Recent Developments That May Affect Your Tax Situation

The following is a summary of important tax developments that occurred in October, November, and December of 2018 that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood. Please call us for more information about any of these developments and what steps you should implement to take advantage of favorable developments and to minimize the impact of those that are unfavorable.

Business meals. One of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) disallows a deduction for any item with respect to an activity that is of a type generally considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation. However, the TCJA did not address the circumstances in which the provision of food and beverages might constitute entertainment. The new guidance clarifies that, as in the past, taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50% of otherwise allowable business meal expenses if:

  1. The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business;
  2. The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
  3. The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages;
  4. The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact; and
  5. In the case of food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.

Convenience of the employer. IRS provided new guidance under the Code provision allowing for the exclusion of the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of an individual’s employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premises for the convenience of the employer. IRS determined that the “Kowalski test” — which provides that the exclusion applies to employer-provided meals only if the meals are necessary for the employee to properly perform his or her duties — still applies. Under this test, the carrying out of the employee’s duties in compliance with employer policies for that employee’s position must require that the employer provide the employee meals in order for the employee to properly discharge such duties in order to be “for the convenience of the employer”. While IRS is precluded from substituting its judgment for the business decisions of a taxpayer as to its business needs and concerns and what specific business policies or practices are best suited to addressing such, IRS can determine whether an employer actually follows and enforces its stated business policies and practices, and whether these policies and practices, and the needs and concerns they address, necessitate the provision of meals so that there is a substantial noncompensatory business reason for furnishing meals to employees.

Depreciation and expensing. IRS provided guidance on deducting expenses under Code Sec. 179(a) and depreciation under the alternate depreciation system (ADS) of Code Sec. 168(g), as amended by the TCJA. The guidance explains how taxpayers can elect to treat qualified real property, as defined under the TCJA, as property eligible for the expense election. The TCJA amended the definition of qualified real property to mean qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as: roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems. The guidance also explains how real property trades or businesses or farming businesses, electing out of the TCJA interest deduction limitations, can change to the ADS for property placed in service before 2018, and provides that such is not a change in accounting method. In addition, the guidance provides an optional depreciation table for residential rental property depreciated under the ADS with a 30-year recovery period.

Partnerships. IRS issued final regulations implementing the new centralized partnership audit regime, which is generally effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 (although partnerships could have elected to have its provisions apply earlier). Under the new rules, adjustments to partnership-related items are determined at the partnership level. The final regulations clarify that items or amounts relating to transactions of the partnership are partnership-related items only if those items or amounts are shown, or required to be shown, on the partnership return or are required to be maintained in the partnership’s books and records. A partner must, on his or her own return, treat a partnership item in a manner that’s consistent with the treatment of that item on the partnership’s return. The regulations clarify that so long as a partner notifies the IRS of an inconsistent treatment, in the form and manner prescribed by the IRS, by attaching a statement to the partner’s return (including an amended return) on which the partnership-related item is treated inconsistently, this consistency requirement is met, and the effect of inconsistent treatment does not apply to that partnership-related item. If IRS adjusts any partnership-related items, the partnership, rather than the partners, is subject to the liability for any imputed underpayment and will take any other adjustments into account in the adjustment year. As an alternative to the general rule that the partnership must pay the imputed underpayment, a partnership may elect to “push out” the adjustments, that is, elect to have its reviewed year partners take into account the adjustments made by the IRS and pay any tax due as a result of these adjustments.

State & local taxes. IRS has provided safe harbors allowing a deduction for certain payments made by a C corporation or a “specified pass-through entity” to or for the use of a charitable organization if, in return for such payment, they receive or expect to receive a state or local tax credit that reduces a state or local tax imposed on the entity. Such payment is treated as meeting the requirements of an ordinary and necessary business expense. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the TCJA limits an individual’s deduction to $10,000 ($5,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) for the aggregate amount of the following state and local taxes paid during the calendar year:

  1. Real property taxes;
  2. Personal property taxes;
  3. Income, war profits, and excess profits taxes, and
  4. General sales taxes.

