Why You May Want to Accelerate Your Property Tax Payment Into 2017

Why You May Want to Accelerate Your Property Tax Payment Into 2017

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Accelerating deductible expenses, such as property tax on your home, into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? It will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. Prepaying property tax may be especially beneficial this year, because proposed tax legislation might reduce or eliminate the benefit of the property tax deduction beginning in 2018.

Proposed changes

The initial version of the House tax bill would cap the property tax deduction for individuals at $10,000. The initial version of the Senate tax bill would eliminate the property tax deduction for individuals altogether.

In addition, tax rates under both bills would go down for many taxpayers, making deductions less valuable. And because the standard deduction would increase significantly under both bills, some taxpayers might no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

2017 year-end planning

You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2017 but that are due in 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return. But you generally can’t prepay property tax that relates to 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return.

Prepaying property tax will in most cases be beneficial if the property tax deduction is eliminated beginning in 2018. But even if the property tax deduction is retained, prepaying could still be beneficial. Here’s why:

  • If your property tax bill is very large, prepaying is likely a good idea in case the property tax deduction is capped beginning in 2018.
  • If you could be subject to a lower tax rate in 2018 or won’t have enough itemized deductions overall in 2018 to exceed a higher standard deduction, prepaying is also likely tax-smart because a property tax deduction next year would have less or no benefit.

However, there are a few caveats:

  • If you’re subject to the AMT in 2017, you won’t get any benefit from prepaying your property tax. And if the property tax deduction is retained for 2018, the prepayment could cost you a tax-saving opportunity next year.
  • If your income is high enough that the income-based itemized deduction reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment may be reduced.
  • While the initial versions of both the House and Senate bills generally lower tax rates, some taxpayers might still end up being subject to higher tax rates in 2018, either because of tax law changes or simply because their income goes up next year. If you’re among them and the property tax deduction is retained, you may save more tax by holding off on paying property tax until it’s due next year.

It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain and whether it will be passed and signed into law this year. We can help you make the best decision based on tax law change developments and your specific situation.

Could the AMT Boost Your 2017 Tax Bill?

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A fundamental tax planning strategy is to accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. This typically will defer (and in some cases permanently reduce) your taxes. But there are exceptions. One is if the additional deductions this year trigger the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Complicating matters for 2017 is the fact that tax legislation might be signed into law between now and year end that could affect year-end tax planning. For example, as released by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would repeal the AMT for 2018 and beyond. But the bill would also limit the benefit of some deductions and eliminate others.

The AMT and deductions

Some deductions that currently are allowed for regular tax purposes can trigger the AMT because they aren’t allowed for AMT purposes:

  • State and local income tax deductions,
  • Property tax deductions, and
  • Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor, such as investment expenses, tax return preparation expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses.

Under traditional AMT strategies, if you expected to be subject to the AMT this year but not next year, to the extent possible, you’d try to defer these expenses until next year. If you ended up not being subject to the AMT this year, in the long-term you generally wouldn’t be any worse off because you could enjoy the tax benefits of these deferred expenses next year.

But under the November 2 version of the House bill, the state and local income tax deduction and certain miscellaneous itemized deductions would be eliminated beginning in 2018. And the property tax deduction would be limited. So if you were to defer such expenses to next year, you might permanently lose some or all of their tax benefit.

Income-related AMT triggers

Deductions aren’t the only things that can trigger the AMT. So can certain income-related items, such as:

  • Incentive stock option exercises,
  • Tax-exempt interest on certain private activity bonds, and
  • Accelerated depreciation adjustments and related gain or loss differences when assets are sold.

If you could be subject to the AMT this year, you may want to avoid exercising stock options. And before executing any asset sales that could involve depreciation adjustments, carefully consider the AMT implications.

Uncertainty complicates planning

It’s still uncertain whether the AMT will be repealed and whether various deductions will be eliminated or limited. The House bill will be revised as lawmakers negotiate on tax reform, and the Senate is releasing its own tax reform bill. It’s also possible Congress won’t be able to pass tax legislation this year.

With proper planning, you may be able to avoid the AMT, reduce its impact or even take advantage of its lower maximum rate (28% vs. 39.6%). But AMT planning is more complicated this year because of tax law uncertainty. We can help you determine the best strategies for your situation.

The Ins and Outs of Tax on “Income Investments”

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Many investors, especially more risk-averse ones, hold much of their portfolios in “income investments” — those that pay interest or dividends, with less emphasis on growth in value. But all income investments aren’t alike when it comes to taxes. So it’s important to be aware of the different tax treatments when managing your income investments.

Varying tax treatment

The tax treatment of investment income varies partly based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at your favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (currently 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket) rather than at your ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay dividends might be more attractive tax-wise than interest-paying income investments, such as CDs and bonds.

