Dear Clients and Friends,
As 2017 ends it is unlikely that any anticipated tax legislation will pass that will effect the 2017 tax year. However, whatever happens, Keefe McCullough is here to keep you updated as events unfold in the tax world.
Until political clarity emerges, however, you’re smart to make the most of established rules in your year-end tax planning, by evaluating your financial situation, selecting what moves will provide the most savings, and executing your plan in a timely manner. Currently available deductions, credits, and other tax benefits will reduce your 2017 tax burden and put you on track to accommodate new planning opportunities as they arise in the future.
This letter offers suggestions and strategies to help you achieve your tax-saving plans. Contact us for answers to questions you may have and to arrange a year-end tax review. As always, feel free to share this letter with friends or associates who are interested in minimizing taxes.
Create a tax-saving plan
to reduce your 2017 tax bill.
Contrary to what you may have heard, there is one sure way to reduce your tax bill: Create a tax-saving plan. And here’s more good news – you still have time to establish and implement your plan before the end of the year. Consider these suggestions as you put your plan together.
Make use of tax deferral strategies
Participating in a retirement plan is a tax deferral strategy with a double benefit. You get to put off paying federal income tax on money you earn currently and you can also put off paying tax on the income earned on the money you deposit in your plan. That is true for a plan you participate in at work, such as a 401(k), a plan you establish for your own business, such as a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan, and an account you set up with income earned from wages, salaries, and tips, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
Also, investors can employ the tax deferral strategy. A simple method is to wait to sell investments that have appreciated in value until your holding period exceeds a year. At that point, you can benefit from long-term capital gain rates, taxed at a 20% rate (23.8% including net investment tax for those with modified adjusted gross income above the threshold). Alternatively, you can wait to sell until you can offset gains with losses from other investments. Of course, you will want to balance this tax-saving strategy with sound investment decisions.
Reduce your taxable income
On your personal income tax return, expenses you can deduct “above-the-line,” standard or itemized deductions, and allowable exemptions for yourself and your family members can all reduce your taxable income. For example, if you are a teacher, you may benefit from the $250 above-the-line deduction for expenses you pay out of pocket such as books and supplies. In addition, this year you can also deduct your expenses for professional development. Above-the-line means the deduction is available even if you don’t itemize.
The last quarter of the year is also a good time to sum up your outlays for expenses that qualify as itemized deductions. These include taxes, home mortgage interest, and charitable contributions, and are generally deductible in the year you pay them. Totaling how much you’ve already paid will show you if you have enough to itemize, or if you might want to consider accelerating or postponing expenses to shift the deductions into the current or future year, whichever gives you the bigger tax benefit.
Tip: If you are age 65 or older, 2016 was the last year the 7.5% threshold for medical expenses is available. Under current law, your medical expenses will need to exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income in order to claim a deduction. If you’re close to meeting the threshold this year, you may want to renew prescriptions before the end of the year, or schedule routine doctor visits.
Are you a business owner? The Section 179 depreciation expensing election can help you claim bigger deductions this year. Recent changes to be aware of is an expanded definition of Section 179 property, which now permanently includes computer software and real property such as qualified leasehold and retail improvements, and restaurant property. Starting in 2016: Air conditioning and heating units are now eligible for Section 179 expensing.
Benefits from Credit
Credits can reduce your personal and business tax dollar for dollar – one reason is they are valuable enough to warrant giving special attention to the details. As an example, if you plan to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit or other education credit this year, be aware you will need a copy of the information statement (Form 1098-T) sent by your school. This year, schools are generally required to report on Form 1098-T which includes only the tuition and qualified expenses that you actually paid. However, you may buy books and credit-eligible materials from a supplier other than your school. Those costs would not be on the Form 1098-T that you receive. To include the expenses in the calculation of your tax benefit, keep receipts as proof of your payments.
Some “green” cars still qualify for federal tax credits too. A new personal or business plug-in electric driven vehicle that was purchased in 2017, may qualify for a credit of as much as $7,500. Eligible vehicles include cars, light trucks, and motorcycles. In general, the vehicle must be under 14,000 pounds and powered by a rechargeable electric motor. There is also a credit for fuel cell motor vehicles, which are powered by cells that convert chemical energy into electricity. The base credit is $4,000 for vehicles weighing less than 8,500 pounds.
A good way to save tax dollars is to avoid paying extra because of missed deadlines or mistakes, including the underpayment of federal estimated tax. If you receive income not subject to withholding such as alimony or rent, verify that you’re on track to pay estimates that total at least the smaller of 90% of the tax for 2017 or 100% of the tax shown on your 2016 return. Special rules apply when your income exceeds $150,000.
Don’t want to make estimated payments? If you have earned income, increasing the amount withheld from your paycheck between now and the end of the year can help avoid a penalty. If you’re married and both working, remember to account for the 0.9% Medicare surtax when your joint income exceeds $250,000 ($200,000-single)..
Looking for more tax planning opportunities? Contact us to schedule a year-end tax review and to explore additional options tailored to your specific circumstances.
Proposed rules make estate planning
an important part of your year-end review
Is your estate plan up-to-date? A year-end review as part of your overall tax planning is a good idea, especially in light of recently issued proposed rules that will make significant changes to certain estate planning techniques. Here’s what you need to know.
What is changing. The IRS withdrew “valuation discounts” rules created when assets are transferred between individuals. These discounts can help reduce the amount of your assets subject to gift and estate taxes, and are particularly relevant when you have more than $5,490,000 in assets ($10.98 million for a couple). Since the top estate and gift tax rate is 40%, taking advantage of these discounts can help reduce the tax bill on your estate.
