Why you may want to accelerate your property tax payment into 2017

11-15-17

Accelerating deductible expenses, such as property tax on your home, into the current year typically is a good idea. Why? It will defer tax, which usually is beneficial. Prepaying property tax may be especially beneficial this year, because proposed tax legislation might reduce or eliminate the benefit of the property tax deduction beginning in 2018.

Proposed changes

The initial version of the House tax bill would cap the property tax deduction for individuals at $10,000. The initial version of the Senate tax bill would eliminate the property tax deduction for individuals altogether.

In addition, tax rates under both bills would go down for many taxpayers, making deductions less valuable. And because the standard deduction would increase significantly under both bills, some taxpayers might no longer benefit from itemizing deductions.

2017 year-end planning

You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2017 but that are due in 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return. But you generally can’t prepay property tax that relates to 2018 and deduct the payment on your 2017 return.

Prepaying property tax will in most cases be beneficial if the property tax deduction is eliminated beginning in 2018. But even if the property tax deduction is retained, prepaying could still be beneficial. Here’s why:

  • If your property tax bill is very large, prepaying is likely a good idea in case the property tax deduction is capped beginning in 2018.
  • If you could be subject to a lower tax rate in 2018 or won’t have enough itemized deductions overall in 2018 to exceed a higher standard deduction, prepaying is also likely tax-smart because a property tax deduction next year would have less or no benefit.

However, there are a few caveats:

  • If you’re subject to the AMT in 2017, you won’t get any benefit from prepaying your property tax. And if the property tax deduction is retained for 2018, the prepayment could cost you a tax-saving opportunity next year.
  • If your income is high enough that the income-based itemized deduction reduction applies to you, the tax benefit of a prepayment may be reduced.
  • While the initial versions of both the House and Senate bills generally lower tax rates, some taxpayers might still end up being subject to higher tax rates in 2018, either because of tax law changes or simply because their income goes up next year. If you’re among them and the property tax deduction is retained, you may save more tax by holding off on paying property tax until it’s due next year.

It’s still uncertain what the final legislation will contain and whether it will be passed and signed into law this year. We can help you make the best decision based on tax law change developments and your specific situation.

© 2017

 

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Update your estate plan to reflect your second marriage

11-14-17

If you’re in a second marriage or planning another trip down the aisle, it’s vital to review and revise (if necessary) your estate plan. You probably want to provide for your current spouse and not inadvertently benefit your former spouse. And if you have children from each marriage, juggling their interests can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at a few planning tips.

Take inventory

Have you updated your will, trusts and beneficiary designations to name your current spouse where desired? Bear in mind that the terms of your divorce may require you to retain your former spouse as beneficiary of certain pension plans or retirement accounts.

Next, assess your financial situation and think about how you want to provide for various family members. For example, do you want to provide for all children equally? Will you favor biological children over stepchildren?

Also, are children from your first marriage significantly older than children from your second marriage? If so, their needs likely will be different. For example, if children from the first marriage are college age, in the short term they may need more financial support than children from your current marriage. On the other hand, if your older children are financially independent adults, they may need less help than your younger children.

Use trusts

Trusts generally avoid probate, so your assets can be distributed efficiently. However, if you leave your wealth to your current spouse outright, there’s nothing to prevent him or her from spending it all or leaving it to a new spouse, effectively disinheriting your children. To avoid this result, you can design a trust that provides income for your current spouse while preserving the principal for your children.

Trusts are particularly valuable if your children from a previous marriage are minors. Generally, if you leave assets to minors outright, they must be held in a conservatorship until the children reach the age of majority. It’s likely that your former spouse will be appointed conservator, gaining control over your wealth. Even though your former spouse will be obligated to act in your children’s best interests and will be supervised by a court, he or she will have considerable discretion over how your assets are invested and used.

To avoid this situation, consider establishing trusts for the benefit of your minor children. That way, a trustee of your choosing will manage the assets and control distributions to or on behalf of your children.

If you’re preparing for a second trip down the aisle or have recently wed for a second time, contact us for help reviewing and, if necessary, revising your estate plan.

© 2017

 

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The write stuff: A letter of instructions

11-2-17

When you draft an estate plan, the centerpiece is your will or living trust. Such a document determines who gets what, where, when and how, as well as tying up the loose ends of your estate. A valid will or living trust can be supplemented by other legally binding documents, such as trusts (or additional trusts), powers of attorney and health care directives.

