Years ago, to prevent parents from transferring their investment accounts into their children’s name to avoid taxes, Congress created what is referred to as the kiddie tax. This counteracted the strategy of taking income from the parents’ higher tax bracket and shifting it to their children’s lower tax bracket.
The kiddie tax plugged that tax loophole by taxing the child’s unearned income (income not from working) at the parent’s top marginal rate.
That has all changed under the new tax reform. Beginning in 2018, children’s tax rates are no longer based upon their parents’ top marginal rates.
“Home office” is a type of tax deduction that applies to the business use of a home; the space itself may not actually be an office. This category also includes using part of a home for storing inventory (e.g., for a wholesale or retail business for which the home is the only fixed location); as a day care center; as a physical meeting place for interacting with customers, patients, or clients; or the principal place of business for any trade or business.
Generally, except when used to store inventory, an office area must be used on a regular and continuing basis and exclusively restricted to the trade or business (i.e., no personal use). Two methods can be used to determine a home-office deduction: the actual-expense method and the simplified method.
Roth IRA accounts provide the benefits of tax-free accumulation and, once you reach retirement age, tax-free distributions. This is the reason why so many taxpayers are converting their traditional IRA account to a Roth IRA. However, to do so, you must generally pay tax on the on the converted amount. After making a conversion, your circumstances may change, and you may find yourself wishing you had not made the conversion. In the past, you could change your mind later and undo the conversion. But that option is no longer available under tax reform. So, be careful: once a conversion is made, there is no going back.
Timing is everything, and a favorable time to make a traditional IRA to Roth IRA conversion is a year when your income is abnormally low or the value of your traditional IRA has declined. You can also convert portions of your traditional IRA over a number of years, thereby gradually converting the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, spreading the tax liability over a number of years, and keeping it in a lower tax bracket. If you previously made non-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA, those amounts can be converted tax-free but must be converted ratably with the other funds in the traditional IRA.
Not all provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are beneficial to taxpayers. One notable negative provision is the suspension of the deduction for employee business expenses. Under prior law, taxpayers who were employees were able to deduct expenses related to their employment as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, to the extent the expenses exceeded 2% of their adjusted gross income. Yet, under the tax reform, employee business expenses will not be allowed for tax years 2018 through 2025.
However, this new limitation does not apply to individuals who are self-employed. For this group of taxpayers, expenses such as business use of their personal vehicle, business-related travel, work-related education, and use of a qualified home office for business continue to be tax-deductible on their business schedules. Furthermore, tax reform actually provides them with more liberal expensing options and, for some, even a special deduction of 20% of qualified business income.
Tax reform has changed the way most taxpayers need to think about and plan for their taxes. It is no longer business as usual, and those who think it is are in for a rude awakening come tax time next year.
For most taxpayers, the most significant change is the increase in their standard deduction, which on the surface seems like a big benefit. But don’t overlook the fact that the same tax reform that nearly doubled the standard deduction took away the personal exemption as a deduction. So, for example, under old law for 2018, a married couple’s standard deduction would have been $13,000, and their two personal exemptions would have been $8,300 (2 x $4,150), for a total deduction of $21,300. Under the new law, they will be able to deduct $24,000, the new standard deduction for 2018. So, their total increase over what they would have gotten under prior law is only $2,700. If they have four children, their deductions for 2018 under prior law would have been $37,900 ($13,000 plus 6 x $4,150), as compared to the new law’s $24,000. However, for individuals with children under age 17, the child tax credit for 2018 was increased to $2,000 (with $1,400 being refundable) from the prior $1,000, in many cases making up for the loss in the exemption deduction. Note that a credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the tax, while a deduction reduces the income that is taxable.
If you are recently divorced or are contemplating divorce you will have to deal with or plan for significant tax issues such as asset division, alimony, and tax-return filing status. If you have children, additional issues include child support; claiming of the children as dependents; the child, child care, and education tax credits; and perhaps even the earned-income tax credit (EITC).
Even though the 2017 tax due date has come and gone, and even though you have filed your 2017 tax return, you may still need to keep your 2017 tax records. Generally, tax records are retained for two reasons: (1) in case the IRS or a state agency decides to question the information on your tax returns or (2) to keep track of the tax basis of your capital assets so that you can minimize your tax liability when you dispose of those assets.
If you are like most taxpayers, you have records from years ago that you are afraid to throw away. With certain exceptions, the statute for assessing additional taxes is three years from the return’s due date or its filling date, whichever is later. However, the statute of limitations in many states is one year longer than that of federal law.
With all of the tax reform changes and the corresponding reductions in most taxpayers’ income tax withholding, there are serious concerns that the reduction in withholding, although providing more take-home pay now, could end up resulting in unexpected taxes due at tax time next year. For that reason, taxpayers should be overly cautious about their payroll withholding for 2018. One need only look at the W-4 instructions to realize that an individual without any substantial tax training can quickly become lost when filling out the worksheets. It is not business as usual.
What adds to the problem is that many taxpayers count on a refund to pay property taxes, insurance, and other large expenses. The W-4 worksheets are designed to withhold the correct amount of tax with no substantial refund, and many tax practitioners are reporting that clients’ withholdings for 2018 have been reduced to seriously low amounts.
Alimony is the term used for payments to a separated spouse or ex-spouse as part of a divorce or separation agreement. Since 1985, to be alimony for tax purposes meets several criteria listed in this week’s article.
Divorce Agreements Completed before the End of 2018 – For divorce agreements finalized before the end of 2018, the recipient (payee) of alimony must include it in his or her income for tax purposes. The payer is allowed to deduct the payments above the line (without itemizing deductions), technically referred to as an adjustment to gross income. The spouse receiving the alimony can treat it as earned income for purposes of qualifying to make an IRA contribution, thus allowing the recipient spouse to contribute to an IRA even if he or she has no other income from working.
Divorce Agreements Completed after 2018 – Under the Act, for divorce agreements entered into after 2018, the alimony is not deductible by the payer and is not taxable income for the recipient. Since the recipient isn’t reporting alimony income, it cannot be treated as earned income for purposes of the recipient making an IRA contribution.
Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, imposed what a “share-responsibility payment” on taxpayers who did not sign up for minimum essential health coverage. This payment is essentially a penalty for not being insured.
The penalty was phased in during 2014 and 2015, and it became fully effective in 2016. The penalty also began to be inflation adjusted after 2017.
The penalty for 2018 is the greater of the sum of the family’s flat dollar amounts or 2.5% of the amount by which the household’s income exceeds the income-tax filing threshold.
For 2018, the flat dollar amounts are $700 per year ($58.33 per month) for each adult and $350 per year ($29.17 per month) for each child; the maximum family penalty using this method is $2,100 per year ($175 per month).