What the Tax Reform Act Means for You

Revised: 12/28/2017

Congress has passed a tax reform act that will take effect in 2018, ushering in some of the most significant tax changes in three decades. There are a lot of changes in the new act, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017.

You can use this memo as a high-level overview of some of the most significant items in the new act. Because major tax reform like this happens so seldom, it may be worthwhile for you to schedule a tax-planning consultation early in the year to ensure you reap the most tax savings possible during 2018.

Key changes for individuals:

Here are some of the key items in the tax reform act that affect individuals:

  • Reduces income tax brackets: The act retains seven brackets, but at reduced rates, with the highest tax bracket dropping to 37 percent from 39.6 percent. The individual income brackets are also expanded to expose more income to lower rates (see charts below).
  • Doubles standard deductions: The standard deduction nearly doubles to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly. To help cover the cost, personal exemptions and most additional standard deductions are suspended.
  • Limits itemized deductions: Many itemized deductions are no longer available, or are now limited. Here are some of the major examples:
    • Caps state and local tax deductions: State and local tax deductions are limited to $10,000 total for all property, income and sales taxes.
    • Caps mortgage interest deductions: For new acquisition indebtedness, mortgage interest will be deductible on indebtedness of no more than $750,000. Existing mortgages are unaffected by the new cap as the new limits go into place for acquisition indebtedness after Dec. 14, 2017. The act also suspends the deductibility of interest on home equity debt.
    • Limit of theft and casualty losses: Deductions are now available only for federally declared disaster areas.
    • No more 2 percent miscellaneous deductions: Most miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2 percent of adjusted gross income threshold are now gone.
  • Cuts some above-the-line deductions: Moving expense deductions get eliminated except for active-duty military personnel, along with alimony deductions beginning in 2019.
  • Weakens the alternative minimum tax (AMT): The act retains the alternative minimum tax but changes the exemption to $109,400 for joint filers and increases the phaseout threshold to $1 million. The changes mean the AMT will affect far fewer people than before.
  • Bumps up child tax credit, adds family tax credit: The child tax credit increases to $2,000 from $1,000, with $1,400 of it being refundable even if no tax is owed. The phaseout threshold increases sharply to $400,000 from $110,000 for joint filers, making it available to more taxpayers. Also, dependents ineligible for the child tax credit can qualify for a new $500-per-person family tax credit.
  • Expands use of 529 education savings plans: Qualified distributions from 529 education savings plans, which are not subject to tax, now include tuition payments for students in K-12 private schools.
  • Doubles estate tax exemption: Estate taxes will apply to even fewer people, with the exemption doubled to $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples).
  • Kiddie tax: Effective 2018, the “kiddie tax” on children’s unearned income will use the estates and trusts tax rate structure, meaning it will be taxed anywhere from 10 percent to 37 percent.

What stays the same for individuals:

  • Itemized charitable deductions: Remain largely the same.
  • Itemized medical expense deductions: Remain largely the same. The deduction threshold drops back to 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for 2017 and 2018, but reverts to 10 percent in the following years.
  • Some above-the-line deductions: Remain the same, including $250 of educator expenses and $2,500 of qualified student loan interest.
  • Gift tax deduction: Remains and increases to $15,000 from $14,000 for 2018.

Farewell to the healthcare individual mandate penalty

One of the changes in the tax act is the suspension of the individual mandate penalty in the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”). The penalty is set to zero starting in 2019, but remains in place for 2018 and prior years.

Tip: Retain your Form 1095s, which will provide evidence of your healthcare coverage. Without it, you may have to pay the individual mandate penalty, which is the higher of $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Beginning in 2019, this penalty is set to zero.

NOTICE: The IRS recently granted employers and health care providers a 30-day filing extension for Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, to March 2, 2018. The IRS clarified that taxpayers are not required to wait until receipt of these forms to file their taxes.

New 2018 tax bracket structures for individuals
Single taxpayer

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $9,525 10%
$9,525 $38,700 12%
$38,700 $82,500 22%
$82,500 $157,500 24%
$157,500 $200,000 32%
$200,000 $500,000 35%
$500,000   37%

Head of household

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $13,600 10%
$13,600 $51,800 12%
$51,800 $82,500 22%
$82,500 $157,500 24%
$157,500 $200,000 32%
$200,000 $500,000 35%
$500,000   37%


Married filing jointly

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $19,050 10%
$19,050 $77,400 12%
$77,400 $165,000 22%
$165,000 $315,000 24%
$315,000 $400,000 32%
$400,000 $600,000 35%
$600,000   37%


