Tax Strategies Under Biden

Tax Strategies Under Biden

With the Presidential election next month, investors may be wondering about what might happen to their taxes if Joe Biden were to win. Let’s take a look at his tax plan and discuss strategies which may make sense for high income investors to consider. I am sharing this now because we might consider steps to take before year end, which is a short window of time.

Let’s start with a few caveats. I am not endorsing one candidate or the other. I am not predicting Biden will win, nor am I bashing his proposals. This is not a political newsletter. Even if he is elected, it is uncertain that he will be able to enact any of these proposals and get them passed through the Senate. The discussion below is purely hypothetical at this point.

My job as a financial planner is to educate and advise my clients to navigate tax laws for their maximum legal benefit. I create value which can can save many thousands of dollars. Some of Biden’s proposals have the potential to raise taxes significantly on certain investors. If he does win, we may want to take steps before December 31, if we think his proposals could be enacted in 2021. I would do nothing now. I expect no significant changes under a continued Trump administration, but I will also be looking for tax strategies for that scenario.

Other Biden proposals will lower taxes for many people. For example, he proposes a $15,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers. I am largely ignoring the beneficial parts of his tax plan in this article, because those likely will not require advance planning.

Tax Changes Proposed by Biden

1. Tax increases on high earners. Biden proposes to increase the top tax rate from 37% back to 39.6%. He would eliminate the Qualified Business Income (QBI) Deduction, which would penalize most self-employed business owners. He would limit the value of itemized deductions to a 28% benefit. For those with incomes over $1 million, he proposes to increase the long-term capital gains and qualified dividend rate to the ordinary income rate, an increase from 20% to 39.6%, plus the 3.8% Medicare surtax. He proposes to add 12.4% in Social Security payroll taxes on income over $400,000.

Strategies:

  • Accelerate earnings, capital gains, and Roth Conversions into 2020 to take advantage of current rates.
  • Accelerate tax deductions into 2020, such as charitable donations or property taxes. Establish a Donor Advised Fund in 2020.
  • Increase use of tax-free municipal bonds, and use ETFs for lower taxable distributions. Shift dividend strategies into retirement accounts.
  • Use Annuities for tax deferral if you anticipate being in a lower bracket in retirement.

2. 26% retirement contribution benefit. Presently, your 401(k) contribution is pre-tax, so the tax benefit of a $10,000 contribution depends on your tax bracket. If you are in the 12% bracket, you would save $1,200 on your federal income taxes. If you’re in the 37% bracket, you’d save $3,700. Biden wants to replace tax deductibility with a flat 26% tax credit for everyone. On a $10,000 contribution to a 401(k), everyone would get the same $2,600 tax credit (reduction). This should incentivize lower income folks to put more into their retirement accounts, because their tax savings would go up, if they are in the 24% or lower bracket. For higher earners, however, this proposal is problematic. What if you only get a 26% benefit today, but will be in the 35% bracket in retirement? That would make a 401(k) contribution a guaranteed loss.

Strategies:

3. End the step-up in cost basis on inherited assets. Currently, when you inherit a house or a stock, the cost basis is reset to its value as of the date of death. Under Biden’s plan, the original cost basis will carry over upon inheritance.

Strategies:

  • If parents are in a lower tax bracket than their heirs, they may want to harvest long-term capital gains to prepay those taxes.
  • Life Insurance would become more valuable as death benefits are tax-free. Or Life Insurance proceeds could be used to pay the taxes that would eventually be due on an inherited business or asset. Read more: The Rate of Return of Life Insurance.

4. Cut the Estate Tax Exemption in half. Presently, the Estate/Gift Tax only applies on Estates over $11.58 million (2020). Biden wants to cut this in half to $5.79 million (per spouse).

Strategies:

  • If your Estate will be over $5.79 million, you may want to gift the maximum amount possible in 2020. Alternatively, strategies such as a Trust could be used to reduce estate taxes. (For example, the Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT) or Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT).)
  • Be sure to use all of your annual gift tax exclusion, presently $15,000 per person.
  • Establish 529 Plans, which will be excluded from your estate.
  • Shift Life Insurance out of your Estate, using an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT).

While we don’t know the outcome of the election, there could be valuable tax strategies under Biden. We will continue to analyze economic proposals from both candidates to develop planning strategies for our clients. When there are significant changes in tax laws, we want to be ahead of the curve to take advantage wherever possible.

12% Roth Conversion

The 12% Roth Conversion

If you make less than $105,050, you’ve got to look into the 12% Roth Conversion. For a married couple, the 12% Federal Income tax rate goes all the way up to $80,250 for 2020. That’s taxable income. With a standard deduction of $24,800, a couple could make up to $105,050 and remain in the 12% bracket. Above those amounts, the tax rate jumps to 22%.

For those who are in the 12% bracket, consider converting part of your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA each year. Convert only the amount which will keep you under the 12% limits. For example, if you have joint income of $60,000, you could convert up to $45,050 this year.

This will require paying some taxes today. But paying 12% now is a great deal. Once in the Roth, your money will be growing tax-free. There will be no Required Minimum Distributions on a Roth and your heirs can even inherit the Roth tax-free. Don’t forget that today’s tax rates are going to sunset after 2025 and the old rates will return. At 12%, a $45,050 Roth conversion would cost only $5,406 in additional taxes this year.

