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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017: Last-Minute Year-End Moves to Consider

December 21, 2017 | Mitch Estling

Congress is enacting the biggest tax reform law in 30 years, one that will make fundamental changes in the way you, your family and your business calculate your federal income tax bill and the amount of federal tax you will pay. Since most of the changes will go into effect next year, there’s still a narrow window of time before year-end to soften or avoid the impact of crackdowns and to best position yourself for the tax breaks that may be heading your way. Here’s a quick rundown of last-minute moves you should think about making.

Lower tax rates coming. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will reduce tax rates for many taxpayers, effective for the 2018 tax year. Additionally, many businesses, including those operated as pass-throughs, such as partnerships, may see their tax bills cut.

The general plan of action to take advantage of lower tax rates next year is to defer income into next year. Some possibilities follow:

  • If you are about to convert a regular IRA to a Roth IRA, postpone your move until next year. That way you’ll defer income from the conversion until next year and have it taxed at lower rates.
  • If you run a business that renders services and operates on the cash basis, the income you earn isn’t taxed until your clients or patients pay. So if you hold off on billings until next year—or until so late in the year that no payment will likely be received this year—you will likely succeed in deferring income until next year.

Disappearing or reduced deductions, larger standard deduction. Beginning next year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends or reduces many popular tax deductions in exchange for a larger standard deduction. Here’s what you can do about this right now:

  • Individuals (as opposed to businesses) will only be able to claim an itemized deduction of up to $10,000 ($5,000 for a married taxpayer filing a separate return) for the total of (1) state and local property taxes; and (2) state and local income taxes. To avoid this limitation, pay the last installment of estimated state and local taxes for 2017 no later than Dec. 31, 2017, rather than on the 2018 due date. But don’t prepay in 2017 a state income tax bill that will be imposed next year—Congress says such a prepayment won’t be deductible in 2017. However, Congress only forbade prepayments for state income taxes, not property taxes, so a prepayment on or before Dec. 31, 2017, of a 2018 property tax installment is apparently acceptable.
  • The itemized deduction for charitable contributions won’t be chopped. But because most other itemized deductions will be eliminated in exchange for a larger standard deduction (e.g., $24,000 for joint filers), charitable contributions after 2017 may not yield a tax benefit for many because they won’t be able to itemize deductions. If you think you will fall in this category, consider accelerating some charitable giving into 2017.
  • The new law temporarily boosts itemized deductions for medical expenses. If it looks like you won’t be able to itemize deductions after this year, but will be able to do so this year, consider accelerating “discretionary” medical expenses into this year. For example, before the end of the year, get new glasses or contacts, or see if you can squeeze in expensive dental work such as an implant.
  • For those individual who do have a mortgage on their personal residence and might be facing that $24,000 itemized deduction limit in 2018, make your January mortgage payment by Dec. 31, 2017. If the funds are automatically withdrawn from your bank, it is going to take some legwork to have them withdraw the funds early.

Other year-end strategies. Here are some other last minute moves that can save tax dollars in view of the new tax law:

  • The new law substantially increases the alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amount, beginning next year. There may be steps you can take now to take advantage of that increase. For example, the exercise of an incentive stock option (ISO) can result in AMT complications. So, if you hold any ISOs, it may be wise to postpone exercising them until next year. If the higher 2018 AMT exemption means you won’t be subject to the 2018 AMT, it may be worthwhile, via tax elections or postponed transactions, to push such transactions into 2018.
  • For decades, businesses have been able to deduct 50% of the cost of entertainment directly related to or associated with the active conduct of a business. But under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after Dec. 31, 2017, there’s no deduction for such expenses. So if you’ve been thinking of entertaining clients and business associates, do so before year-end.
  • The new law suspends the deduction for moving expenses after 2017 (except for certain members of the armed forces), and also suspends the tax-free reimbursement of employment-related moving expenses. So if you’re in the midst of a job-related move, try to incur your deductible moving expenses before year-end, or if the move is connected with a new job and you’re getting reimbursed by your new employer, press for a reimbursement to be made to you before year-end.
  • Under current law, various employee business expenses, such as employee home office expenses, are deductible as itemized deductions if those expenses plus certain other expenses exceed 2% of adjusted gross income. The new law suspends the deduction for employee business expenses paid after 2017. So, one should determine whether paying additional employee business expenses in 2017, that otherwise you would pay in 2018, would provide you with an additional 2017 tax benefit.

Click here to view a chart our tax team put together outlining the major differences between the current tax provisions and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. You may read the entire Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 bill here.

If you would like more details about any aspect of how the new law may affect you, please contact your BerganKDV advisor.

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