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Also see: CPA Year-End Tax Planning Guide for Businesses.

An In-Depth Look: Practitioner's Year-End Tax Planning Guide for INDIVIDUALS Post TCJA
(Includes Links to Year-End Client Letters)

(Parker Tax Publishing November 2018)

The first installment of Parker's annual two-part series on year-end tax planning recaps 2018's major changes affecting individual taxpayers and the implications of those changes for year-end tax moves. The online version of the article includes links to sample year-end client letters for individuals and businesses.

CLIENT LETTERS for both individuals and businesses are available online now -

Practice Aid: Use Parker's CPA Sample Client Letters as a template or just sign your name at the bottom. See Our Sample Client Letter for INDIVIDUALS and BUSINESSES.

Introduction

Changes enacted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) last December will have a significant impact on 2018 year-end tax planning. The TCJA changes represent the most sweeping changes to the Internal Revenue Code since the 1986 Tax Reform Act.

For individuals, the most significant changes for 2018 tax returns include the following:

(1) a reduction in tax rates;

(2) the repeal of the deduction for personal exemptions;

(3) the increase in the standard deduction and its effect on itemized deductions;

(4) the limitation on the deduction for state and local income and property taxes;

(5) a temporary reduction in the medical expense deduction floor;

(6) the elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions;

(7) the limitation on the mortgage interest deduction;

(8) changes to charitable contribution rules;

(9) increased AMT exemption and phase-out amounts;

(10) the expansion of the child tax credit, including a new credit for certain dependents who are not a "qualifying child" for purposes of the child tax credit

(11) the repeal of a taxpayer's ability to undo a Roth IRA conversion;

(12) the simplification of the "kiddie tax" calculation;

(13) the repeal of the alimony deduction for divorce agreements executed after 2018;

(14) the partial repeal of the deduction for casualty and theft losses, and

(15) the inclusion of income previously excluded from employee income.

TCJA also added a new 20 percent deduction for qualified business income under Code Sec. 199A. This new deduction will be discussed in an article on year-end tax planning for businesses, which will appear in the November 19, 2018, issue of Parker's Federal Tax Bulletin.

One item that was not affected by TCJA is the net investment income tax and the Medicare surtax. High-income taxpayers continue to be subject to the 3.8 percent net investment income tax and/or the .9 percent Medicare surtax.

The due date for filing 2018 tax returns is Monday, April 15, 2019. If the return is extended, the due date is Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

It's also worth noting that, as with prior years, the IRS is prohibited from issuing any refunds before February 15 for returns claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC) and/or the additional child tax credit (ACTC). The refund delay allows the IRS additional time to process such returns and prevent revenue loss due to identity theft and refund fraud relating to fabricated wages and withholdings. The IRS will therefore hold the entire refund until after February 14, even if only part of it is due to the EITC and/or the ACTC.

Tax Rate Reductions

A centerpiece of TCJA's individual tax provisions is the reduction in income tax rates. While TCJA kept the same number of tax brackets for individuals as last year, many tax rates are two to three percentage points lower than prior years. The top rate is reduced from 39.6 percent to 37 percent and kicks in at higher taxable income levels - $600,000 of taxable income for joint filers, $300,000 for married taxpayers filing separately, and $500,000 for all other individual taxpayers.

The 2018 tax rates are 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%, compared with the 2017 tax rates of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%. However, while applicable tax rates at any given level of income have generally gone down by two to three points, some individuals will see an increase in taxes due to the tax brackets at which the rates apply. For example, the tax rate for single taxpayers with taxable income between $200,000 and $400,000 goes from 33 percent to 35 percent (head of household filers face a similar jump, but at a slightly different breakpoint).

Observation: Because tax rates remain progressive, taxpayers will continue to have an incentive to shift income between tax years, depending on whether they expect their income to increase or decrease. In some cases, TCJA blunted the incentive by the relative flattening of rates (e.g., the difference between the highest and second highest rates is now just 2%, down from a 4.6% difference under prior law). But, in other situations, TCJA enhanced the incentive (most notably, for taxpayers with income near the threshold between the new 24% and 32% brackets).

The tax rate for net capital gain is generally no higher than 15 percent for most taxpayers. A 0 percent rate applies where income is not above $38,600 (single), $77,200 (joint), or $51,700 (head of household). However, a 20 percent tax rate on net capital gain does apply to the extent that ordinary taxable income is over $425,800 (single), $479,000 (joint), $239,500 (married filing separately), or $452,400 (head of household). There are a few other exceptions where capital gains may be taxed at rates greater than 15 percent: (1) the taxable part of a gain from selling certain qualified small business stock is taxed at a maximum 28 percent rate; (2) net capital gains from selling collectibles (such as coins or art) are taxed at a maximum 28 percent rate; and (3) the portion of certain unrecaptured gain from selling real property is taxed at a maximum 25 percent rate.