Take Advantage of the 12% Rate

If you have a large IRA or 401(k), the 12% rate is highly valuable. Use every year you can do a 12% Roth Conversion. Otherwise, you are going to have no control of your taxes once you begin RMDs. If you have eight years where you can convert $40,000 a year, that’s going to move $320,000 into a tax-free account. I have so many clients who don’t need their RMDs, but are forced to take those taxable distributions.

Here are some scenarios to consider where you might be in the 12% bracket:

  1. One spouse is laid off temporarily, on sabbatical, or taking care of young children. Use those lower income years to make a Roth Conversion. This could be at any age.
  2. One spouse has retired, the other is still working. If that gets you into the 12% bracket, make a conversion.
  3. Retiring in your 60’s? Hold off on Social Security so you can make Roth Conversions. Once you are 72, you will have both RMDs and Social Security. It is amazing how many people in their seventies are getting taxed on over $105,050 a year once they have SS and RMDs! These folks wish they had done Conversions earlier, because after 72 they are now in the 22% or 24% bracket.

Retiring Soon?

Considering retirement? Let’s say you will receive a $48,000 pension at age 65. (You are lucky to have such a pension – most workers do not!) For a married couple, that’s only $23,200 in taxable income after the standard deduction. Hold off on your Social Security and access your cash and bond holdings in a taxable account. Your Social Security benefit will grow by 8% each year. The 10 year Treasury is yielding 1.6% today. Spend the bonds and defer the Social Security.

Now you can convert $57,050 a year into your Roth from age 65 to 70. That will move $285,250 from your Traditional IRA to a Roth. Yes, that will be taxable at 12%. But at age 72, you will have a lower RMD – $11,142 less in just the first year.

When you do need the money after 72, you will be able to access your Roth tax-free. And at that age, with Social Security and RMDs, it’s possible you will now be in the 22% tax bracket. I have some clients in their seventies who are “making” over $250,000 a year and are now subject to the Medicare Surtax. Don’t think taxes go away when you stop working!

How to Convert

The key is to know when you are in the 12% bracket and calculate how much to convert to a Roth each year. The 12% bracket is a gift. Your taxes will never be lower than that, in my opinion. If you agree with that statement, you should be doing partial conversions each year. Whether that is $5,000 or $50,000, convert as much as you can in the 12% zone. You will need to be able to pay the taxes each year. You may want to increase your withholding at work or make quarterly estimated payments to avoid an underpayment penalty.

What if you accidentally convert too much and exceed the 12% limit? Don’t worry. It will have no impact on the taxes you pay up to the limit. If you exceed the bracket by $1,000, only that last $1,000 will be taxed at the higher 22% rate. Conversions are permanent. It used to be you could undo a conversion with a “recharacterization”, but that has been eliminated by the IRS.

While I’ve focused on folks in the 12% bracket, a Conversion can also be beneficial for those in the 22% bracket. The 22% bracket for a married couple is from $80,250 to $171,050 taxable income (2020). If you are going to be in the same bracket (or higher) in your seventies, then pre-paying the taxes today may still be a good idea. This will allow additional flexibility later by having lower RMDs. Plus, a 22% tax rate today might become 25% or higher after 2025! Better to pay 22% now on a lower amount than 25% later on an account which has grown.

A Roth Conversion is taxable in the year it occurs. In other words, you have to do it before December 31. A lot of tax professionals are not discussing Roth Conversions if they focus solely on minimizing your taxes paid in the previous year. But what if you want to minimize your taxes over the rest of your life? Consider each year you are eligible for a 12% Roth Conversion. Also, if you are working and in the 12% bracket, maybe you should be looking at the Roth 401(k) rather than the Traditional option.

Where to start? Contact me and we will go over your tax return, wage stubs, and your investment statements. From there, we can help you with your personalized Roth Conversion strategy.

Tax Planning

Tax Planning – What are the Benefits?

Taxes are your biggest expense. Tax Planning can help. A typical middle class tax payer may be in the 22% or 24% tax bracket, but Federal Income Taxes are only one piece of their total tax burden. They also pay 7.65% in Social Security and Medicare Taxes. If they’re self-employed, double that to 15.3%. Most of my clients here in Dallas pay $6,000 to $20,000 a year in property taxes, more if they also have a vacation home. After getting to pay taxes on their earnings, they are taxed another 8.25% when they spend money, through sales tax. 

High earners may pay a Federal rate of 35% or 37%, plus a Medicare surtax of 0.9% on earned income and 3.8% on investment income. There’s also capital gains tax of 15% or 20%. Business owners get to pay Franchise Tax and Unemployment Insurance to the state. Add it all up and your total tax bill is probably a third or more of your gross income.

I’m happy to pay my fair share. But I’m not looking to leave Uncle Sam a tip on top of what I owe, so I want make sure I don’t overpay. I help people with their investments, prepare to retire someday, and to make sure they don’t get killed on taxes. It’s vitally important.

The tax code is complex and changes frequently. We have talked about how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes how you should approach tax deductions. This past month, I’ve been talking and writing about the new SECURE Act passed in December.

It’s February and people are receiving their W-2s and 1099s and starting to put together their 2019 tax returns. I like to look at my client tax returns. We can often find ways to help you reduce your tax burden and keep more of your hard-earned money, completely legally.