But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from:

  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs),
  • Regulated investment companies (RICs),
  • Money market mutual funds, and
  • Certain foreign investments.

Also, the tax treatment of bond interest varies. For example:

  • Interest on U.S. government bonds is taxable on federal returns but exempt on state and local returns.
  • Interest on state and local government bonds is excludable on federal returns. If the bonds were issued in your home state, interest also might be excludable on your state return.
  • Corporate bond interest is fully taxable for federal and state purposes.

One of many factors

Keep in mind that tax reform legislation could affect the tax considerations for income investments. For example, if your ordinary rate goes down under tax reform, there could be less of a difference between the tax rate you’d pay on qualified vs. nonqualified dividends.

While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.

2 ACA Taxes That May Apply to Your Exec Comp

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If you’re an executive or other key employee, you might be rewarded for your contributions to your company’s success with compensation such as restricted stock, stock options or nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC). Tax planning for these forms of “exec comp,” however, is generally more complicated than for salaries, bonuses and traditional employee benefits.

And planning gets even more complicated if you could potentially be subject to two taxes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): 1) the additional 0.9% Medicare tax, and 2) the net investment income tax (NIIT). These taxes apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

Additional Medicare tax

The following types of exec comp could be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold,
  • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election,
  • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised, and
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture.

NIIT

The following types of gains from stock acquired through exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election, and
  • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements.

Keep in mind that the additional Medicare tax and the NIIT could possibly be eliminated under tax reform or ACA-related legislation. If you’re concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed, please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.

Don’t Ignore the Oct. 16 Extended Filing Deadline Just Because You Can’t Pay Your Tax Bill

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The extended deadline for filing 2016 individual federal income tax returns is October 16. If you extended your return and know you owe tax but can’t pay the bill, you may be wondering what to do next.

File by October 16

First and foremost, file your return by October 16. Filing by the extended deadline will allow you to avoid the 5%-per-month failure-to-file penalty.

The only cost for failing to pay what you owe is an interest charge. Because an extension of time to file isn’t an extension of time to pay, generally the interest will begin to accrue after the April 18 filing deadline even if you filed for an extension. If you still can’t pay when you file by the extended October 16 due date, interest will continue to accrue until you pay the tax.

Consider your payment options

So when must you pay the balance due? As soon as possible, if you want to halt the IRS interest charges. Here are a few options:

Pay with a credit card. You can pay your federal tax bill with American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa. But before pursuing this option, ask about the one-time fee your credit card company will charge (which might be deductible) and the interest rate.

Take out a loan. If you can borrow at a reasonable rate, this may be a good option.

Arrange an IRS installment agreement. You can request permission from the IRS to pay off your bill in installments. Approval of your installment payment request is automatic if you:

  • Owe $10,000 or less (not counting interest or penalties),
  • Propose a repayment period of 36 months or less,
  • Haven’t entered into an earlier installment agreement within the preceding five years, and
  • Have filed returns and paid taxes for the preceding five tax years.

As long as you have an unpaid balance, you’ll be charged interest. But this may be at a much lower rate than what you’d pay on a credit card or could arrange with a commercial lender.

Be aware that, when you enter into an installment agreement, you must pledge to stay current on your future taxes.

Act soon

Filing a 2016 federal income tax return is important even if you can’t pay the tax due right now. If you need assistance or would like more information, please contact us.

“Bunching” Medical Expenses Will Be a Tax-smart Strategy for Many in 2017

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Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only if they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible medical expenses into a particular year where possible. If tax reform legislation is signed into law, it might be especially beneficial to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017.

The deduction

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. The 10% floor applies for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

Beginning in 2017, even taxpayers age 65 and older are subject to the 10% floor. Previously, they generally enjoyed a 7.5% floor, except for AMT purposes, where they were also subject to the 10% floor.

Benefits of bunching

By bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

Normally, if it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in the current year, it’s tax-smart to consider accelerating controllable expenses into the current year. But if you’re far from exceeding the floor, the traditional strategy is, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), to put off medical expenses until the next year, in case you have enough expenses in that year to exceed the floor.

However, in 2017, sticking to these traditional strategies might not make sense.

Possible elimination?

The nine-page “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” that President Trump and congressional Republicans released on September 27 proposes a variety of tax law changes. Among other things, the framework calls for increasing the standard deduction and eliminating “most” itemized deductions. While the framework doesn’t specifically mention the medical expense deduction, the only itemized deductions that it specifically states would be retained are those for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

If an elimination of the medical expense deduction were to go into effect in 2018, there could be a significant incentive for individuals to bunch deductible medical expenses into 2017. Even if you’re not close to exceeding the floor now, it could be beneficial to see if you can accelerate enough qualifying expense into 2017 to do so.

