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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.