Two sets of eyes are better than one.

I’m not a tax preparer, and I don’t mean to suggest that your tax preparer is making mistakes. While I have, of course, seen a couple of errors over the years, they are rare. However, I think there is a benefit to having a second set of eyes on your tax return. I may look at things from a different perspective than your CPA or accountant. As a Certified Financial Planner professional and Chartered Financial Analyst, I have extensive training on Tax Planning and have been doing this for over 15 years.

Tax preparers are great at looking at the previous year and calculating what you owe. What I sometimes find is that they don’t always share proactive advice to help you reduce taxes going forward. 

For example, this month, I met with an individual and looked over his 2018 tax return. He would have qualified for the Savers Tax Credit but did not contribute to an IRA. I told him “your CPA probably mentioned this, but last year, if you had contributed $2,000 to a Roth IRA, you would have received a $1,000 Federal Tax Credit”. Nope, he had never heard about this from his long-time preparer, and let’s just say he was displeased. While his tax return was “correct”, it could have been better.

When you become a client of Good Life Wealth Management, I will review your tax return and look for strategies which could potentially save you a significant amount of money. Such as?

5 Areas of Tax Planning

1. Charitable Giving Strategies. It has become more difficult to itemize your deductions and get a tax savings for your charitable giving. We identify the most effective approach for your situation. For example, donating appreciated securities or bunching deductions into one year. If you’re 70 1/2, you could make QCDs from an IRA. Or we could front-load a Donor Advised Fund to take a deduction while you are in a higher tax bracket before retirement. If you are planning to make significant donations, I can help your money go father and have a bigger impact.

2. Tax-advantaged accounts: which accounts are you eligible for and will enable the greatest contribution? No one can tell without looking at your tax return. Let’s maximize your pre-tax contributions to company retirement plans, IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, and FSAs. Often someone thinks they are doing everything possible and we find an additional savings avenue for them or their spouse.

3. Investment Tax Optimization. Do you have a lot of interest income reported on Schedule B? Why are those bonds not in your IRA or retirement account?  Are your investments creating short-term gains in a taxable account? Do you have REITs which don’t qualify for the qualified dividend rate? You could benefit from Asset Location Optimization. 

Showing a lot of Capital Gains Distributions on Schedule D? Many Mutual Funds had huge distributions in 2019. Let’s look at Exchange Traded Funds which have little or no tax distributions until you sell. There may be more tax-efficient investments for your taxable accounts. Are you systematically harvesting losses annually?

4. If you make too much for a Roth IRA, are you a good candidate for a Backdoor Roth IRA?

5. Tax-Efficient Retirement Income. What is the most effective way to structure your withdrawals from retirement accounts and taxable accounts? When should you start pensions or Social Security? How can you minimize taxes in retirement?

I could go on about tax-exempt municipal bonds, tax-free 529 college savings plans, the Medicare surtax, or reducing taxes to your heirs. It’s a long list because almost every aspect of financial planning has a tax component to it. 

Most Advisors Aren’t Doing Tax Planning

Even though taxes are your biggest expense, a lot of financial advisors aren’t offering genuine tax planning. For some, it’s just not in their skill set, they only do investments. For a lot of national firms, management prohibits their advisors from offering tax advice for compliance reasons. Other “advisors” specialize in tax schemes which are designed primarily to sell you an insurance product for a commission. I’m in favor of the right tool for the job, but if you only sell hammers, every problem looks like a nail. 

Tax Planning is making sure that all the parts of your financial life are as tax-efficient as possible. If you’d like a review of your 2018 return before you complete your 2019 taxes, give me a call. I get a better understanding of a client’s situation by reviewing their taxes and I really enjoy digging into a tax return. 

While I can’t guarantee that we can save you a bunch of money on your taxes, we do often have ideas or suggestions to discuss with your tax preparer. That way you can participate more than just dropping off a pile of receipts. If you do your taxes yourself, as many do today, you can ask me “Are there any additional ways to reduce my taxes?” Let’s find out.

2019 Year-End Tax Planning

As 2019 draws to a close, we review our client files to consider if there are any steps we should take before December 31. Here are some important year end strategies we consider.

1. Tax Loss Harvesting

If an ETF, mutual fund, or stock is down, we can harvest that loss to offset any other gains we have realized during the year. Some mutual funds will distribute year end capital gains, so it is often helpful to have losses to offset those gains. If your losses exceed gains for the year, you can use $3,000 in losses to offset ordinary income. This is a great benefit because your ordinary income tax rate is often much higher than the typical (long-term) capital gains rate of 15%. Any additional losses are carried forward into future tax years.

We can immediately replace a sold position with another investment to maintain our target allocation. For example, if we sell a Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF, we could replace it with an iShares Emerging Markets ETF. This way we can realize a tax benefit while staying invested.

2019 has been a terrific year in the market, so there will be very few tax loss trades this year. That’s a good thing. Tax loss harvesting applies only to taxable accounts, and not to IRAs or retirement accounts. Conversely, when we rebalance portfolios and trim positions which have had the largest gains, we aim to realize those gains in IRAs, whenever possible.   

