You probably already know that big changes in the tax code are going to take effect starting January 1, 2018.
What you may not know is that there are still a number of things you can do over the few couple of days to potentially leverage those changes to your own benefit. And there are other actions you can take over the coming year to take even greater advantage of the new tax payer rules.
Tax moves to consider making before 2017 is over — and some you might want to make in 2018
Alongside other changes, starting tax year 2018, the standard deduction for individuals almost doubles to $12,000 which is up from $6350 in 2017. Married couples will see their standard deduction rise from $12,700 in 2017 to $24,000 in 2018.
This means that even if you itemize in 2017, you may not be able to do so in 2018 unless your deductions exceed these higher thresholds. This isn’t necessarily bad because you’ll be able to take advantage of a larger standard deduction but it still makes sense to look at this further.
Let’s take an example to really understand what’s going on:
Let’s say you file as an individual and your current itemized deductions are $7000. Further, let’s assume that you project your itemized deductions will remain at about the same level for the foreseeable future.
That being the case, it makes sense to crowd as many deductions as you can into 2017.
That’s because in 2018 (in this example) and thereafter, your standard deduction ($12,000) will be higher than your actual expenses ($7,000) so you probably won’t itemize after 2017.
You get a greater standard deduction but you won’t be able to take advantage of the expenses you would otherwise itemize unless you find a way to pull them into 2017. Here are a some ways to do that:
State and local taxes, sales tax and property tax
Starting in 2018, the most you’ll be able to deduct for state and local income tax, sales tax and property tax is $10,000. The new tax law doesn’t allow you to prepay 2018 state and local income taxes and deduct those expenses on your 2017 return. But you may be able to prepay your 2018 property tax early if your local tax collector allows it. And if the $10,000 cap impacts you, this is something to look into. Check with your local tax property tax collection office to find out how to get this done over the next few days.
Also, if you make quarterly estimated payments, you can make your fourth-quarter payment by December 31st rather than January 16th 2018 and deduct those payments in 2017. Talk to your CPA about this if they haven’t already reached out.
Bunch your charitable contributions
The only way you’ll be able to claim a deduction for charitable contributions is if you itemize your deductions. And since the threshold will be higher starting in 2018, it may be more difficult to do.
One smart tactic might be to make greater contributions to charities before December 31, 2017.
Going forward, you might want to bunch up your contributions in years where your total itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction or simply make a greater charitable contribution every couple of years so you have a shot of meeting the threshold and writing them off.
Call your tax preparer this week
The new tax law does away with a number of deductions and credits but you might be able to still claim them in 2017 depending on your situation.
Ask your tax professional about prepaying unreimbursed job-related expenses and even tax preparation expenses. This is especially critical if you are an employee because deductions for job related spending and tax prep go away after December 31, 2017.
Take advantage of lower tax brackets
One of the benefits of the new tax law is that rates are reduced for many tax payers.
If it looks like you are going to be in that situation, pull out all the stops to push as much income as you can into 2018.
This goes for bonuses, commissions and any other income you have the ability to recognize after December 31, 2017. One word of caution: Before doing this, examine your unique situation carefully. Study the old and new tax brackets.
If you’re going to have a banner year in 2018 and expect to land in a higher bracket, you might be better off by reversing this and shifting some of that income to 2017, if possible. Even though the rates are higher now than they will be next year, if you are going to earn significantly more money next year, it might work out better for you to declare some of that income in 2017.
If you are currently deducting interest expense on an existing mortgage you have, you’ll be able to continue deducting that cost because you’ll be grandfathered in. But if you take a loan after December 15, 2017 you’ll only be able to deduct the interest on the first $750,000 you borrow. The cap of $750,000 applies to loans on your first and second home – combined.
This means you might reconsider moving if that involves taking out a big mortgage.
Another possible fix would be to use assets to pay down your mortgage to the levels that you can use to write off interest for new loans. With the stock market at all time highs, that might be a good way to reduce your after-tax cost of a big mortgage and reduce your exposure to the market.
IRA conversion recharacterization
After December 31st, you won’t be able to recharacterize IRA conversions. That’s too bad but this probably isn’t something you’d consider doing this year anyway. Here’s why:
Normally, people are interested in having a “do-over” when it comes to their IRA conversion when the stock market takes a big hit after they convert. The logic is, if the value was higher when they converted compared to the current value, they would be paying taxes on money they really no longer have.
Having said that, 2017 was pretty good for stock market investors. The odds of you converting some time during the year and now towards the end of the year, the value being much lower are remote. So, it’s good to understand that recharacterizations aren’t going to be available going forward but it probably isn’t a big deal for you right now.
Pack your bags
I mentioned earlier that you will only be able to write off state, local and property taxes up to $10,000 per year. Again, you have to consider your own situation carefully, but this might make it worth your while to move to a state with lower income and/or property taxes.
Even if you don’t take this step, please know that some of your neighbors will. That could end up hurting property values in high tax states long-term. You might want to get ahead of that wave and get out while the getting is good.
Open up your side business
Hands down, there are a lot more goodies for business in this tax bill than there are for individual tax payers. This might be the perfect time to fire up a small business or side gig. Before doing so however, please make sure to seek out professional tax advice. The tax opportunities are potentially great but the tax changes are complex. Professional guidance can be worth its weight in gold.
The tax code is going to change dramatically in 2018. It’s important to understand what’s happening, make the new rules for you next year and take advantage of the old rules while you still can. The smartest thing to do is contact your tax professional, create a tax plan and execute it accordingly.
Understand that the rules could easily change again. The IRS code is not written in stone. That’s why it’s always important to stay well informed of the changes as they occur.
Neal Frankle is a Certified Financial Planner and Editor of WealthPilgrim.com