This limitation does not apply to certain taxes that are paid and incurred in carrying on a trade or business or a for-profit activity. An entity will be considered a specified pass-through entity only if:

  1. The entity is a business entity other than a C corporation that is regarded for all federal income tax purposes as separate from its owners;
  2. The entity operates a trade or business;
  3. The entity is subject to a state or local tax incurred in carrying on its trade or business that is imposed directly on the entity; and
  4. In return for a payment to a charitable organization, the entity receives or expects to receive a state or local tax credit that the entity applies or expects to apply to offset a state or local tax described in (3), above, other than a state or local income tax.

Personal exemption suspension. IRS provided guidance clarifying how the suspension of the personal exemption deduction from 2018 through 2025 under the TCJA applies to certain rules that referenced that provision and were not also suspended. These include rules dealing with the premium tax credit and, for 2018, the individual shared responsibility provision (also known as the individual mandate). Under the TCJA, for purposes of any other provision, the suspension of the personal exemption (by reducing the exemption amount to zero) is not be taken into account in determining whether a deduction is allowed or allowable, or whether a taxpayer is entitled to a deduction.

Obamacare hardship exemptions. IRS guidance identified additional hardship exemptions from the individual shared responsibility payment (also known as the individual mandate) which a taxpayer may claim on a Federal income tax return without obtaining a hardship exemption certification from the Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace). Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), if a taxpayer or an individual for whom the taxpayer is liable isn’t covered under minimum essential coverage for one or more months before 2019, then, unless an exemption applies, the taxpayer is liable for the individual shared responsibility payment. Under the guidance, a person is eligible for a hardship exemption if the Marketplace determines that:

  1. He or she experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan;
  2. The expense of purchasing a qualified health plan would have caused him or her to experience serious deprivation of food, shelter, clothing, or other necessities; or
  3. He or she has experienced other circumstances that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.

Certain Obamacare due dates extended. IRS has extended one of the due dates for the 2018 information reporting requirements under the ACA for insurers, self-insuring employers, and certain other providers of minimum essential coverage, and the information reporting requirements for applicable large employers (ALEs). Specifically, the due date for furnishing to individuals the 2018 Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and the 2018 Form 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) is extended to Mar. 4, 2019. Good-faith transition relief from certain penalties for 2018 information reporting requirements is also extended.

Limitation on deducting business interest expense. IRS has provided a safe harbor that allows taxpayers to treat certain infrastructure trades or businesses (such as airports, ports, mass commuting facilities, and sewage and waste disposal facilities) as real property trades or businesses solely for purposes of qualifying as an electing real property trade or business. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the TCJA provides that a deduction allowed for business interest for any tax year can’t exceed the sum of:

  1. The taxpayer’s business interest income for the tax year;
  2. 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted taxable income for the tax year; plus
  3. The taxpayer’s floor plan financing interest (certain interest paid by vehicle dealers) for the tax year.

The term “business interest” generally means any interest properly allocable to a trade or business, but for purposes of the limitation on the deduction for business interest, it doesn’t include interest properly allocable to an “electing real property trade or business”. Thus, interest expense that is properly allocable to an electing real property trade or business is not properly allocable to a trade or business, and is not business interest expense that is subject to the interest limitation.

Avoiding penalties. IRS has identified the circumstances under which the disclosure on a taxpayer’s income tax return with respect to an item or position is adequate for the purpose of reducing the understatement of income tax under the substantial understatement accuracy-related penalty for 2018 income tax returns. The guidance provides specific descriptions of the information that must be provided for itemized deductions on Form 1040 (Schedule A); certain trade or business expenses; differences in book and income tax reporting; and certain foreign tax and other items. The guidance notes that money amounts entered on a form must be verifiable, and the information on the return must be disclosed in the manner set out in the guidance. An amount is verifiable if, on audit, the taxpayer can prove the origin of the amount (even if that number is not ultimately accepted by the IRS) and the taxpayer can show good faith in entering that number on the applicable form. If the amount of an item is shown on a line of a return that does not have a preprinted description identifying that item (such as on an unnamed line under an “Other Expense” category), the taxpayer must clearly identify the item by including the description on that line. If an item is not covered by this guidance, disclosure is adequate with respect to that item only if made on a properly completed Form 8275 (Disclosure Statement) or 8275-R (Regulation Disclosure Statement), as appropriate, attached to the return for the year or to a qualified amended return.