2. Income Tax withholding under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

For 2018, the TCJA lowered the withholding schedules for your federal income tax. Although many people paid lower total taxes for 2018, some were surprised to owe quite a bit in April 2019 when they completed their tax returns. Since your employer doesn’t estimate how much your spouse makes, or what deductions you may have, it is very easy to under-withhold for income taxes.

If you did end up owing taxes for 2018, the situation will likely be the same for 2019 if you have a similar amount of income. For W-2 employees, contact your payroll department to reduce your dependents. If you are already are at zero dependents, and are married, ask them to withhold at the single rate, or to add a set dollar amount to your payroll withholding.
If you are self-employed, you should do quarterly estimated payments. For more information on how to do this, as well as how to avoid underpayment penalties, see my article: What Are Quarterly Tax Payments? 

3. Bunch Itemized Deductions

After the TCJA, the number of tax payers who itemized their deductions fell from around 35% to 10%. If you anticipate having itemized deductions for 2019 (over $12,200 single, $24,400 married), you might want to accelerate any state/local taxes (subject to the $10,000 limit) or charitable contributions to be paid before December 31. Bunch your deductions into one year when possible to make that number as high as possible, and then take the standard deduction in alternate years.
Read more: 9 Ways to Reduce Taxes Without Itemizing

4. IRAs and the Required Minimum Distribution

If you are over age 70 1/2, you have to take a Required Minimum Distribution from your IRAs by December 31. Additionally, if you have an inherited IRA (also called Beneficiary IRA or Stretch IRA), you may also be required to take an RMD before the end of the year. When you have multiple retirement accounts, each RMD will be calculated separately, but it doesn’t matter which account you use for the distribution. As long as the total distribution for the year meets the total RMD amount, you can use any account for the withdrawal.

If you have not met your RMD and are planning charitable contributions before the end of the year, look into making a Qualified Charitable Distribution from your IRA. This offers a tax benefit without having to itemize your return, and the QCD can count towards your RMD.Read more: Qualified Charitable Distributions from Your IRA

How to Pay Zero Taxes on Interest, Dividends, and Capital Gains

How would you like to pay zero taxes on your investment income, including interest, dividends, and capital gains? The only downside is that you have to live in a beautiful warm beach town, where the high is usually 82 degrees and the low in the winter is around 65.

If this sounds appealing to you, you should learn more about the unique tax laws of Puerto Rico. As a US territory, any US citizen can relocate to Puerto Rico, and if you make that your home, you will be subject to Puerto Rico taxes and may no longer have to pay US Federal Income Taxes. You can still collect your Social Security, use Medicare, and retain your US citizenship. (But not vote for President or be represented in Congress!) 

Citizens of Puerto Rico generally do not have to pay US Federal Income Taxes, unless they are a Federal Employee, or have earned income from the mainland US. This means that if you move to PR, your PR-sourced income would be subject to PR tax laws. In 2012, PR passed Act 22, to encourage Individual Investors to relocate to PR. Here are a few highlights:

  • Once you establish as a “bona fide resident”, you will pay zero percent tax on interest and dividends going forward.
  • You will pay zero percent on capital gains that accrue after you establish residency.
  • For capital gains that occurred before you move to PR, that portion of the gain would be taxed at 10%, (reduced to 5% after you have been in PR for 10 years). So if you had enormous long-term capital gains and were facing US taxes of 20% plus the 3.8% medicare surtax, you could move to PR and sell those items later this year and pay only 10% rather than 23.8%.
  • The application for Act 22 benefits costs $750 and if approved, the certificate has a filing fee of $5,000. The program sunsets after 2036. This program is to attract high net worth individuals to Puerto Rico, those who have hundreds of thousands or millions in investment income and gains. If your goal is to retire on $1,500 a month from Social Security, you aren’t going to need these tax breaks.

To establish yourself as a “bona fide resident”, you would need to spend a majority of each calendar year in Puerto Rico, meaning at least 183 days. The IRS is cracking down on fraudulent PR residency, so be prepared to document this and retain proof of travel. Additionally, PR now also requires you to purchase a home in PR and to open a local bank account to prove residency. (Don’t worry, PR banks are covered by FDIC insurance just like mainland banks). Details here on the Act 22 Requirements.

Note that Social Security and distributions from a Traditional IRA or Pension are considered ordinary income and subject to Puerto Rico personal income taxes, which reach a 33% maximum at an even lower level than US Federal Income tax rates. So, Act 22 is a huge incentive if you have a lot of investment income or unrealized capital gains, but otherwise, PR is not offering much tax incentives if your retirement income is ordinary income. 

If you are a business owner, however, and want to relocate your eligible business to Puerto Rico, there are also great tax breaks under Act 20. These include: a 4% corporate tax rate, 100% exemption for five years on property taxes, and then a 90% exemption after 5 years. If your business is a pass-through entity, like an LLC, you may be eligible to pay only 4% taxes on your earnings. If you are in the US, you could be paying as much as 37% income tax on your LLC earnings. Some requirements for Act 20 include being based in PR, opening a local bank account, and hiring local employees.