Who is affected. This type of estate planning usually involves the use of a family limited partnership to transfer ownership of assets such as businesses and real estate from parents to children. With this strategy, control of the partnership is dispersed among family members, making the partnership assets harder to sell. Due to the difficulty in selling, the value of the assets is reduced, creating a valuation discount.
When the change will happen. Currently, the new rules are expected to be finalized in January 2017.
. . . . . . .
Contact us for details, and to schedule a review of your estate plan.
2017 tax rules – a quick review
Income tax rates – Range from 10% to 35% unless taxable income exceeds $418,400 for singles or $470,000 for married couples. Rate on income above those amounts is 39.6%.
Estate & gift tax – Annual tax-free gifts allowed with $14,000 per gift limit. Estate tax exemption of $5,490,000 for 2017 with 40% top tax rate.
Breaks now permanent – 1) optional deduction for state and local sales tax in lieu of state and local income tax; 2) the $250 deduction for classroom supplies paid by teachers; and 3) IRA-to-charity transfer of up to $100,000 by taxpayers 70½ or older.
Hurricane Casualty Losses – The income limitation for casualty losses for those in the affected areas of Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria was removed. The limitation is removed for storm related casualty losses only.
Itemized deductions – Limited for single taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) above $259,400 and married couples with AGI above $313,800.
Alternative minimum tax – Exemption amount for 2017: $53,900 for singles; $83,800 for married filing jointly.
Business expensing – Up to $500,000 for new and used equipment and 50% bonus depreciation for new assets.
Payroll Credits – For businesses located in a designated hurricane area due to Hurricane Harvey, Irma or Maria in 2017 there are credits available for up to 40% of qualified wages up to $2400 ($6,000 wage base). Qualified wages are those paid to the employee for the period of time that the business operation were closed resulting from the storms.
Personal exemptions – Phased out for singles with AGI above $259,400 and marrieds with AGI above $311,300.
Capital gains & dividends – Long-term gains taxed at 15% for most taxpayers. Zero percent for those in 10% and 15% ordinary income brackets; 20% for those in 39.6% ordinary income bracket.
Medicare tax on earned income – Medicare surtax of 0.9% imposed on wages and self-employment income exceeding $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for married couples.
Net investment income tax – A 3.8% tax imposed on unearned income for singles with modified AGI exceeding $200,000 and for couples with modified AGI exceeding $250,000.
Keep up with Affordable Care Act information reporting
As 2018 approaches, turning your attention to your reporting requirements under the health care law can prevent a beginning-of-the-year rush to gather information. Here is what to think about as you prepare for the upcoming filing season.
How many employees you have? The key here is understanding that your employee count includes full-time employees as well as full-time equivalent employees. You’re an “applicable large employer,” or ALE, if your business employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on business days during the preceding calendar year. Special rules apply to related companies with a common owner, seasonal workers, and new employers.
What’s the definition of full-time and full-time equivalent? A full-time employee is one who works an average of 30 or more hours per week (or 130 hours per month). Full-time equivalents are determined by multiplying the number of part-time employees by average hours worked and dividing the result by the hours required for full-time status.
Example. Twenty employees working an average of 15 hours per week are equivalent to 10 full-time employees (20 employees times 15 hours divided by 30 hours).
How do you count employees? Here is the general rule. Add the total number of full-time employees for each month of the prior calendar year to the total number of full-time equivalent employees for each month of the prior calendar year. Divide that number by 12. Is the answer fewer than 50? You’re not an ALE, and you generally have no reporting requirements. If the answer is 50 or more, you are an ALE.
The forms you will need to file. If your employee count reveals that you are an ALE, you’re required to file a Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, for each employee who was a full-time employee for any month of the calendar year. You will also have to file one or more Forms 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns. Form 1095-C informs individual employees about the health coverage offered by your business. Form 1094-C reports the summary of all your Forms 1095-C.
Wrap up tax benefits for year-end charitable gifts
Are you contemplating gifts to charity at the end of this year? Not only do you help out a worthy cause, you can also reduce your 2017 tax bill if you itemize your deductions. Here’s how to make sure you’ll get the full benefit.
The general rule. Generally, you can deduct the full amount of contributions you make to a qualified charitable organization, up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year. Did you make a large contribution? You can carry the excess forward for five years. Just remember that you have to get written acknowledgment from the charity for monetary gifts of $250 or more.
Tip: A contribution made by credit card late in the year is still deductible if posted to your account this year. You can charge an online
donation on December 31, and take a deduction on your 2017 return, even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2018.
“This for that” gifts. When you make a gift of more than $75 that entitles you to receive goods or services in return, the charity must provide a good faith estimate of the goods or services received and the amount of payment exceeding the value of the gift. You can deduct the portion that exceeds the fair market value.
Gifts of your time. Although you can’t deduct the value of volunteer services you provide, you can write off out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of a charity. Examples include long-distance travel, lodging, and local transportation.
Gifts of property. In general, the annual deduction for gifts of property is 30% of your adjusted gross income. You can carry the remainder forward for five years. If you donate appreciated property you have owned for more than a year, in most cases you can deduct the property’s fair market value. You will need an independent appraisal for gifts over $5,000.
Tip: To claim the full deduction, the gift must be used to further the charity’s tax-exempt mission. For instance, if you donate a painting to your alma mater, it must be displayed where students can study it.
If you have questions about charitable giving tax rules, contact us. We’ll help you lock in deductions before January 1.
Form 1095-C (copies sent to employees)
January 31, 2018
Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (copies due to IRS, if filed on paper)
February 28, 2018
Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (copies due to IRS, if filed electronically)
March 31, 2018