Elimination of Personal Exemptions in Exchange for an Increase in the Standard Deduction

While TCJA eliminated the personal exemption deduction, it increased the standard deduction to $12,000 (up from $6,350 in 2017) for single individuals, $18,000 (up from $9,350 in 2017) for head of household, $24,000 (up from $12,700 in 2017) for married filing jointly and surviving spouses, and $12,000 (up from $6,350 for 2017) for married filing separately. An additional $1,300 to $1,600 is available for aged and blind taxpayers.

The increased standard deduction may or may not benefit a taxpayer, depending on that individual's circumstances. For example, an individual with 2018 income similar to prior years who had previously itemized deductions because such deductions marginally exceeded the lower standard deduction amounts available to that individual, will likely see a decrease in his or her tax bill by taking the standard deduction in lieu of itemizing. On the other hand, a single parent (i.e., using head of household filing status) with four or five children may be worse off because the parent loses those personal exemptions and the increased standard deduction won't make up for that loss. However, the increase in the child tax credit may help mitigate this result.

Regardless of who wins or loses individually, overall, far fewer taxpayers will be in a position to itemize beginning in 2018 because of the near doubling in the amount of the standard deduction (21 million fewer, according to the Tax Policy Institute). Consequently, practitioners can't assume that a client who has itemized in the past will benefit from itemizing in 2018, and may need to reevaluate on a case by case basis before recommending year-end strategies based on the timing of itemized deductions.

Limitation on State and Local Income and Property Tax Deduction

Even for taxpayers who will continue to itemize post-TCJA, one of the mainstays of year-end planning - the timing of state and local tax payments - may no longer be relevant because of a new deduction cap.

Beginning with 2018 tax returns, individuals have to contend with a new $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately) limitation on combined state income and property tax deductions. If the reduced deductions are not offset by the increased standard deduction, such individuals are apt to see an increase in taxable income and federal income taxes. And, because most states that impose income taxes use federal taxable income as a starting point for calculating state income taxes, the increase in federal taxable income can have a corresponding increase in state taxable income and state income taxes. While the federal state income tax deduction is generally added back in calculating a taxpayer's state income tax, most states with an income tax allow individuals to deduct their state property taxes for state income tax purposes. But if those property taxes aren't deducted on the federal return, they also won't reduce state taxable income unless states pass laws allowing such deductions.

Practice Tip: Practitioners may want to recommend that clients with a second home that don't already do so, consider renting the home for 15 or more days during the year. In that situation, a client can deduct an allocable portion of the home's property taxes, as well as mortgage interest, on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss.

In light of the changes limiting the federal deduction for state income and property taxes, some states have enacted legislation aimed at circumventing these restrictions by allowing individuals to make charitable contributions, the deductions of which are not limited for federal tax purposes, to state sanctioned charities, many of which are education related. In exchange, the individual receives a state tax credit, thus reducing his or her state taxes. While such legislation was newly enacted in 2018 in several high-income states, many other states already had such laws on the books.

In 2018, the IRS issued proposed regulations aimed at curbing the benefits associated with these new laws. However, the regulations are not limited to newly enacted laws; they also reduce benefits received by taxpayers under state tax credit exchange rules that have been in place for many years. Thus, practitioners need to be concerned with those laws as well and, where they may not have thought twice about clients making contributions in exchange for state tax credits before, they will now have to do so now.

The proposed regulations provide that, when a taxpayer receives or expects to receive a state or local tax credit in return for a payment or transfer to an entity listed in Code Sec. 170(c) (i.e., a nonprofit or tax-exempt entity), the receipt of this tax benefit constitutes a quid pro quo that may preclude a full charitable contribution deduction under Code Sec. 170(a). Under the proposed regulations, if a taxpayer makes a payment or transfers property to or for the use of an entity listed in Code Sec. 170(c), the amount of the taxpayer's charitable contribution deduction under Code Sec. 170(a) is reduced by the amount of any state or local tax credit that the taxpayer receives or expects to receive in consideration for the taxpayer's payment or transfer.

For example, if a state grants a 70 percent state tax credit and the taxpayer pays $1,000 to an eligible entity, the taxpayer receives a $700 state tax credit. The taxpayer must reduce the $1,000 contribution by the $700 state tax credit, leaving an allowable contribution deduction of $300 on the taxpayer's federal income tax return. The proposed regulations also apply to payments made by trusts or decedents' estates in determining the amount of their contribution deduction.