For self-employed people in a service industry, PR is creating (new for 2019) very low tax rates based on your gross income, of just 6% on the first $100,000, and a maximum of 20% on the income over $500,000. Click here for a chart of the PR personal tax rates and the new Service Tax.
A comparison of Act 20 and Act 22 Benefits are available at  Puerto Rico Business Link

When most people talk about tax havens, they would have to renounce their US citizenship (and pay 23.8% in capital gains to leave), or they’re thinking of an illegal scheme of trying hide assets offshore. If you have really large investment tax liabilities or have a business that you could locate anywhere, take a look at Puerto Rico. Besides the tax benefits, you’ve got great weather, year round golfing, US stores like Home Depot, Starbucks, and Walgreens, and direct daily flights to most US hubs, including DFW, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, New York, and other cities. 

Puerto Rico is still looking to rebuild after the hurricane and it’s probably not the best place to be a middle class worker, but for a wealthy retiree, it might be worth a look. Christopher Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico in 1493 and the cities have Spanish architecture from the seventeenth century. I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but would love to visit sometime in 2019 or 2020. If you’d care to join me for a research trip, let me know!

(Please consult your tax expert for details and to discuss your eligibility. This article should not be construed as individual tax advice.)

The New 2018 Kiddie Tax

Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) significantly changed the way your dependent children are taxed. Previously, they used to be taxed at their parent’s tax rate, but starting this year, their income could be taxed at the egregious “Trust and Estate” rate of 37% with as little as $12,501 in taxable income. With higher deductions, other children will pay less tax in 2018. Both changes give rise to additional planning strategies that parents will want to know before potentially getting a nasty surprise next April when they file their next tax return.

First, let’s define dependent child for IRS purposes. A dependent child includes any child under 18, an 18 year old who does not provide more than 50% of their own support from earned income, or a full-time student who is under age 24 and also does not not provide more than 50% of their own support from earned income. A child’s age for the tax year is the age they are on December 31.

There are different tax methodologies for earned income (wages, salary, tips, etc.) versus unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.) under the Kiddie Tax.

First, some good news, for Earned Income, the standard deduction has been increased to $12,000 for 2018, which greatly increases the amount of income a child can earn income tax-free. Of course, they will still be subject to payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare) on these earnings.

Strategy 1. For Self-Employed Parents: did you know that when you hire your dependent children, you do not have to pay or withhold payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare) on their income. If you hire them, and have legitimate work for them to do, you could shift $12,000 from your high tax rate to their 0% tax rate. If they open a Traditional IRA and contribute $5,500, they could earn $17,500 tax-free. Just be aware that the IRS scrutinizes these arrangements, so be prepared to demonstrate that the work was done and the pay was “reasonable”. (Paying your kids $500 an hour to mow the lawn might be considered excessive.)

For Unearned Income, the Kiddie Tax is more complicated. The standard deduction for unearned income is only $1,050 (or their earned income plus $350 up to the $12,000 maximum). Above this amount, the next $2,100 is taxed at the child’s rate, and then any unearned income above this level is now taxed at the Trust and Estates rate. If a child has a significant UTMA, inherited IRA, or other investment account, this is where their taxes could soar in 2018, especially if they used to be taxed at their parent’s rate, say, of 22%. If their parents were in the highest tax bracket, there would be no change, but for middle class kids with investment income, they now could be taxed at a much higher rate than their parents!

Here are the 2018 Trust and Estates Tax Marginal Rates, which now apply to the Kiddie Tax:
10% on income from $0 to $2,550
24% from $2,551 to $9,150
35% from $9,151 to $12,500
37% over $12,501

Long-Term Capital Gains and Qualified Dividends will be taxed at:
0% if from $0 to $2,600
15% if from $2,601 to $12,700
20% if over $12,701

2. Children with under $1,050 in income do not need to file a tax return.

3. The first $4,700 in long-term capital gains are at the 0% rate (a $2,100 deduction followed by $2,600 at the zero rate). This is an opportunity to gift appreciated shares to a child and then they will not owe any tax on the first $4,700 in capital gains. If you are planning to support your kids and set up a fund for them, or pay for college, why should you pay these taxes if they can be avoided? We can establish a program to make use of this annual 0% exclusion.

4. If a child’s investment income is subject to the Kiddie Tax, and the portfolio is going to be used for college education, a 529 Plan can offer tax-free growth and withdrawals for qualified higher educational expenses. In these cases, 529 Plans have just become more valuable for their tax savings.

5. For some college aged kids, it may be better for the parents to stop listing them as a dependent if eligible. In the past, parents received a personal exemption for each child ($4,050 in 2017), but this was eliminated by the TCJA. It was replaced with an expanded child tax credit of $2,000 in 2018. However, the tax credit only applies to children under 17. Unless you are able to claim a college tax credit, it is possible you are not getting any tax benefits for your college kids over 17. In this case, not claiming them as a dependent, and having your child file their own tax return, may allow them to receive the full standard deduction, save them from the Kiddie Tax, and may even allow them to qualify for the college credit. You would need to verify with your tax professional that your child did in fact have enough earned income to be considered independent.

College financial aid doesn’t exactly follow the IRS guidelines for dependency, and they don’t even ask if a parent lists a child as a dependent or not. Instead, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), has its own form, Am I Dependent or Independent?, which looks at factors including age, degree program, military service, and marital status.

If you’ve got questions on how to best address the Kiddie Tax for your family, let’s talk.

What Are Quarterly Tax Payments?