Tax Credit for Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit Begins Phase Down

Today, the IRS announced that Tesla, Inc. has sold more than 200,000 vehicles eligible for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit during the third quarter of 2018.

This triggers a phase out of the tax credit available for purchasers of new Tesla plug-in electric vehicles beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

Qualifying vehicles by the manufacturer are eligible for a $7,500 credit if acquired before Jan. 1, 2019. Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, the credit will be $3,750 for Tesla’s eligible vehicles. On July 1, 2019, the credit will be reduced to $1,875 for the remainder of the year. After Dec. 31, 2019, no credit will be available.

The plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit was enacted in the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 and subsequently modified in later law. It provides a credit for eligible passenger vehicles and light trucks. By law, five quarters after reaching the sales threshold, the credit ends for the manufacturer. Tesla Inc.’s vehicles are eligible for some portion of a credit until Jan. 1, 2020.

For questions on the electric vehicle tax credit, please contact Paul Glantz CPA at our Austin office at paul@launchconsultinginc.com.

IRS issues standard mileage rates for 2019

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued the 2019 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2019, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 58 cents per mile driven for business use, up 3.5 cents from the rate for 2018,
  • 20 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 2 cents from the rate for 2018, and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The business mileage rate increased 3.5 cents for business travel driven and 2 cents for medical and certain moving expense from the rates for 2018. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.

It is important to note that under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers cannot claim a miscellaneous itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee travel expenses. Taxpayers also cannot claim a deduction for moving expenses, except members of the Armed Forces on active duty moving under orders to a permanent change of station. For more details see Notice-2019-02.

The standard mileage rate for business use is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than four vehicles used simultaneously. These and other limitations are described in section 4.05 of Rev. Proc. 2010-51.

Notice 2018-02, posted today on IRS.gov, contains the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan.

Recent Developments That May Affect Your Tax Situation

The following is a summary of important tax developments that have occurred in July, August, and September that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood. Please call Launch Consulting Inc at 512-666-0729 for more information about any of these developments and what steps you should implement to take advantage of favorable developments and to minimize the impact of those that are unfavorable.

IRS shoots down states’ SALT limitation workaround. For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limits an individual taxpayer’s annual SALT (state and local tax) deductions to a maximum of $10,000, with no carryover for taxes paid in excess of that amount. (The SALT deduction limit doesn’t apply to property taxes paid by a trade or business or in connection with the production of income.) As a result of this change, many taxpayers will not get a full federal income tax deduction for their payments of state and local taxes. Following the TCJA’s passage, some high-tax states implemented workarounds to mitigate the effect of the SALT deduction limit for their residents. One method used was the establishment of charitable funds to which taxpayers can contribute and receive a tax credit in exchange. The IRS has issued proposed regulations, which would apply to contributions after Aug. 27, 2018, that effectively kill this workaround. The regulations would provide that a taxpayer who makes payments to or transfers property to an entity eligible to receive tax deductible contributions must reduce his or her charitable deduction by the amount of any state or local tax credit the taxpayer receives or expects to receive.

IRS also clarified that the proposed regulation crackdown on the SALT limitation workaround doesn’t apply to businesses. In other words, a business generally can deduct a payment to a charitable or governmental entity if the payment is made with a business purpose.

