child credit at $110,000 (MFJ) or $75,000 (Single).  This is good news for most families.  Also, the old child credit was not refundable, which means you didn’t get it if you didn’t have enough federal tax.  The new Child Credit has $1,400 per child as refundable, so you get this even if you don’t owe any federal income tax.

The bad news is that your most expensive children (ages 17-24) will not give you a child credit or an exemption!  There is a new $500 non-refundable credit for non-child dependents like your aging parents who live with you.  We will have to see if older children will also qualify for this $500 credit.

Divorce and Alimony

If you are thinking about getting divorced, consider the timing.  Sad advice, I know.  But for any divorce executed after December 31, 2018, alimony will not be deductible by the payor and will not be income to the recipient.

Repeal of Obamacare Individual Mandate

For months beginning after December 31, 2018 (So 2019) the penalty for not having health insurance goes away.  You still have the penalty for 2018 if you don’t have health insurance.

AMT Tax

The AMT tax will go down for most taxpayers.  The AMT is a tax system separate but parallel to regular income tax that hits individual taxpayers in the $200K to $600K range.  Starting in 2018, the AMT exemption amount for individuals goes up by $23,200 (MFJ) and $14,900 (Single).  This will help protect more of your income from AMT tax.  Also, the prior law reduced the AMT exemption if your AMT income exceeded $164,100 (MFJ) or $123,100 (Single).  For 2018, the exemption will not be reduced until your income exceeds $1M (MFJ) and $500K (Single).   These changes in AMT tax will help many taxpayers pay a lower amount of AMT tax.

Moving Expenses

You will no longer be able to deduct moving expenses and employers will not be able to provide a tax-free benefit for paying your moving expenses.  The only exception is for members of the Armed Forces.

Charitable donations

For most of you the new law won’t change anything for your deduction.  You still get to deduct your charitable contributions (if you itemize your deductions -see above).  You can now contribute up to 60% of your income to a non-profit and get a deduction!  However, if you purchase Duck or Beaver or any other college sporting event tickets you will no longer be able to take a charitable deduction for those purchases.

New Deduction for Pass Through Income – New Code Section 199A

A lot of new planning will focus on business entities.  This new law is Code Section 199A the “Qualified Business Income” deduction for S Corps, LLCs and sole proprietors.  This is a complicated new law and will take a lot of analysis for my clients.  Here is the summary:

  • Qualified businesses will be able to deduct up to the lesser of (a) the “combined qualified business income amount” of the taxpayer, or (b) 20% of the excess, if any, of the taxable income of the taxpayer for the tax year over the sum of net capital gain and the aggregate amount of the qualified cooperative dividends of the taxpayer for the tax year; plus
  • (2)  the lesserof: (i) 20% of the aggregate amount of the qualified cooperative dividends of the taxpayer for the tax year, or (ii) taxable income (reduced by the net capital gain) of the taxpayer for the tax year. (Code Sec. 199A(a), as added by Act Sec. 11011)

 

This deduction will not reduce AGI, but will reduce taxable income.  However, there are limitations.

For S Corps or LLC’s the deduction cannot exceed the greater of 50% of wages or 25% of wages plus 2.5% of ‘Qualified Property”.    Sole Proprietors have it best because they get a 20% deduction for their net income regardless of wages paid.

If this seems complicated to you, it is!  I’ve not seen a deduction more complicated than this new business deduction.  I’m happy it is there for small business owners, but it is going to take a lot to determine the best way to pay wages and structure your entity to get the best benefit for this new deduction.