The IRS requires that tax payers make timely tax payments, which for many self-employed people means having to make quarterly estimated tax payments throughout the year. Otherwise, you could be subject to penalties for the underpayment of taxes, even if you pay the whole sum in April. The rules for underpayment apply to all taxpayers, but if you are a W-2 employee, you could just adjust your payroll withholding and not need to make quarterly payments.

If your tax liability is more than $1,000 for the year, the IRS will consider you to have underpaid if the taxes withheld during the year are less than the smaller of:

1. 90% of your total taxes dues (including self-employment taxes, capital gains, etc.)
2. 100% of the previous year’s taxes paid.

However, for high income earners – those making over $150,000 (or $75,000 if married filing separately) – the threshold for #2 is 110% of the previous year’s taxes. Additionally, the IRS considers this on a quarterly basis: 22.5% per quarter for #1, and 25% per quarter for #2, or 27.5% if your income exceeds $150,000.

Many taxpayers will find it sufficient to make four equal payments throughout the year. If that’s the case, your deadlines are generally April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15. However, if your income varies substantially from quarter to quarter, or if your actual income ends up being lower than the previous year, you may want to adjust your quarterly estimated payments to reflect these changes.

You can estimate your quarterly tax payments using IRS form 1040-ES. Of course, your CPA or tax software should automatically be letting you know if you need to make estimated tax payments for the following year. You can mail in a check each quarter, or you may find it more convenient to make the payment electronically, via IRS.gov/payments.  For full information on quarterly estimated payments, see IRS Publication 505 Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.

Please note that the estimated payments will fulfill the requirement of 100% of last years payment, or 90% of this year’s payment if that figure is lower. However, it is not required that you pay 100% of the current tax bill, so if your income is significantly higher this year, you could still owe a lot of taxes in April even after making quarterly estimated payments.

If you’re self-employed, you don’t need to be a tax expert, but you do need to understand some basics and to make sure you are getting correct advice. When you aren’t being paid as a W-2 employee, it is up to you to make sure you are setting money aside and making those tax payments throughout the year, so that next April you aren’t facing penalties on top of having a large, unexpected tax bill.

Roth Conversions Under the New Tax Law

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will impact Roth Conversions in 2018 and beyond in a number of significant ways for investors. Since I can hear the yawns already through my laptop, here’s why you should care: wouldn’t it be great to have your investment account growing tax-free? Once you are retired, which would you prefer: an account with $100,000 which you could access tax-free or one which will cost you $22,000 or more in taxes to use  your money? Taxes can take a huge bite out of your investment returns.

Quick refresher: A Roth IRA holds after-tax money and grows tax-free. A Conversion is when you take a Traditional IRA, 401(k), or similar account, pay the taxes on it today, and transfer it to your Roth IRA. While that does mean paying taxes now, any future growth in the account would be tax-free. When you withdraw the money from a Roth IRA in retirement, you pay no taxes.

The TCJA has both positive and negative impacts on doing a Roth Conversion:

1. Lower tax rates. Under the TCJA, most people will receive a 1-4% reduction in their marginal tax bracket. For example, the top bracket was 39.6% in 2017 and will be 37% in 2018. If you are in the top bracket, a Roth Conversion is cheaper by 2.6% today.

For a married couple, if your taxable income is under $77,400 you are now in the 12% tax bracket. Paying 12% to convert an IRA to a Roth would be a bargain, but the Conversion plus your taxable income would need to stay under $77,400 to remain in the 12% rate. With a $24,000 standard deduction, a married couple could make as much as $101,400 and be in the 12% bracket.

To add a sense of urgency, don’t forget that the new lower tax rates are only temporary. In 2026, the top rate goes back to 39.6%. I suppose Congress could extend the tax cuts, but no one knows what will happen in eight years. What we do know is that deficits will rise dramatically, which suggests to me the need to have higher taxes in the future.

2. Beneficiary’s Tax Rate. If your beneficiaries – children, grandchildren, or anyone – are in higher tax bracket than you, the tax bill may be lower for you to convert your IRA to a Roth than for the beneficiaries to inherit the IRA. With a Conversion, your heirs inherit your Roth IRA tax-free. Also, converting to a Roth means you do not have to pay any Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) starting at age 70 1/2, allowing your account to grow.

If you were planning to leave your Traditional IRA, perhaps in trust, to your young grandchildren, the TCJA will change how they are taxed. For children under age 18, or under age 24 if full-time students, they used to be taxed at their parent’s tax rate. Now for 2018, the “Kiddie Tax” will increase the tax on unearned income, such as IRA distributions, to the much worse tax rate of trusts, a 37% tax rate on income above $12,500.

3. The TCJA eliminated Recharacterizations. Previously, you could undo a Roth Conversion through a process called a Recharacterization. Why would you want to do that? Let’s say you converted $10,000 of a mutual fund from a Traditional to a Roth IRA in January; you would pay taxes on the $10,000 as income. Now, imagine that the account went down and was worth only $8,000 by November. You’d be pretty mad to pay taxes on $10,000 when your account was then only worth $8,000.

The Recharacterization would let you cancel your Roth Conversion if you didn’t like the outcome within that tax year. You could get a “Do-Over”. The TCJA eliminated Recharacterizations, so now if you do a Roth Conversion, you are stuck with it!