IRS clarifies who is a qualifying relative for family credit purposes. Under the TCJA, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2026, you can’t claim a dependency exemption for dependents, including qualifying relatives, but you may be eligible for a $2,000 credit for each qualifying child and a $500 credit (called the “family credit”) for each qualifying non-child dependent, including qualifying relatives. One of the conditions for being a qualifying relative is that the person’s gross income for the year can’t be more than the exemption amount. That condition remains the same in the Tax Code, but the exemption amount has been reduced to zero because the dependency exemption has has been eliminated. The IRS has clarified that the gross income limit for a qualifying relative for tax credit purposes (as well as for other purposes, such as head-of-household status), is determined by reference to what the exemption amount would have been if it hadn’t been reduced to zero by the TCJA. Thus, after 2017 and before 2026, the gross income limit is $4,150, adjusted for inflation after 2018.

IRS explains 20% deduction for qualified business income. The IRS has issued regulations on the new 20% deduction for qualified business income (QBI) created by the TCJA, also known as the pass-through deduction. Here’s a summary of the basic rules:

For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their qualified business income (QBI) from a domestic business operated as a sole proprietorship, or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate. This deduction can be taken in addition to the standard or itemized deductions.

In general, the deduction is equal to the lesser of:

A. 20% of QBI plus 20% of qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership (PTP) income, or
B. 20% of taxable income minus net capital gains.

QBI generally is the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss, from any qualified trade or business. But QBI doesn’t include capital gains and losses, certain dividends and interest income, reasonable compensation paid to the taxpayer by any qualified trade or business for services rendered for that trade or business, and any guaranteed payment to a partner for services to the business.

Generally, the deduction for QBI can’t be more than the greater of:

a. 50% of the W-2 wages from the qualified trade or business; or
b. 25% of the W-2 wages from the qualified trade or business plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis of certain tangible, depreciable property held and used by the business during the year for production of QBI.

But this limit on the deduction for QBI doesn’t apply to taxpayers with taxable income below a threshold amount ($315,000 for married individuals filing jointly, $157,500 for other individuals, indexed for inflation after 2018), with a phase-in for taxable income over this amount.

A qualified trade or business doesn’t include performing services as an employee. Additionally, a qualified trade or business doesn’t include a trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, investing and investment management, trading, dealing in certain assets or any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees. This exception only applies if a taxpayer’s taxable income exceeds $315,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, or $157,500 for all other taxpayers; the benefit of the deduction is phased out for taxable income over this amount.

The IRS’s new regulations explaining the 20% deduction for QBI are highly detailed and complex. A sampling of the important guidance contained in the guidance follows:
• Partnership guaranteed payments are not considered attributable to a trade or business and thus do not constitute QBI.
• To the extent that any previously disallowed losses or deductions are allowed in the tax year, they are treated as items attributable to the trade or business for that tax year. But this rule doesn’t apply for losses or deductions that were disallowed for tax years beginning before Jan. 1, 2018; they are not taken into account for purposes of computing QBI in a later tax year.
• Generally, a deduction for a net operating loss (NOL) is not considered attributable to a trade or business and therefore,is not taken into account in computing QBI. However, to the extent the NOL is comprised of amounts attributable to a trade or business that were disallowed under a specialized excess business loss limitation for noncorporate taxpayers, the NOL is considered attributable to that trade or business.
• Interest income received on working capital, reserves, and similar accounts is not properly allocable to a trade or business. In contrast, interest income received on accounts or notes receivable for services or goods provided by the trade or business is not income from assets held for investment, but income received on assets acquired in the ordinary course of trade or business.
• The 20% deduction for QBI does not reduce net earnings from self-employment or net investment income under the rules for the 3.8% surtax on net investment income.
• Where a business (or a major portion of it, or a separate unit of it) is bought or sold during the year, the W-2 wages of the individual or entity for the calendar year of the acquisition or disposition are allocated between each individual or entity based on the period during which the employees of the acquired or disposed-of trade or business were employed by the individual or entity.
• The rule generally barring a health services business from being a qualified trade or business doesn’t include the provision of services not directly related to a medical field, even though the services may purportedly relate to the health of the service recipient. For example, the performance of services in the field of health does not include the operation of health clubs or health spas that provide physical exercise or conditioning to their customers, payment processing, or research, testing, and manufacture and/or sales of pharmaceuticals or medical devices.
• The rule generally barring the performance of services in the field of actuarial science from being a qualified trade or business does not include the provision of services by analysts, economists, mathematicians, and statisticians not engaged in analyzing or assessing the financial costs of risk or uncertainty of events.
• The rule barring consulting from being a qualified trade or business doesn’t apply to consulting that is embedded in, or ancillary to, the sale of goods if there is no separate payment for the consulting services. For example, a company that sells computers may provide customers with consulting services relating to the setup, operation, and repair of the computers, or a contractor who remodels homes may provide consulting prior to remodeling a kitchen.