Married filing separately

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $9,525 10%
$9,525 $38,700 12%
$38,700 $82,500 22%
$82,500 $157,500 24%
$157,500 $200,000 32%
$200,000 $300,000 35%
$300,000   37%

 Estates and trusts

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $2,550 10%
$2,550 $9,150 24%
$9,150 $12,500 35%
$12,500   37%

Key changes for small businesses:

Here are some of these key items in the tax reform act that affect businesses:

  • Cuts the corporate tax rate: Corporate tax gets cut and simplified to a flat 21 percent rate, changed from a multi-bracket structure with a 35 percent top rate.
  • Reduces pass-through taxes: Most owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships will see their income tax lowered with a new 20 percent income reduction calculation.
  • Beefs up capital expensing: Through 2022, short-lived capital investments in such items as machinery and equipment may be fully expensed as soon as they are placed in service, using bonus depreciation. This now also applies to used items instead of only new ones; they just need to be placed in service for the first time in your business. After 2022, allowable bonus depreciation is then lowered incrementally over the next four years.
  • Strengthens Section 179 deduction: Section 179 deduction limits get raised to enable expensing of up to $1 million, and the phaseout threshold increases to $2.5 million. Section 179 may now also be used on expenses related to improvements to nonresidential real estate.
  • Nixes the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT): The 20 percent corporate AMT applied to businesses goes away entirely.
  • Expands use of cash-method accounting: Businesses with less than $25 million in gross receipts over the last three years may adopt the cash method of accounting.
  • Reforms international taxation: Treatment of international income moves to the territorial system standard, in which foreign investments are generally only taxed in the place in which they operate. The new laws allow tax deductions for certain foreign-sourced dividends, reduced tax rates for foreign intangible income and reduced tax rates for repatriation of deferred foreign income.
  • Repeals business entertainment deduction: Businesses will no longer be able to deduct 50 percent of the cost of entertainment, amusement or recreation directly related to their trade or business. The 50 percent deduction for business-related meals remains in place, however.
  • Modifies several business credits: Several business credits are maintained but modified, including the orphan drug credit, the rehabilitation credit, the employer credit for paid family or medical leave and the research and experimentation credit.
  • Boosts luxury automobile depreciation: Luxury automobiles placed in service after 2017 will have allowable depreciation of $10,000 for the first year, $16,000 the second, $9,600 the third and $5,760 for subsequent years.

This brief summary of the tax reform act is provided for your information. Any major financial decisions or tax-planning activities in light of this new legislation should be considered with the advice of a tax professional. Call if you have questions regarding your particular situation. Feel free to share this memo with those you think may benefit from it.

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Five Home Office Deduction Mistakes

If you operate a business out of your home, you may be able to deduct a wide variety of expenses. These may include part of your rent or mortgage costs, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance, and cleaning costs related to the space you use.

But the home office tax deduction is a tricky area of the tax code that is full of pitfalls. Some taxpayers are so wary of the deduction that they simply opt not to take it. If you’re in this group, read some of the most common mistakes and then get help.

  1. Not taking it. This is probably the biggest mistake those with home offices make. Some believe the deduction is too complicated, while others believe taking a home office deduction increases your chance of being audited. While the rules can be complicated, there are now simple home office deduction methods available to every business.
  2. Not exclusive or regular. The space you use must be used exclusively and regularly for your business.

Exclusively: If you use a spare bedroom as a business office, it can’t double as a guest room, a playroom for the kids, or a place to store your hockey gear. Any kind of non-business use can invalidate you for the deduction.

Regularly: It should be the primary place you conduct your regular business activities. That doesn’t mean that you have to use it every day nor does it stop you from doing work outside the office, but it should be the primary place for business activities such as recordkeeping, billing, making appointments, ordering equipment, or storing supplies.

  1. Mixing up your other work. If you are an employee for someone else in addition to running your own business, be careful in using your home office to do work for your employer. Generally, IRS rules state you can use a home office deduction as an employee only if your employer doesn’t provide you with a local office to work at.

Unfortunately, this means if you run a side business out of your home office, you cannot also bring work home from your employer’s office and do it in your home office. That would invalidate your use of the home office deduction.

  1. The recapture problem. If you have been using your home office deduction, including depreciating part of your home, you could be in for a future tax surprise. When you later sell your home you will need to account for this depreciation. This depreciation recapture rule creates a possible tax liability for many unsuspecting home office users.
  2. Not getting help. There are special rules that apply to your use of the home office deduction if:

You are an employee of someone else.

You are running a daycare or assisted living facility out of your home.

You have a business renting out your primary residence or a vacation home.