4. Back-Door Roth. Since 2010, there has been a type of Roth Conversion called a Back-Door Roth IRA. It allows high income investors who did not have any IRAs to fund a non-deductible Traditional IRA and then convert it to a Roth. It was a “Back Door” way to fund a Roth IRA if you made too much to qualify under the regular rules. There was discussion in Congress to eliminate the Back Door Roth IRA (as there has been for years), but in the final version of the TCJA, it is still allowed…for now.

So, should you convert your IRA to a Roth? If you are in a low tax bracket, 10% or 12% in 2018, I think it is worth consideration. If you are in a low tax bracket this year and anticipate your income rising substantially in future years, this would be a good year for a Conversion. You don’t have to convert your entire IRA. You could just convert a portion that would stay within your existing tax bracket. I suggest you use outside funds to pay the taxes, rather than the proceeds of the conversion.

If you are planning to leave your IRA to a charity, they can receive the funds without paying any income taxes and you should not do a Roth Conversion. In fact, if your estate plan includes donations to charity, the most tax-efficient solution is to make those donations from your Traditional IRA. Instead, leave your heirs money from taxable investment accounts; they can receive a step-up in cost basis and potentially owe little or no income taxes or capital gains.

If your IRA is invested in equities, converting when the market is at an all-time high is a risk. With the elimination of Recharacterizations, you don’t get a do-over if the stock market tanks after you do a conversion. It would be preferable to do a conversion is when your account is at a low point, such as in a Bear Market. Educate yourself now, and then in the future, if the market does go down by 25% or 30%, that would be an advantageous time to convert your investments to a tax-free Roth to enjoy the likely subsequent rebound.

In the mean time, if you have questions about Roth Conversions, or just choosing a Roth versus Traditional account for your 401(k), please send me a note. A Roth Conversion could possibly save you tens of thousands of dollars in retirement, which would definitely help elevate your lifestyle. It’s a big decision – often costing thousands of dollars in taxes today – so we have to make sure we are making a well-informed choice and have a thorough understanding of the costs and benefits.

FAQs: New 20% Pass Through Tax Deduction

You’ve probably heard about the new 20% tax deduction for “Pass Through” entities under the  Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), and have wondered if you qualify. For those who are self-employed, here are the five FAQs:

1. Do I have to form a corporation in order to qualify for this benefit?
No. The good news is that you simply need to have Schedule C income, whether you are a sole proprietor (including 1099 independent contractor for someone else), or an LLC, Partnership, or S-Corporation.

2. How does it work?
If you report on Schedule C, your Qualified Business Income (QBI) may be eligible for this deduction of 20%, meaning that only 80% of your net income will be taxable. Only business income – and not investment income – will qualify for the deduction. Although we call this a deduction, please note that you do not have to “itemize”, the QBI deduction is a new type of below the line deduction to your taxable income. The deduction starts in the 2018 tax year; 2017 is under the old rules.

There are some restrictions on the deduction. For example, your deduction is limited to 20% of QBI or 20% of your household’s taxable ordinary income (i.e. after standard/itemized deductions and excluding capital gains), whichever is less. If 100% of your taxable income was considered QBI, your deduction might be for less than 20% of QBI. If you are owner of a S-corp, you will be expected to pay yourself an appropriate salary, and that income will not be eligible for the QBI. If you have guaranteed draws as an LLC, that income would also be excluded from the QBI deduction.

3. What is the Service business restriction?
In order to prevent a lot of doctors, lawyers, and other high earners from quitting as employees and coming back as contractors to claim the deduction, Congress excluded from this deduction “specified service businesses”, including those in health, law, accounting, performing arts, financial services, athletics, consulting, or any business which relies primarily on the “reputation or skill of 1 or more employees”. Vague enough for you? High earning self-employed people in one of these “specified service businesses” are not eligible for the 20% deduction.

4. Who is considered a high earner under the Specified Service restrictions?
If you are in a Specified Service business and your taxable income is below $157,500 single or $315,000 married, you are eligible for the full 20% deduction. The QBI deduction will then phaseout for income above this level over the next $50,000 single or $100,000 married. Professionals in a Specified Service making above $207,500 single or $415,000 married are excluded completely from the 20% QBI deduction.

5. Should I try to change my W-2 job into a 1099 job?
First of all, that may be impossible. Each employer is charged with correctly determining your status as an employee or independent contractor. These are not simply interchangeable categories. The IRS has a list of characteristics for being an employee versus an independent contractor. Primarily, if a company is able to dictate how you do your work, then you are an employee. It would not be appropriate for an employer to list one person as a W-2 and someone else doing the same work as a 1099.

Additionally, as a W-2 employee, you have many benefits. Your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare payroll tax (half is 7.65%). As an employee you may be eligible for benefits including health insurance, vacation, unemployment benefits, workers comp for injuries, and the right to unionize. You would have a lot to lose by not being an employee.

Even still, I expect we are going to see a lot of creative accounting in the years ahead for people trying to reclassify their employment from W-2 to pass-through status. Additionally, businesses which are going to be under the dreaded “specified services” list will be looking for ways to change their industry classification. We will continue to study this area looking for ways for our clients to take advantage of every benefit you can legally obtain.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as individual financial advice. Contact your CPA or tax consultant for details on how the new law will impact your specific situation.