Keep in mind that tax reform legislation must be drafted, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President. It’s still uncertain exactly what will be included in any legislation, whether it will be passed and signed into law this year, and, if it is, when its provisions would go into effect. For more information on how to bunch deductions, exactly what expenses are deductible, or other ways tax reform legislation could affect your 2017 year-end tax planning, please contact us.

Investors: Beware of the Wash Sale Rule

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A tried-and-true tax-saving strategy for investors is to sell assets at a loss to offset gains that have been realized during the year. So if you’ve cashed in some big gains this year, consider looking for unrealized losses in your portfolio and selling those investments before year end to offset your gains. This can reduce your 2017 tax liability.

But what if you expect an investment that would produce a loss if sold now to not only recover but thrive in the future? Or perhaps you simply want to minimize the impact on your asset allocation. You might think you can simply sell the investment at a loss and then immediately buy it back. Not so fast: You need to beware of the wash sale rule.

The rule up close

The wash sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on a security if you buy a substantially identical security (or an option to buy such a security) within 30 days before or after you sell the security that created the loss. You can recognize the loss only when you sell the replacement security.

Keep in mind that the rule applies even if you repurchase the security in a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA.

Achieving your goals

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the wash sale rule and still achieve your goals:

  • Sell the security and immediately buy shares of a security of a different company in the same industry or shares in a mutual fund that holds securities much like the ones you sold.
  • Sell the security and wait 31 days to repurchase the same security.
  • Before selling the security, purchase additional shares of that security equal to the number you want to sell at a loss. Then wait 31 days to sell the original portion.

If you have a bond that would generate a loss if sold, you can do a bond swap, where you sell a bond, take a loss and then immediately buy another bond of similar quality and duration from a different issuer. Generally, the wash sale rule doesn’t apply because the bonds aren’t considered substantially identical. Thus, you can achieve a tax loss with virtually no change in economic position.

For more ideas on saving taxes on your investments, please contact us.

Why You Should Boost Your 401(k) Contribution Rate Between Now and Year End

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One important step to both reducing taxes and saving for retirement is to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to that is likely your best first step.

If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate between now and year end. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.

Traditional 401(k)

A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits:

  • Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  • Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
  • Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.

For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000. So if your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, try to increase your contribution rate through the end of the year to get as close to that limit as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pre-tax so income tax isn’t withheld.

If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2017). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.

Roth 401(k)

Employers can include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your plan offers this, you can designate some or all of your contribution as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.

Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. On the other hand, if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement, you may be better off sticking with traditional 401(k) contributions.

Finally, keep in mind that any employer matches to Roth 401(k) contributions will be pretax and go into your traditional 401(k) account.

How much and which type

Have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth contributions? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.

Save More for College Through the Tax Advantages of a 529 Savings Plan

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With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until they’ll be starting their higher education, is a Section 529 plan.

Tax-deferred compounding

529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is quite young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer tax incentives for contributing.

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

More pluses

529 plans offer other benefits as well:

  • They usually have high contribution limits.
  • There are no income-based phaseouts further limiting contributions.
  • There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions.
  • You can control the account, even after the child is a legal adult.
  • You can make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2017. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.

Minimal minuses

One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.

But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.

We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us. We can also tell you about other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.

Watch Out for Potential Tax Pitfalls of Donating Real Estate to Charity

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Charitable giving allows you to help an organization you care about and, in most cases, enjoy a valuable income tax deduction. If you’re considering a large gift, a noncash donation such as appreciated real estate can provide additional benefits. For example, if you’ve held the property for more than one year, you generally will be able to deduct its full fair market value and avoid any capital gains tax you’d owe if you sold the property. There are, however, potential tax pitfalls you must watch out for:

Donation to a private foundation. While real estate donations to a public charity generally can be deducted at the property’s fair market value, your deduction for such a donation to a private foundation is limited to the lower of fair market value or your cost basis in the property.

Property subject to a mortgage. In this case, you may recognize taxable income for all or a portion of the loan’s value. And charities might not accept mortgaged property because it may trigger unrelated business income tax. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to pay off the mortgage before you donate the property or ask the lender to accept another property as collateral for the loan.

Failure to properly substantiate your donation. This can result in loss of the deduction and overvaluation penalties. Generally, real estate donations require a qualified appraisal. You’ll also need to complete Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions,” have your appraiser sign it and file it with your federal tax return. If the property is valued at more than $500,000, you’ll generally need to include the appraisal report as well.

Sale of the property within three yearsThe charity must report the sale to the IRS, and if the price is substantially less than the amount you claimed as a tax deduction, the IRS may challenge your deduction. To avoid this result, be sure your initial appraisal is accurate and well documented.

Sale of the property to someone related to you. If the charity sells the property you donated to your relative (or to someone with whom you negotiated a potential sale), the IRS may argue that the sale was prearranged and tax you on any capital gain.

If you’re considering a real estate donation, plan carefully and contact us for help ensuring that you avoid these pitfalls.