Bonus depreciation may be claimed for used property. The TCJA boosted the first-year bonus depreciation allowance from 50% to 100% for qualified property acquired and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2023. That means a business can write off the cost of most machinery and equipment in the year it’s placed in service. And, for the first time ever, for property acquired and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, bonus depreciation may be claimed for used as well as new equipment. The IRS has explained that used equipment and machinery qualifies for the 100% bonus first-year depreciation allowance if: the taxpayer (or a predecessor) didn’t use the property at any time before the acquisition; the property wasn’t acquired from a related party or from a component member of a controlled corporate group; and the taxpayer’s basis in the used property isn’t figured by reference to the basis of the property in the hands of the seller or transferor.

Form W-4 for 2019 will be similar to 2018 version. The IRS has announced that the 2019 version of the Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate) will be similar to the current 2018 version. IRS had earlier issued a draft W-4 for 2019 that was longer than the 2018 version and more complex due to changes made by the TCJA. Bowing to complaints that the proposed changes to the form were too confusing and too complicated, the IRS relented and announced that the Form W-4 for 2019 will be similar to the current 2018 version.

Simplified per-diem increase for post-Sept. 30, 2018 travel. An employer may pay a per-diem amount to an employee on business-travel status instead of reimbursing actual substantiated expenses for away-from-home lodging, meal and incidental expenses (M&E). If the rate paid doesn’t exceed the IRS-approved maximums, and the employee provides simplified substantiation, the reimbursement isn’t subject to income- or payroll-tax withholding and isn’t reported on the employee’s Form W-2. Instead of using actual per-diems, employers may use a simplified “high-low” per-diem, under which there is one uniform per-diem rate for all “high-cost” areas within the continental U.S. (CONUS), and another per-diem rate for all other areas within CONUS. The IRS released the “high-low” simplified per-diem rates for post-Sept. 30, 2018, travel. Under the optional high-low method for post-Sept. 30, 2018 travel, the high-cost-area per diem is $287 (up from $284), consisting of $216 for lodging and $71 for M&IE. The per-diem for all other localities is $195 (up from $191), consisting of $135 for lodging and $60 for M&IE.

Tax-free fringe benefits help small businesses and their employees

Tax-free fringe benefits help small businesses and their employees.

In today’s tightening job market, to attract and retain the best employees, small businesses need to offer not only competitive pay, but also appealing fringe benefits. Benefits that are tax-free are especially attractive to employees. Let’s take a quick look at some popular options.

Read more

Two-income Families Should Check Withholding Amount

Two income families and those who work multiple jobs typically end up under-withheld. We recommend using the IRS Withholding Calculator to help navigate the complexities of multiple employer tax situations and to determine if the correct amount of tax for each employer is being withheld.

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which will affect 2018 tax returns that will be filed in early 2019, makes checking withholding amounts even more important. These tax law changes include:

  • Increased standard deduction
  • Eliminated personal exemptions
  • Increased Child Tax Credit
  • Limited or discontinued certain deductions
  • Changed the tax rates and brackets

Individuals with more complex tax profiles, such as two incomes or multiple jobs, may be more vulnerable to being under-withheld or over-withheld following these major law changes. We recommend performing check on your withholding as early as possible, as doing so gives more time for withholding to take place evenly throughout the year. Waiting means you could end up with a hefty tax bill come filing season.

The IRS calculator will recommend how to complete a new Form W-4 for any or all of your employers, if needed. Please contact us if you need assistance with a check up.