9 Ways to Reduce Taxes Without Itemizing

If you used to itemize your tax deductions, chances are you will not be able to do so in 2018 under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While it sounds good that the standard deduction has been increased to $12,000 single and $24,000 married, many tax payers are lamenting that they no longer can deduct certain expenses from their taxes.

As of January 1, we’ve lost these deductions:

  • Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions, including all unreimbursed employee expenses, tax preparation fees, moving expenses for work, and investment management fees.
  • Interest payments on a Home Equity Loan
  • Property Tax and other state and local taxes are now capped at $10,000 towards your itemized deductions.

For a married couple, even if you have the full $10,000 in property tax expenses, you will need another $14,000 in mortgage interest and/or charitable donations before you reach the $24,000 standard deduction amount. Even if you do have $25,000 in deductible expenses, you would effectively be getting only $1,000 more in deductions than someone who spent zero.

Under the new law, people are no longer going to be able to say “it’s a great tax deduction” when buying an expensive home. When you take the standard deduction, you’re not getting any tax benefit from being a homeowner or having a mortgage.

So if you’ve lost your itemized tax deductions for 2018, can you you do anything to reduce your taxes? Thankfully, the answer is yes. I’m going to share with you 9 “above the line deductions” and Tax Credits you can use to lower your tax bill going forward.

Above The Line Deductions reduce your taxable income without having to itemize on Schedule A. All of these savings can be taken in addition to the standard deduction.

1. Increase your contributions to your 401(k) or employer retirement plan. For 2018, the contribution limits are increased to $18,500 and for those over age 50, $24,500. What a great way to build your net worth and make automatic investments towards your future.

2. Many people who think they are maximizing their 401(k) contributions don’t realize they or their spouse may be eligible for other retirement contributions. If you have any 1099 or self-employment income, you may be eligible to fund a SEP-IRA in addition to a 401(k) at your W-2 job. Spouses can be eligible for their own IRA contribution, even if they do not work outside of the home.

3. Health Savings Accounts are unique as the only account type where you make a pre-tax contribution and also get a tax-free withdrawal for qualified expenses. You can contribute to an HSA if you are enrolled in an eligible High Deductible Health Plan. There are no income restrictions on an HSA. For 2018, singles can contribute $3,450 to an HSA and those with a family plan can contribute $6,900. If you are 55 and over, you can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.

4. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or “cafeteria plans” can be used for expenses such as child care, medical expenses, or commuting. These are often use it or lose it benefits, unlike an HSA, so plan ahead carefully. If your employer offers an FSA, participating will lower your taxable income.

5. The Student Loan Interest deduction remains an above-the-line deduction. This offers up to a $2,500 deduction for qualifying student loan interest payments, for those with an AGI below $65,000 single or $130,000 married filing jointly. This was removed from early versions of the TCJA but made it back into the final version.

Tax deductions reduce your taxable income, but Tax Credits are better because they reduce the amount of tax you owe. For example, if you are in the 24% tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction and a $240 Tax Credit would both reduce your taxes by $240.

Tax Credits should be automatically applied by your CPA or tax software. For example, if you have children, you should get the Child Tax Credit, if eligible. (Since it’s only February, there is still time to make a child for a 2018 tax credit!) If you are low income, still file a return, because you might qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. But there are other tax credits where you might be eligible based on your actions during the year. Here are four Tax Credits:

6. The Saver’s Tax Credit helps lower income workers fund a retirement account such as an IRA. For 2018, the Savers Tax Credit is available to singles with income below $31,500 and married couples under $63,000. The credit ranges from 10% to 50% of your retirement contribution of up to $2,000. Note for married couples, if you qualify for the credit, it would be better to put $2,000 in both of your IRAs, and receive two credits, versus putting $4,000 in one IRA and only getting one credit. If you have a child over 18, who is not a dependent and not a full-time student, maybe you can help them fund a Roth IRA and they can get this Tax Credit. Read the details in my article The Saver’s Tax Credit.

7. Originally cut out of the House bill, the $7,500 Tax Credit for the purchase of an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle was reinstated in the final version of the TCJA signed into law. The credit is phased out after each manufacturer hits 200,000 vehicles sold, so if you were planning to add your name to the 450,000 people on the waitlist for a Tesla Model 3, forget about the Tax Credit. But there are many other cars and SUVs eligible for the credit which you can buy right now. There are no income limits on this credit, but please note that this one is not refundable. That means it can reduce your tax liability to zero, but you will not get a refund beyond zero. For example, if your total taxes owed is $5,200, you could get back $5,200, but not the full $7,500.

8. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. To help parents who work pay for daycare for a child under 13, you can claim a credit based on expenses of $3,000 (one child) or $6,000 (two or more children). Depending on your income, this is either a 20% or 35% credit, but there is no income cap.

9. New for 2018: The $500 Non-Child Dependent Tax Credit. If you have a dependent who does not qualify for the Child Tax Credit, such as an elderly parent or disabled adult child, you are now eligible for a $500 credit from 2018 through 2025.

Even with the loss of many itemized deductions, you can reduce your tax bill with these nine above the line deductions and Tax Credits. We are focused on how we can help you achieve Financial Security, whether that is through long-term, diversified investment strategies, by helping you save on taxes, or making sure you have enough money for as long as you live. Thanks for reading!