The home office deduction can be tricky, so be sure to ask for help, especially if you fall under one of these cases.

Things to remember

Recognizing the home office deduction complexity, the IRS created a simplified “safe harbor” home office deduction. You simply take the square footage of your office, up to 300 square feet, and multiply it by $5. This gives you a potential $1,500 maximum deduction. However, your savings could be much greater than $1,500, so it’s often worth getting help to calculate your full deduction.

Finally, if you are concerned about a potential future audit, take a photo or two of your home office. This is especially important if you move. That way if you are ever challenged, you can visually attempt to show your compliance to the rules.

The Rules for Withdrawing from a 529 College Savings Plan

After years of putting money in your 529 college savings plan, you’re ready to start taking withdrawals to pay tuition bills. Do you know the rules for keeping the withdrawals tax-free?

Here’s an overview of three types of 529 plan distributions.

  • Qualified withdrawals. When you take money from the account to pay for college education expenses such as tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment, the withdrawals are generally tax- and penalty-free, no matter the age of the account beneficiary.

    Caution: Part of the distribution may be taxable when the account beneficiary receives tax-free assistance such as a scholarship. In addition, you must coordinate 529 withdrawals with the American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit, as well as distributions from Coverdell education savings accounts. These rules prevent the use of the same expenses to obtain multiple tax benefits.

  • Nonqualified withdrawals. The earnings portion of withdrawals that are used for anything other than qualified education expenses are taxable. You’ll also have to pay a 10 percent penalty on the earnings, unless an exception applies.
  • Rollovers. You can deposit or rollover withdrawals into the 529 plan of a family member, or into another account of which you are the beneficiary. When the rollover is completed within 60 days after you take the initial distribution, it’s not taxable.

If you have questions or need help calculating 529 plan withdrawals, please call our office.

New Job? Four Choices for Your Existing 401(k)

Changing jobs and companies can be an exciting opportunity, but you have a choice to make. What will you do with the retirement savings you have built in your 401(k)? Consider these four options:

  1. Withdraw the money and don’t reinvest it. This is usually the worst choice you can make. Generally, you’ll owe taxes on the distribution at ordinary income rates. (Special rules may apply if you own company stock in the plan.) Unless you’re over age 59½, you’ll pay a 10 percent penalty tax, too. More importantly, you’ll lose the opportunity for future tax-deferred growth of your retirement savings. And once you have the funds readily available, it’s all too easy to spend the money instead of saving for your retirement.
  2. Roll the money into an IRA. You can avoid immediate taxes and preserve the tax-favored status of your savings by rolling the money into an IRA. This option also gives you full control over how you invest the balances in the future. You have a 60-day window to complete the rollover from the time you close out your 401(k). However, you should always ask for a “trustee-to-trustee” rollover to avoid potential problems.
  3. Roll the balance into your new employer’s plan. If your new employer allows it, you can roll the balance into your new plan and invest it according to your new investment choices. However, there may be a waiting period before you can join your new plan.
  4. Leave the money in your old employer’s plan. You may be able to leave the balance in your old plan, at least temporarily. Then you can do a rollover to an IRA or a new plan later. Check with your employer to see if this is an option.

Call if you need help making the right choice for your particular circumstances.

Becoming a Smarter Renter

It seems everyone has a tale of a bad rental experience. If you rent anything – a home, a piece of equipment, or a car – here are some hints that can make it a positive experience.

Read all agreements. Read the lease agreement thoroughly prior to signing. Ask for clarification of anything you do not understand. Look for clauses in the agreement that might suggest the property owner has problems with its current tenants. If the agreement seems unfriendly, don’t sign it.

Negotiate up front. Be ready to negotiate your lease terms up front. If anything is unclear in the lease, have it clarified and put in writing. Be very clear about security deposits, first and last month’s rent, and services included in the lease.

Follow the terms. Be the tenant that pays a little early, not the one that always pays late. That way if you ever need a little extra time to pay, you have established the necessary trust to do so.

Proactive disclosure. If you think you will need a temporary exception to part of the lease, try to include it in your upfront negotiations. If this is not possible, consider proactively disclosing the exception to your property owner.

Keep the property clean. This is especially important if you have a pet in your rental property. When landlords come into your home, you will build confidence if the place looks like you treat it as if you owned it. The same is true with rental equipment. Always return it cleaner than you received it.

Know the owner and neighbors. Building a relationship with the property owner and your neighbors helps. If your neighbor has a problem with you, wouldn’t you rather have them come to you than to your landlord? Establishing a good working relationship with a landlord will help you when you need help with a problem in your home or with the equipment you rent.