The proposed regulations provide exceptions for dollar-for-dollar state tax deductions and for tax credits of no more than 15 percent of the payment amount or of the fair market value of the property transferred. A taxpayer who makes a $1,000 contribution to an eligible entity is not required to reduce the $1,000 deduction on the taxpayer's federal income tax return if the state or local tax credit received or expected to be received is no more than $150.

Practice Tip: As noted, these regulations are proposed. The proposed effective date is August 27, 2018, and the regulations are intended to apply to amounts paid or property transferred by a taxpayer after August 27, 2018. This could be interpreted as allowing for the deduction of the entire amount of a charitable contribution given in exchange for a state tax credit where that contribution was made, and that state tax credit was received, before August 28, 2018.

Temporary Reduction in the Medical Expense Deduction Floor

For 2018, TCJA provides that the adjusted-gross-income floor above which a medical expense is deductible is reduced from 10 percent to 7.5 percent. Thus, if a client is close to being able to deduct such expenses, accelerating any medical expenses into 2018 may be advisable.

Elimination of Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions

Another casualty of TCJA is the elimination of miscellaneous itemized deductions for years 2018 through 2025. This means that employees who work at home can no longer take a home office deduction and job seekers can no longer deduct job-hunting expenses. Prior to 2018, individuals could combine such expenses with other miscellaneous deductions and, to the extent such expenses exceeded the 2-percent of adjust gross income (AGI) floor, the amount was deductible on Schedule A of the taxpayer's return.

The elimination of the miscellaneous itemized deduction does not affect self-employed taxpayers who work from home or have outside office expenses. Such expenses are still deductible on the taxpayer's Schedule C.

Observation: Some employees may want to consider becoming self-employed in this situation. However, this will only be profitable if the potential deductions available significantly outweigh the benefits of being an employee. While being self-employed might bring more deductions, it can also bring additional headaches and loss of employer benefits.

Limitation on Mortgage Interest Deduction

As a result of changes made to the mortgage interest deduction under TCJA, net after-tax housing costs will increase for some taxpayers and renting rather than buying a home may become a more attractive option for other taxpayers. This is because, effective beginning in 2018, a taxpayer may treat no more than $750,000 as acquisition indebtedness ($375,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately) for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. In the case of acquisition indebtedness incurred before December 15, 2017, the limitation is the same as it was in 2017: $1,000,000 ($500,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately). The limits apply to the combined amount of loans used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer's main home and second home.

Practice Tip: Mortgage interest is only deductible if a taxpayer is an equitable owner. In determining whether the taxpayer is an equitable owner, courts consider whether the taxpayer: (1) had the right to possess the property, (2) had the right to improve the property without the seller's consent, (3) had the right to obtain legal title at any time by paying the balance of the purchase price, (4) bears the risk of loss on the property, (5) had the duty to maintain the property, (6) was responsible for insuring the property, and (7) was obligated to pay taxes, assessments, and charges against the property. In a recent Tax Court decision (Frankel v. Comm'r, T.C. Summary 2018-45), the court held that a married taxpayer, whose husband was the legal owner of real property used by the couple and their children as a second home, was not entitled to deduct the mortgage interest on that home on her separate tax return because she was not the equitable owner and had not assumed the burdens and benefits of ownership.

Another adverse development for homeowners in 2018 is the TCJA elimination of interest deductions on home equity loans and lines of credit for years 2018 - 2025, unless the debt is used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer's home that secures the loan. Thus, in such cases, taxpayers can still deduct interest on a home equity loan, home equity line of credit (HELOC), or second mortgage, regardless of how the loan is labelled. Documenting how the home equity amounts are used, or have been used, is key to having the deduction pass muster with the IRS.

Changes to Charitable Contribution Rules

While the rules regarding the deduction of charitable contributions did not change much under TCJA, the fact that the standard deduction is significantly bigger in 2018 may mean that more taxpayers will forgo a charitable contribution deduction in exchange for the larger standard deduction.

Observation: Many charitable organizations are concerned about a potential decline in individual contributions as a result of individuals forgoing itemized deductions in lieu of taking a higher standard deduction.