But there’s still a place at the table for a document that has absolutely no legal authority: a “letter of instructions” to your heirs. This informal letter can provide valuable guidance and act as a road map to the rest of your estate.

Taking inventory

Begin your letter of instructions by stating the location of your will or living trust. Then create an inventory of all your assets and include their location, any account numbers and relevant contact information. This may include, but isn’t necessarily limited to, checking and savings accounts, 401(k) plans and IRAs, health insurance policies, business insurance, life and disability income insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments, and any tangible assets your heirs may not readily find.

The contact information should include the names, phone numbers and addresses (including emails) of the professionals handling your financial accounts and paperwork, such as an attorney, CPA, banker, life insurance agent and stockbroker. Also, list the beneficiaries of retirement plans, IRAs and insurance policies and their contact information.

Guidance for personal preferences

A letter of instructions is more than just a listing of assets and their locations. Typically, it will include other items of a personal nature, such as funeral, burial or cremation arrangements, accounting of fees paid for cemetery plots or mausoleums, the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people and organizations to be notified upon death, and specific instructions for handling personal and financial affairs after you’re gone.

The letter can also expand on instructions in a living will or other health care directive. For example, it might provide additional details about the decision for being taken off life support systems. It may also cover charitable contributions you wish to be made after death or the manner in which property should be donated to charity.

Putting pen to paper

As you’re writing your letter, bear in mind that there are no legal requirements backing it. And just like a will or living trust, the letter should be updated periodically to reflect significant changes in your life. Finally, keep the letter in a safe place where the people whom you want to read it can easily find it. Contact us if you have questions about a letter of instructions.

© 2017

 

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Retirement savings opportunity for the self-employed

10-24-17

Did you know that if you’re self-employed you may be able to set up a retirement plan that allows you to contribute much more than you can contribute to an IRA or even an employer-sponsored 401(k)? There’s still time to set up such a plan for 2017, and it generally isn’t hard to do. So whether you’re a “full-time” independent contractor or you’re employed but earn some self-employment income on the side, consider setting up one of the following types of retirement plans this year.

Profit-sharing plan

This is a defined contribution plan that allows discretionary employer contributions and flexibility in plan design. (As a self-employed person, you’re both the employer and the employee.) You can make deductible 2017 contributions as late as the due date of your 2017 tax return, including extensions — provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2017.

For 2017, the maximum contribution is 25% of your net earnings from self-employment, up to a $54,000 contribution. If you include a 401(k) arrangement in the plan, you might be able to contribute a higher percentage of your income. If you include such an arrangement and are age 50 or older, you may be able to contribute as much as $60,000.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)

This is a defined contribution plan that provides benefits similar to those of a profit-sharing plan. But you can establish a SEP in 2018 and still make deductible 2017 contributions as late as the due date of your 2017 income tax return, including extensions. In addition, a SEP is easy to administer.

For 2017, the maximum SEP contribution is 25% of your net earnings from self-employment, up to a $54,000 contribution.

Defined benefit plan

This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. The maximum annual benefit for 2017 is generally $215,000 or 100% of average earned income for the highest three consecutive years, if less.

Because it’s actuarially driven, the contribution needed to attain the projected future annual benefit may exceed the maximum contributions allowed by other plans, depending on your age and the desired benefit. You can make deductible 2017 defined benefit plan contributions until your return due date, provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2017.

More to think about

Additional rules and limits apply to these plans, and other types of plans are available. Also, keep in mind that things get more complicated — and more expensive — if you have employees. Why? Generally, they must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements. To learn more about retirement plans for the self-employed, contact us.

© 2017

 

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2 ACA taxes that may apply to your exec comp

10-18-17

If you’re an executive or other key employee, you might be rewarded for your contributions to your company’s success with compensation such as restricted stock, stock options or nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC). Tax planning for these forms of “exec comp,” however, is generally more complicated than for salaries, bonuses and traditional employee benefits.

And planning gets even more complicated if you could potentially be subject to two taxes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): 1) the additional 0.9% Medicare tax, and 2) the net investment income tax (NIIT). These taxes apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

Additional Medicare tax

The following types of exec comp could be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold,
  • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election,
  • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised, and
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture.

NIIT

The following types of gains from stock acquired through exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election, and
  • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements.

Keep in mind that the additional Medicare tax and the NIIT could possibly be eliminated under tax reform or ACA-related legislation. If you’re concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed, please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.

© 2017

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