As the year winds to a close, tax professionals have the opportunity to look at their clients’ tax situations to identify tax savings or deferral options that may help decrease their tax liability. Here is a summary of various tax law provisions and related, year-end tax planning tips.
Itemized deductions. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act(TCJA), the standard deduction doubled beginning in 2018 ($24,400 for joint filers in 2019), which drastically reduces the number of taxpayers who itemize deductions on Schedule A. With this newer, elevated threshold, taxpayers may consider bunching their deductions every other year to produce a higher deduction over a two-year period. In other words, taxpayers could prepay some deductible expenses, such as state estimates, before year-end, or defer and pay after year-end.
Property taxes. Under the TJCA, the deduction for state and local taxes is now capped at $10,000. This is something to take this into account as you help clients plan on paying expenses and deductions. When prepaying property taxes, remember that they are only deductible in the current year if the tax is assessed by the governing body in the same year; otherwise they are deductible in the following year.
Charitable contributions. If you’re age 70½ or older and hold an IRA account, clients may be able to benefit by making a qualified charitable distribution to possibly reduce their above-the-line income. In addition, with a donor-advised fund, the taxpayer receives an immediate tax deduction and recommends grants from the fund over time.
Retirement contributions. Planning for retirement typically makes financial sense – and there are a variety of plans available to individuals that allow a tax-favored way to save for retirement. It’s smart to consult with a financial planner before deciding on a plan that best suits the individual. Lower income taxpayers may be eligible for the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit, or saver’s credit.
Two types of plans for individuals include:
Retirement distributions. If your clients need to withdraw money from a retirement plan and have some flexibility, help them figure out the more favorable tax impact of taking the distributions this year, next year or by spreading them over two years. If they are over age 70½, remember to help them take their required minimum distributions before year-end or they could face penalties.
College planning. Similar to planning for retirement, saving for a college education is very expensive; fortunately, many of your client probably have many years to plan for it. The smart way to go about it is to start early, save a little money each year and let the money grow. The government provides tax incentives through the following plans. Remember to tell clients to withdraw money attributed to education expenses before year-end.
The Internal Revenue Code provides the following education-related tax credits and deductions that will take some of the sting out of college expenses, even before the school year starts. There may be an opportunity to prepay some expenses before year-end to claim a benefit, and remember that taxpayers are not allowed to claim a double benefit on the same expenses.
Capital gains and losses. Consider harvesting capital losses by selling off positions with unrealized losses to offset taxable capital gains. In addition, consider harvesting capital gains by selling long-term capital gains to fill up the zero or 15 percent tax brackets.
Kiddie tax. Under the TCJA, unearned income for anyone under age 19 or full-time students between ages 19-23 is now taxed at estate and trust tax rates over the $2,200 threshold. Advise clients to be careful with transferring income-generating investments to their children because their tax could go up under the new rules.