Practice Tip: A taxpayer who will be taking the standard deduction in most tax years under TCJA, may still be able reap a tax benefit from their charitable contributions by bunching his or her contributions in selected tax years rather than giving a level amount every year. For example, instead of making $10,000 in contributions in each of Years 1, 2, and 3 (totaling $30,000), the taxpayer could make all $30,000 in contributions in Year 1 (and $0 in the other tax years), putting the taxpayer "over the top" for itemizing in Year 1. If the taxpayer has a personal preference for gifting level amounts from year to year, he or she could consider making bunched contributions (i.e., the $30,000 in contributions made in Year 1) to a donor-advised fund such as Fidelity Charitable Fund or Schwab Charitable Fund and making annual grant recommendations in level amounts from within the fund.

There was one TCJA change that may affect taxpayers whose charitable contributions make up a large percentage of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income (AGI) for which a deduction may otherwise be limited. For years 2018-2025, the allowable deduction for cash contributions made to public charities is increased from 50 percent of a taxpayer's AGI to 60 percent of a taxpayer's AGI.

Increased Alternative Minimum Tax Exemption and Phase-out Thresholds

Although TCJA eliminated the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for corporations, it did not do so for individuals. It did, however, increase the AMT exemption amounts to (1) $109,400 (up from $84,500 in 2017) in the case of a joint return or a surviving spouse; (2) $70,300 (up from $54,300 in 2017) in the case of an individual who is unmarried and not a surviving spouse; (3) $54,700 (up from $42,250 in 2017) in the case of a married individual filing a separate return; and (4) $24,600 (up from $24,100 in 2017) in the case of an estate or trust. In addition, the phaseout thresholds (i.e., the adjusted gross income thresholds at which the exemption amount begins to phase out) were also increased to (1) $1,000,000 (up from $160,900 in 2017) in the case of married taxpayers filing a joint return; (2) $500,000 (up from $120,700 in 2017) in the case of unmarried taxpayers and married individuals filing a separate return; and (3) $81,900 (up from $80,450 in 2017) in the case of an estate or trust.

Increased Child Tax Credit and New Credit for a Qualifying Dependent

For 2018 tax returns, the child tax credit is $2,000 per qualifying child under the age of 17, up from the $1,000 credit allowed in 2017. The maximum refundable credit is $1,400 per qualifying child, up from $1,000 in 2017. As with prior years, the credit is phased out at certain income levels but the income level at which the credit is phased out is significantly higher in 2018 ($400,000 modified adjusted gross income for married taxpayers filing jointly and $200,000 for all other taxpayers), with the effect that clients who have previously been ineligible for the child tax credit may be eligible for the credit in 2018.

Additionally, new for 2018 and years through 2025, a $500 nonrefundable credit is allowed for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children. As a result, taxpayers with children at home who have aged out of the child tax credit may be eligible for this new credit. An individual is a "qualifying dependent" of a taxpayer if he or she meets the following requirements:

(1) the individual is either: (a) a child of the taxpayer who is not a "qualifying child" for purposes of the child tax credit; (b) a descendant of the taxpayer's child; (c) a father or mother of the taxpayer, or an ancestor of either the father or mother; (d) a stepfather or stepmother of the taxpayer; (e) a son or daughter of a brother or sister of the taxpayer; (f) a brother or sister of the father or mother of the taxpayer; (g) a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law of the taxpayer; or (h) an individual (other than an individual who at any time during the tax year was the spouse of the taxpayer) who, for the tax year of the taxpayer, has the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer and is a member of the taxpayer's household;

(2) the individual has gross income for the year that is less than the exemption amount (i.e., $4,150 for 2018);

(3) the individual receives over one-half of his or her support from the taxpayer for the calendar year in which such tax year begins, and

(4) the individual is not a qualifying child of the taxpayer or any other taxpayer for any tax year beginning in the calendar year in which the taxpayer's tax year begins.

Repeal of Taxpayer's Ability to Undo a Roth IRA Conversion

Year-end tax planning generally involves a discussion with clients about retirement plans. If it makes sense, part of that discussion might involve discussing whether it is appropriate to convert a taxpayer's traditional individual retirement account (IRA) to a Roth IRA account. Benefits of a Roth IRA include the ability to continue to make contributions to the Roth IRA after age 70 1/2, subject to certain modified adjusted gross income limitations, the fact that a Roth IRA is not subject to the minimum distribution rules, and the fact that distributions from a Roth IRA are tax free after the taxpayer turns 59 1/2, as long as the taxpayer has had the Roth IRA for at least five years.

While the distribution from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is includible in taxable income, given the lower 2018 tax rates, 2018 may be a good year to consider such a conversion. This would make sense if the taxpayer expects to remain in the same or higher tax brackets in the future or if higher tax rates are anticipated. Alternatively, the conversion from a traditional to a Roth IRA could be spread over two years thus reducing the tax burden. Prior to 2018, taxpayers who made such a conversion and who then had second thoughts, could undo the conversion. Effective beginning in 2018, Roth IRA conversions can't be undone. Thus, practitioners discussing retirement options with their clients, should ensure that a client understands there are no "do-overs".

