Game the Increased Standard Deduction Allowances. The TCJA almost doubled the standard deduction amounts. For 2018, the amounts are $12,000 for singles and those who use married filing separate status (up from $6,350 for 2017), $24,000 for married joint filing couples (up from $12,700), and $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,350). If your total annual itemizable deductions for 2018 will be close to your standard deduction amount, consider making additional expenditures before year-end to exceed your standard deduction. That will lower this year’s tax bill. Next year, you can claim the standard deduction, which will be increased a bit to account for inflation.
The easiest deductible expense to accelerate is included in your house payment due on January 1. Accelerating that payment into this year will give you 13 months’ worth of interest in 2018. Although the TCJA put new limits on itemized deductions for home mortgage interest, you are probably unaffected. Check with us if you are uncertain.
Also, consider state and local income and property taxes that are due early next year. Prepaying those bills before year-end can decrease your 2018 federal income tax bill because your itemized deductions will be that much higher. However, the TCJA decreased the maximum amount you can deduct for state and local taxes to $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separate status). So, beware of this new limitation.
Accelerating other expenditures could cause your itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction in 2018. For example, consider making bigger charitable donations this year and smaller contributions next year to compensate. Also, consider accelerating elective medical procedures, dental work, and vision care. For 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), assuming you itemize.
Carefully Manage Investment Gains and Losses in Taxable Accounts. If you hold investments in taxable brokerage firm accounts, consider the tax advantage of selling appreciated securities that have been held for over 12 months. The maximum federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains recognized in 2018 is only 15% for most folks, although it can reach a maximum of 20% at higher income levels. The 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) also can apply at higher income levels.
To the extent you have capital losses that were recognized earlier this year or capital loss carryovers from pre-2018 years, selling winners this year will not result in any tax hit. In particular, sheltering net short-term capital gains with capital losses is a sweet deal because net short-term gains would otherwise be taxed at higher ordinary income rates.
What if you have some loser investments that you would like to unload? Biting the bullet and taking the resulting capital losses this year would shelter capital gains, including high-taxed short-term gains, from other sales this year.
If selling a bunch of losers would cause your capital losses to exceed your capital gains, the result would be a net capital loss for the year. No problem! That net capital loss can be used to shelter up to $3,000 of 2018 ordinary income from salaries, bonuses, self-employment income, interest income, royalties, and whatever else ($1,500 if you use married filing separate status). Any excess net capital loss from this year is carried forward to next year and beyond.
In fact, having a capital loss carryover into next year could turn out to be a pretty good deal. The carryover can be used to shelter both short-term and long-term gains recognized next year and beyond. This can give you extra investing flexibility in those years because you won’t have to hold appreciated securities for over a year to get a preferential tax rate. Since the top two federal rates on net short-term capital gains recognized in 2019 and beyond are 35% and 37% (plus the 3.8% NIIT, if applicable), having a capital loss carryover into next year to shelter short-term gains recognized next year and beyond could be a very good thing.
Take Advantage of 0% Tax Rate on Investment Income. The TCJA retained the 0%, 15%, and 20% rates on Long-term Capital Gains (LTCGs) and qualified dividends recognized by individual taxpayers. However, for 2018–2025, these rates have their own brackets that are not tied to the ordinary income brackets. Here are the brackets for 2018:
|Single||Joint||Head of Household|
|Beginning of 15% bracket||38,601||77,201||51,701|
|Beginning of 20% bracket||425,801||479,001||452,401|
Note: The 3.8% NIIT can hit LTCGs and dividends recognized by higher-income individuals. This means that many folks will actually pay 18.8% (15% + 3.8% for the NIIT) and 23.8% (20% + 3.8%) on their 2018 LTCGs and dividends.
Convert Traditional IRAs into Roth Accounts. The best profile for the Roth conversion strategy is when you expect to be in the same or higher tax bracket during your retirement years. The current tax hit from a conversion done this year may turn out to be a relatively small price to pay for completely avoiding potentially higher future tax rates on the account’s earnings.
Take Advantage of Principal Residence Gain Exclusion Break. Home prices are on the upswing in many areas. More good news: Gains of up to $500,000 on the sale of a principal residence are completely federal-income-tax-free for qualifying married couples who file joint returns. $250,000 is the gain exclusion limit for qualifying unmarried individuals and married individuals who file separate returns. To qualify for the gain exclusion break, you normally must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for a total of at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date. You’ll definitely want to take these rules into consideration if you’re planning on selling your home in today’s improving real estate environment.
Don’t Overlook Estate Planning. The unified federal estate and gift tax exemption for 2018 is a historically huge $11.18 million, or effectively $22.36 million for married couples. Even though these big exemptions may mean you are not currently exposed to the federal estate tax, your estate plan may need updating to reflect the current tax rules. Also, you may need to make some changes for reasons that have nothing to do with taxes. Contact us if you think you could use an estate planning tune-up.
Year-end Planning Moves for Small Businesses
Establish a Tax-favored Retirement Plan. If your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan, now might be the time to take the plunge. Current retirement plan rules allow for significant deductible contributions. For example, if you are self-employed and set up a SEP-IRA, you can contribute up to 20% of your self-employment earnings, with a maximum contribution of $55,000 for 2018. If you are employed by your own corporation, up to 25% of your salary can be contributed with a maximum contribution of $55,000.