Leave with a smile. This is especially true for home and vacation rentals. Before you leave, have the property cleaned and hassle-free for the landlord. Request a reference from the landlord for future rentals.

Four Tips for Building an Emergency Fund

When facing life’s inevitable bumps in the road, an emergency fund is essential to maintaining financial security. Planning for emergencies is like buying insurance: you pay into an account and hope you’ll never have to use it. But life happens. Cars break down. Roofs leak. Kids get injured. Having money in the bank to cover those unexpected expenses can reduce stress and keep you from relying on credit cards and loans to make ends meet.

Here are four easy and effective ways to establish and maintain an emergency fund.

  • Start small. Many financial planners advise setting aside enough money to cover at least six months of expenses. That’s a worthy goal. But for many people it’s also a daunting task, an objective that will take years – not months – to achieve. So set a realistic and achievable amount for your emergency fund, and then get in the habit of contributing regularly. Then don’t touch the account except for real emergencies. Leave it alone and it will grow.
  • Pump it up. When you get a bonus, cost-of-living adjustment, tax refund, or windfall, consider using a portion of that money to bolster your emergency account. Fight the temptation to increase spending with every new dollar that comes along.
  • Make it automatic. With online banking, it’s easy to set up routine transfers from your regular checking account to a separate savings account. If allowed by your employer, allocate a portion of each paycheck to an emergency fund. Consider establishing the account at a financial institution other than your regular bank. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” If the money never shows up in your regular checking account, you’ll be less likely to use it for everyday spending.
  • Sell stuff and slash expenses. Think about selling some of your unused stuff through yard sales, online auctions, or consignment shops. This can generate cash to bolster your emergency fund. Take a hard look at your budget and consider everything fair game: expensive dinners, vacations, cable television, and so on. You may find that a surprising number of dollars can be freed up and stashed away in savings. The key, of course, is to direct those savings – immediately, if possible – away from regular spending and into your emergency account.

If you’d like more ideas for setting financial goals or building up an emergency fund, give us a call.

How Much Do You Need to Retire?

The statistics are staggering. The majority of Americans do not save for retirement or have not saved enough for retirement. Make sure you’re taking these three steps to be financially prepared for your retirement. Nearly half (45 percent) of working-age households don’t have any retirement assets, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. Of those working-age households close to retirement (age 55 and older) nearly two-thirds have less than one year’s worth of their annual salary in retirement savings.

The goal

So how much do you actually need to retire comfortably? There are many variables to consider, including retirement age, available pensions, and investment return assumptions. Mutual fund broker, Fidelity, estimates you need enough savings to replace roughly 85 percent of your pre-retirement income. Many experts estimate you will have to save between 8 and 12 times your pre-retirement annual income to reach this goal.

But the amount you need depends on when you plan to retire. For example, Fidelity estimates a person planning on retiring at age 65 will need to save 12 times their pre-retirement income. By delaying retirement by just five years, to age 70, your savings estimate lowers to 8 times your annual income.

This may be why an increasing number of Americans plan on delaying retirement or working during retirement. A majority (51 percent) of workers surveyed in 2016 by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies said they plan on working during retirement.

Some ideas to consider now

These are sobering realities, but there are actions you can take to be in a better position during your golden years.

  1. Contribute as much as possible every year to your employer provided retirement plans. With a 401(k) pretax retirement plan, for instance, up to $18,000 can be contributed each year, or $24,000 if you are age 50 or older.
  2. Contribute as much as possible to a Traditional or Roth IRA every year, up to the $5,500 maximum, or $6,500 if you are age 50 or older.
  3. If available, contribute as much as possible to a health savings account (HSA), which can be used to offset medical expenses, up to $3,400 a year, or $4,400 if you are age 55 or older.

If you’d like to review your tax-advantaged retirement strategy, call to schedule an appointment.

Five Financial Lessons to Teach Your Children

“Dad, I need some extra money to go to the movies with my friends.” If you are a parent, you’ve probably heard countless requests like this.

At some point your kids will discover they can no longer rely on you for all their financial needs. Because recent studies have found that teaching financial literacy is lacking in many schools, it’s up to parents to provide the fundamentals of finance to their children. Here are some concepts you can use to begin introducing your kids to the lessons of personal finance.