Simplification of the Kiddie Tax Calculation

TCJA simplified the tax calculation on unearned income of children, otherwise known as the "kiddie tax." Under the TCJA changes, ordinary and capital gains rates applicable to trusts and estates are applied to the net unearned income of a child. As a result, taxable income attributable to earned income is taxed according to an unmarried taxpayer's brackets and rates while taxable income attributable to net unearned income is taxed according to the brackets applicable to trusts and estates. The child's tax is no longer affected by the tax situation of the child's parent or the unearned income of any siblings.

Repeal of the Alimony Deduction for Divorce Agreements Executed after 2018

TCJA repealed the deduction for alimony paid and the corresponding inclusion of alimony in income by the recipient. The provision is effective for any divorce or separation instrument executed after December 31, 2018, or for any divorce or separation instrument executed on or before December 31, 2018, and modified after that date, if the modification expressly provides that the amendments made by this provision apply to such modification. Thus, alimony paid under a separation agreement entered into prior to the effective date is generally grandfathered.

Partial Repeal of Deduction for Casualty and Theft Losses

TCJA temporarily modified the deduction for personal casualty and theft losses for tax years beginning in 2018. Under the revised rules, a taxpayer may claim a personal casualty loss, subject to the applicable limitations, only if the loss was attributable to a disaster declared by the President under Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

Inclusion of Income Previously Excluded from Employee Income

TCJA also made several changes under which income that might have been previously excluded from an employee's gross income is now considered taxable income. For example, reimbursements for moving expenses and bicycle commuting expenses are included in wages subject to employment taxes for tax years 2018-2015. There is an exception, however, for moving expense reimbursements made to active duty Armed Forces members. Such reimbursements are not includible in income. In addition, TCJA also eliminated several employer deductions, such as deductions for transportation fringe benefits, and businesses could respond by including such amounts in employees' income subject to employment taxes.

Affordable Care Penalty for Not Having Health Insurance

Under TCJA, the amount of the individual shared responsibility payment (i.e., the penalty that taxpayers without insurance were required to pay) enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act is reduced to zero, effective with respect to health coverage status for months beginning after December 31, 2018. Thus, the penalty still applies for 2018. The penalty is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child with a maximum of $2,085 per family, or 2.5 percent of the household income, whichever is greater.

Bottom Line

Because of the sheer volume and types of changes made by TCJA, there are a number of questions that practitioners need to broach with their clients in determining the client's taxable income for 2018 and related tax liability. For many individuals, the most important question will be whether to itemize expenses or take the standard deduction. The answer to this question will obviously depend on the type and amount of expenses a client has. Practitioners will need to evaluate the different scenarios for each client by running the numbers for itemized deductions versus the standard deduction available to the client. For other clients that will obviously itemize because of the size of their deductible expenses, it's important to be up to date on all the changes made by TCJA that may affect these clients' returns. In either event, practitioners will want to get a jump on determining a client's taxable income so that if a year-end tax payment is necessary, it can be made before any penalties apply. If the end result is an increase in the client's tax liability, consideration should be given to revising the client's payroll tax withholdings on Form W-4 for 2019.

As previously discussed with respect to charitable contributions, where a client has a substantial number of itemized deductions that are equal or close to equaling the amount of the taxpayer's standard deduction, practitioners may want to suggest bunching the itemized deductions into alternating years (e.g., every other year, every three years, etc.) to the extent possible. In addition to charitable contributions, medical expenses (especially for 2018 because of the reduced floor for taking such deduction) and state income taxes may also lend themselves to this strategy. Thus, taxpayers can itemize deductions in the year deductible expenses are bunched and take the standard deduction in the other years.

In addition, as previously noted, taxpayers may find themselves facing increased state tax liabilities as a result of changes made by TCJA that increase taxable income. This may necessitate adjusting a taxpayer's state income tax withholdings.

For an in depth summary of all the changes made by TCJA, see Parker's Complete Guide to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Disclaimer: This publication does not, and is not intended to, provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and readers should consult their tax advisors concerning the application of tax laws to their particular situations. This analysis is not tax advice and is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for purposes of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The information contained herein is general in nature and based on authorities that are subject to change. Parker Tax Publishing guarantees neither the accuracy nor completeness of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for results obtained by others as a result of reliance upon such information. Parker Tax Publishing assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any changes in tax laws or other factors that could affect information contained herein.

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