Other small business retirement plan options include the 401(k) plan (which can be set up for just one person), the defined benefit pension plan, and the SIMPLE-IRA. Depending on your circumstances, these other types of plans may allow bigger deductible contributions.
The deadline for setting up a SEP-IRA for a sole proprietorship and making the initial deductible contribution for the 2018 tax year is 10/15/19 if you extend your 2018 return to that date. Other types of plans generally must be established by 12/31/18 if you want to make a deductible contribution for the 2018 tax year, but the deadline for the contribution itself is the extended due date of your 2018 return. However, to make a SIMPLE-IRA contribution for 2018, you must have set up the plan by October 1. So, you might have to wait until next year if the SIMPLE-IRA option is appealing.
Contact us for more information on small business retirement plan alternatives, and be aware that if your business has employees, you may have to cover them too.
Take Advantage of Liberalized Depreciation Tax Breaks. Thanks to the TCJA, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that is acquired and placed in service in calendar year 2018. That means your business might be able to write off the entire cost of some or all of your 2018 asset additions on this year’s return. So, consider making additional acquisitions between now and year-end. Contact us for details on the 100% bonus depreciation break and what types of assets qualify.
Claim 100% Bonus Depreciation for Heavy SUVs, Pickups, or Vans. The 100% bonus depreciation provision can have a hugely beneficial impact on first-year depreciation deductions for new and used heavy vehicles used over 50% for business. That’s because heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans are treated for tax purposes as transportation equipment that qualifies for 100% bonus depreciation. However, 100% bonus depreciation is only available when the SUV, pickup, or van has a manufacturer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) above 6,000 pounds. The GVWR of a vehicle can be verified by looking at the manufacturer’s label, which is usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame. If you are considering buying an eligible vehicle, doing so and placing it in service before the end of this tax year could deliver a juicy write-off on this year’s return.
Claim Bigger First-year Depreciation Deductions for Cars, Light Trucks, and Light Vans. For both new and used passenger vehicles (meaning cars and light trucks and vans) that are acquired and placed in service in 2018 and used over 50% for business, the TCJA dramatically increased the so-called luxury auto depreciation limitations. For passenger vehicles that are acquired and placed in service in 2018, the luxury auto depreciation limits are as follows:
- $18,000 for Year 1 if bonus depreciation is claimed.
- $16,000 for Year 2.
- $9,600 for Year 3.
- $5,760 for Year 4 and thereafter until the vehicle is fully depreciated.
These allowances are much more generous than under prior law. Note that the $18,000 first-year luxury auto depreciation limit only applies to vehicles that cost $58,000 or more. Vehicles that cost less are depreciated over six tax years using depreciation percentages based on their cost. Contact us for details.
Cash in on More Generous Section 179 Deduction Rules. For qualifying property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018, the TCJA increased the maximum Section 179 deduction to $1 million (up from $510,000 for tax years beginning in 2017). The Section 179 deduction phase-out threshold amount was increased to $2.5 million (up from $2.03 million). The following additional beneficial changes were also made by the TCJA.
Qualifying Real Property. As under prior law, Section 179 deductions can be claimed for qualifying real property expenditures, up to the maximum annual Section 179 deduction allowance ($1 million for tax years beginning in 2018). There is no separate limit for qualifying real property expenditures, so Section 179 deductions claimed for real property reduce the maximum annual allowance dollar for dollar. Qualifying real property means any improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that is placed in service after the date the building is first placed in service, except for expenditures attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, or the building’s internal structural framework.
For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the TCJA expanded the definition of real property eligible for the Section 179 deduction to include qualified expenditures for roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems for nonresidential real property. To qualify, these items must be placed in service in tax years beginning after 2017 and after the nonresidential building has been placed in service.
Time Business Income and Deductions for Tax Savings. If you conduct your business using a pass-through entity (sole proprietorship, S corporation, LLC, or partnership), your shares of the business’s income and deductions are passed through to you and taxed at your personal rates. Assuming the current tax rules will still apply in 2019, next year’s individual federal income tax rate brackets will be the same as this year’s (with modest bumps for inflation). In that case, the traditional strategy of deferring income into next year while accelerating deductible expenditures into this year makes sense if you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket next year. Deferring income and accelerating deductions will, at a minimum, postpone part of your tax bill from 2018 until 2019.
On the other hand, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019, take the opposite approach. Accelerate income into this year (if possible) and postpone deductible expenditures until 2019. That way, more income will be taxed at this year’s lower rate instead of next year’s higher rate. Contact us for more information on timing strategies.
Maximize the New Deduction for Pass-through Business Income. The new deduction based on Qualified Business Income (QBI) from pass-through entities was a key element of the TCJA. For tax years beginning in 2018–2025, the deduction can be up to 20% of a pass-through entity owner’s QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply at higher income levels and another restriction based on the owner’s taxable income. The QBI deduction also can be claimed for up to 20% of income from qualified REIT dividends and 20% of qualified income from publicly-traded partnerships.
For QBI deduction purposes, pass-through entities are defined as sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs that are treated as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, partnerships, LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes, and S corporations. The QBI deduction is only available to noncorporate taxpayers (individuals, trusts, and estates).