 

 

Law Change Affects Moving, Mileage and Travel Expenses

Changes to the deduction for move-related vehicle expenses

The passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act  (“TCJA”) suspended the deduction for moving expenses for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, through Jan. 1, 2026. Previously, taxpayers were allowed to deduct the costs incurred for certain work related moves, given the requirements were met. Under the TCJA this deduction has been suspended for all moving expenses with the exception of those made by members of the Armed Forces of the United States on active duty who move pursuant to a military order related to a permanent change of station.

Changes to the deduction for un-reimbursed employee expenses

The TCJA at also suspended all miscellaneous itemized deductions that are subject to the 2 percent of adjusted gross income floor. This change affects unreimbursed employee expenses such as uniforms, union dues and the deduction for business-related meals, entertainment and travel.

Thus, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee travel expenses in taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2026.

Standard mileage rates for 2018

The standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck for 2018 are as follows:

  • 54.5 cents for every mile of business travel driven, a 1 cent increase from 2017.
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical purposes, a 1 cent increase from 2017.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, which is set by statute and remains unchanged.

 

 

Be Weary of State SALT Deduction Workarounds

With the pass of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), a new limit has been placed on the deduction for SALT, State And Local Taxes. These limits severely impact residents of states that derive the majority of their revenue through state income taxes and high property taxes.

Several states have or are in the process of implementing workarounds to the deduction limits. For example, New York established new “charitable gifts trust funds” to which taxpayers can make deductible contributions and claim a tax credit equal to 85% of the donation. Similarly, New Jersey enacted legislation that permits localities to establish charitable funds to which taxpayers can contribute and receive a 90% New Jersey property tax credit. California and Connecticut are among the other states that have been weighing similar options.

It’s important to note that when applying the substance over form doctrine, many of these transactions would not qualify for the charitable deduction the states are hoping. Remember, charitable contributions are only deductible to the extent that no goods or services (benefit) is received in exchange. Transactions that are “quid pro quo” would reduce your charitable deduction, dollar for dollar by the fair market value of any benefit received.

The IRS is planning to issue regulations to address these transactions in the coming months. We advise our clients to wait for these proposed regulations, as our professional opinion is the IRS will not recognize a charitable contribution deduction that is a disguised SALT deduction.

Three Ways to Maximize Charitable Giving Under the New Tax Code

As many of you are aware by now, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) almost doubled the standard deduction for many taxpayers, raising the limits to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married joint taxpayers. Naturally, this makes it more difficult for taxpayers to write off charitable giving.

While there is a bi-partisan effort to push for charitable deductions for non-itemizing taxpayers (H.R. 5771), below are some steps you can take to maximize your charitable efforts in the meantime:

1. Bunching: Make the bulk of your charitable donations in the tax years you expect to itemize deductions and skip gift-giving in other years. For instance, if you’re already contemplating a large gift in 2018, you might be a little extra-generous toward the end of the year to include your donation goals for 2019, increasing the tax payoff for the 2018 tax year. In 2019, you can skip or reduce your gifting efforts, since you included these gifts in the 2018 tax year.

2. Donor-advised funds: With a donor-advised fund (DAF), you can make a large initial contribution this year and qualify a deduction. Then, the DAF distributes this money to your favorite charities over a period of time. This has the same practical effect as bunching.

3. Gifts of property: This is one of my favorite techniques. By giving capital gain property that has appreciated in value, like appreciated stock, art, or other collectibles, you can generally deduct the property’s current fair market value, instead of its initial cost. Thus, you increase your deduction while avoiding tax on the appreciation in value.

 

2017 Tax Reform Update

Below is a brief summary of the current differences between the House & Senate Tax Bills. Source: Thomson Reuters

2017 Tax Reform: Key differences between the Senate and House tax bills

The Senate and the House have each passed their own version of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”. The two versions of the bill have many similar provisions, but they also have a number of key differences that will have to be reconciled by the Conference Committee as the two bills are merged into a single piece of legislation.