  • Spend a little, save a little. Whether receiving a birthday gift or allowance money, teach your kids to get into the habit of saving a portion of what they receive. Help them create savings goals like the purchase of a bike or creation of a college fund.
  • Don’t worry about what others have. Teach your children to avoid spending money to follow the crowd. Take a look at the unused toy bin to demonstrate the point. Chasing the need to own $200-$500 sneakers can lead poor financial habits in the future.
  • Be money mindful. Remind your child to think before they spend money. Help them understand that wanting something doesn’t always mean that they need to have it. You can also help them to prioritize their spending. For example, saving for the running shoes your child might need for track may be more important than the money he or she would spend on a night at the movies with friends.
  • Learning about finances is fun. Set aside some time each week to learn about a new personal finance topic together. You can help your child learn about checking accounts, setting up a budget, getting a small loan, or simple ways to start saving. Getting them interested in financial topics at a young age will help them throughout their lives.
  • Tax talk. If your child is old enough to earn a paycheck, teach them tax basics. Walk them through their paycheck. Social security, Medicare, and withholdings are new concepts for them. Help them understand how the money is used. Don’t overlook other taxes as well. They also need to know that sales tax should be factored into the cost of items they choose to purchase.

It’s important to keep the conversation going. Encourage your children to ask questions, and get them involved with your household spending. There are many ways you can help them develop a healthy understanding of personal finance.

Don’t Assume It’s Correct Just Because It’s the IRS

You may receive correspondence from the IRS that contains an error. What should you do?

Here are some quotes from actual IRS correspondence received by clients:

“Our records show we received a 1040X…for the tax year listed above. We’re sorry but we cannot find it.”

“Our records show you owe a balance due of $0.00. If we do not receive it within 30 days, appropriate collection steps will be taken.”

“Payment is due on your account. Please submit payments on or before June 31 to avoid late payment penalties and interest.”

It’s pretty tough to pay a balance due of $0.00 or submit a payment on June 31 when June has only 30 days. The message should be clear. If you receive a notice from the IRS, don’t automatically assume it is correct and then submit a payment to make it go away. The same is true for errors in any state tax agency notices. They are often in error. So what should you do?

Stay calm. Try not to overreact to the correspondence. This is easier said than done, but remember, the IRS sends out millions of notices each year. The vast majority of these notices attempt to correct simple oversights or common filing errors.

Open the envelope. You’d be surprised how often clients are so stressed by receiving a letter from the IRS that they cannot bear to open the envelope. If you fall into this category, try to remember that the first step in making the problem go away is to open the correspondence.

Review the letter. Make sure you understand exactly what the IRS thinks needs to be changed and determine whether or not you agree with their findings. Unfortunately, the IRS rarely sends correspondence to correct an oversight in your favor, but it sometimes happens.

Respond in a timely manner. The correspondence received should be very clear about what action the IRS believes you should take and within what timeframe. Ignore this information at your own risk. Delays in responses could generate penalties and additional interest payments.

Get help. You are not alone. Getting assistance from someone who deals with this all the time makes going through the process much smoother.

Correct the IRS error. Once the problem is understood, a clearly written response with copies of documentation will cure most IRS correspondence errors. Often the error is due to the inability of the IRS computers to conduct a simple reporting match. Pointing the information out on your tax return might be all it takes to solve the problem.

Certified mail is your friend. Send any response to the IRS via certified mail. This will provide proof of your timely correspondence. Lost mail can lead to delays, penalties, and additional interest on your tax bill.

Don’t assume it will go away. Until you receive definitive confirmation that the problem has been resolved, assume the IRS still thinks you owe the money. If you don’t receive correspondence confirming the correction, send a written follow-up.

Do You Live or Work in Kansas?

If so, the recent changes WILL AFFECT YOU!

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  • These changes are retroactive and apply starting January 1, 2017.
  • Business and rental income (Sole Proprietors, S Corporation and Partnership owners) which was previously exempt from Kansas tax is once again taxable.
  • Increase in tax rates for 2017.  The highest rate will be 5.2% for those with Kansas income in excess of $60,000.  These rates will increase again in 2018 to a high of 5.7%.
  • No taxpayer penalties or interest will be charged for underpayment of taxes due to this change in law as long as the underpayment is paid by April 17, 2018.
  • Limitations on itemized deductions will ease but not in 2017.  Starting in 2018 a portion of medical expense will be allowed and mortgage interest and property tax deductions will phase back in.
  • For W-2 employees, Kansas withholding tax rates were updated on July 1, 2017.  These rates have been updated for the remainder of 2017 at the higher 2018 rates to compensate for the first 6 months of withholding at lower rates.   However, some employees may still not have enough tax withheld for the year.

WHAT STEPS TO TAKE:

  • Consider making higher KS estimated tax payments to avoid a large Kansas tax bill at April 17, 2018.
  • Consider having extra Kansas tax withheld from your paycheck.
  • Contact us to prepare a projection of the Kansas tax you may owe for 2017.

Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about these changes!