It is unclear at this point how these differences will be resolved. However, there is generally an inclination that the Senate’s provisions carry somewhat more weight because, since the Senate is subject to budgetary restraints as part of the reconciliation process, there is less flexibility to make changes to their bill.

The House voted on December 4 to go to conference with the Senate to reconcile the two bills, and the Senate is expected to name conferees later in the week. There has also been some speculation that the House might take up the Senate version and forego a conference, but this possibility is generally considered slight, especially considering the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) provision in the Senate bill (see below) which Conference Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) has identified as an issue that needs to be resolved.

Individual Provisions

Sunset provision. The Senate bill, in order to comply with certain budgetary constraints, provided an expiration date of Jan. 1, 2026 for many of the tax breaks in its bill, especially those for individuals. The House, on the other hand, largely made the changes in its bill permanent.

Individual rates and brackets. The Senate bill has seven tax brackets for individuals with rates ranging from 10% to 38.5%. The House bill has four tax brackets ranging from 12% to 39.6%, retaining the top rate under current law.

Individual alternative minimum tax (AMT). The House bill would repeal AMT for individuals. The Senate bill would retain the individual AMT, with increases to the exemption amounts.

Estate tax. Both bills would significantly increase the estate and gift tax exemption, but the House would also repeal the estate tax after Dec. 31, 2024.

Individual mandate. The Senate bill would effectively repeal the individual mandate (i.e., by reducing the penalty amount to zero). The House version has no such provision.

Mortgage interest deduction. The Senate bill would leave the deduction for interest on acquisition indebtedness intact but would suspend the deduction for interest on home equity indebtedness. The House bill would allow the deduction for interest on acquisition indebtedness, but would, for newly purchased homes, reduce the current $1 million limitation to $500,000 ($250,000 for married individuals filing separately), and would allow the deduction only for interest on a taxpayer’s principal residence. Interest on home equity indebtedness incurred after the effective date of the House bill would not be deductible.

Medical expense deduction. The House bill would repeal deductions for medical expenses under Code Sec. 213 outright, but the Senate bill would take a step in the opposite direction and temporarily (and retroactively) reduce the floor from 10% under current law to 7.5% for all taxpayers for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2016 and ending before Jan. 1, 2019, after which time the 10% floor would be scheduled to return.

Child tax credit. The Senate bill would increase the child tax credit from $1,000 under current law to $2,000, increase the age limit for a qualifying child by one year (for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2025), increase the income level at which the credit phases out ($75,000 for single filers and $110,000 for joint filers under current law) to $500,000, and reduce the earned income threshold for the refundable portion of the credit from $3,000 to $2,500. The House bill would increase the amount of the credit to $1,600 and increase the income levels at which the credit phases out to $115,000 for single filers and $230,000 for joint filers.

Both bills would also provide a non-child dependent credit, which would be $500 under the Senate bill and $300 under the House bill. The House bill would also provide a “family flexibility credit”; the Senate bill has no equivalent.

Business provisions

Effective date of corporate tax reduction. Both bills would reduce the corporate tax rate to 20%, but the House’s version would go into effect for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, whereas the Senate’s version would go into effect for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2018.

Corporate AMT. The House bill would repeal the corporate AMT. The Senate bill, however, would retain the corporate AMT at its current 20% rate.

RIA observation: The 20% corporate AMT rate is equal to the 20% corporate rate that would go into effect under the Senate bill in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2018—which would effectively render many corporate tax breaks worthless.

Section 179 expensing. Both bills would increase the expensing cap and phase-out under Code Sec. 179, but the Senate would increase the cap to $1 million and begin the phase-out at $2.5 million (up from $520,000 and $2,070,000 for 2018 under current law), whereas the House would increase the cap to $5 million and start the phase-out at $20 million.

Pass-through provision. The Senate bill would generally allow a non-corporate taxpayer who has qualified business income (QBI) from a partnership, S corporation, or sole proprietorship to claim a deduction equal to 23% of pass-through income. The House bill would provide a new maximum rate of 25% on the “business income” of individuals, with a series of complex anti-abuse rules to prevent the recharacterization of wages as business income.