Essential Money Moves to Make Before the Year’s End

The end of 2018 is quickly approaching, but there are a few key money moves you should make before the new year, especially in light of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The higher standard deduction means more Americans will ditch itemizing their 2018 federal tax returns.

That means you should probably focus on year-end tax strategies that first lower taxable income, rather than maximize tax deductions. Here are a few key items to tackle before the ball drops on the new year.

Take Stock of Losses

If you follow the stock market, you know that the last few months have been volatile, so there’s a good chance that some of your investments have become losses. That might sound bad, but any losses that are in a taxable account, such as an investment account, bank account, or money market mutual fund, can be sold to offset other taxable investment gains in the same year. Furthermore, if your losses exceed your gains, you can apply up to $3,000 to offset ordinary taxable income from this year.

Max Out Retirement Savings

As close as possible, that is. The more money you put into your 401(k), the more financial security you’ll have in the long run, but a lot of these contributions also reduce your taxable income. At this point you probably only have one or two more paychecks from which to have funds withheld, but even a few hundred dollars more can provide some near-term tax relief as well as bolster your retirement savings.

Fund Your HSA

You have until the 2018 tax-filing deadline to fully fund your health saving account (HSA) in order to get a bigger deduction. The maximum limits are:

  • Individuals: $3,450
  • Families: $6,900
  • 55 or older: an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution

These accounts can roll over indefinitely, so they’re a smart way to save for future medical expenses. HSAs also have a triple tax benefit: contributions are tax-deductible (even if you don’t itemize), earned interest is tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they’re used to pay for qualified medical expenses.

Use Up Your FSA

The funds in a flexible spending account typically don’t roll over to the next calendar year. However, some employers allow $500 to carry over into the new year or grant employees until March to spend FSA funds. Even so, now is a good time to use the pretax dollars for doctor appointments, flu shots, and even some “everyday” drugstore items, such as non-prescription reading glasses, contact lenses and solutions, and reading glasses.

Maximize Deductions

If you’re wondering whether you should itemize your 2018 tax returns or take the standard deduction, here are a few last things to keep in mind:

  • Medical treatment: If you spend more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income this year on medical expenses, you can deduct those costs.
  • Property taxes: If you paid less than the $10,000 limit for state and local taxes, your state may allow you to prepay 2019 property taxes. This way you’ll get the most from the state and local taxes deduction.
  • Mortgage Interest: Provided you’re not near the cap on the mortgage interest deduction, which is $750,000 after the new tax law, you can make your January mortgage payment in December to boost the amount of interest you paid during the 2018 tax year.
  • Charitable donations: If you routinely give to charities, double up on contributions and make your 2019 donation before year’s end. If you put the double donation into a donor advised fund, which is like a charitable investment account, you’re eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. That means you can take the deduction for 2018 while your funds are invested for tax-free growth, allowing you to make distributions to charity next year or beyond.

This is How Retirement Contribution Limits Are Changing for 2019

The Treasury Department has announced retirement plan contribution limits, which are adjusted annually, for 2019. Because inflation has gone up a bit recently, contribution limits are also going up, which means you can save more money next year.

The maximum pre-tax contribution limit for an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is increasing to $6,000 in 2019 after a six-year stall at $5,500. An extra $500 may not seem like a big deal, but the investment will compound over time, making the increase especially valuable for younger workers. For example, an investment of $500 annually will amount to an extra $100,000 in retirement savings over 35 years.

Employees who participate in a 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan can expect an increase from $18,500 in 2018 to $19,000 in 2019. That limit will also apply to 403(b), the Federal Government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), and most 457 plans. As a result of this change, workers can defer paying income tax on approximately $42 more per month.

For those 50 years old and over, catch-up contribution limits remain the same for 2019: $6,000 for workplace plans and $1,000 for IRAs. All of this combined means that savers over 50 have the potential to stash away $32,000 in 2019.

The maximum amount of annual compensation that can be taken into account when determining employer and employee contributions is increasing in 2019 from $275,000 to $280,000. However, highly compensated employees may face additional limits on contributions. Earning more than $120,000 in 2018 may qualify you as highly compensated for 2019 contribution limits, and earning more than $125,000 in 2019 may qualify you as highly compensated for 2020 contribution limits.

If you have any questions or would like to review your retirement plan contribution amounts together, please give me a call at 317.549.3091 or email me to schedule an appointment.

How to Determine if Your Taxes Will Increase for the 2019 Tax-Filing Season

President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December of last year, but the income tax credits, deductions, and individual tax rates aren’t applicable until the 2019 tax-filing season. Various factors, such as your tax bracket, can influence whether your taxes will increase under the new tax code. Below are some indicators that could signal an increase on your tax bill.

Do You Have a Large Family?

The new tax code eliminated personal and dependent exemption deductions, which was estimated to have been $4,150 each in 2018 under previous law. However, standard deductions were nearly doubled. For 2018-2025 the deductions are as follows:

  • $12,000 for single (previously $6,350)
  • $24,000 for joint-filing marries couples (previously $12,700)
  • $18,000 for heads of households (previously $9,350)

The elimination of dependent exemptions hurts some families and benefits others. Large families, who don’t benefit from increased standard deductions, will be hit the hardest.

Are You an Average Taxpayer?

If you have a conventional job, file a W-2, and don’t own a lot of property or foreign investments, your taxes won’t likely increase. Instead, you should see a modest decrease as a result of lower tax rates, increased standard deduction, and an increased child tax credit. Despite this, however, there are thousands of potential tax situations that could affect the average taxpayer differently (i.e. a wealthier couple with children who itemize state and local taxes would be limited to a $10,000 deduction under the new law – a loss of $20,000 in deductions – and would likely have higher taxes under the new tax code).

Are You Withholding Enough from Your Paycheck?

The IRS changed the tax withholding tables back in February. The tables are calculated by how much income you earn and the number of allowances you claim. If you aren’t withholding enough from your paycheck, you could end up owing taxes. Check the tax withholding tables on IRS.gov to determine how much income tax should be withheld from your paycheck.

Do You Have Older Children?

The new tax code increases the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child under the age of 17. Taxpayers with children over 17 only receive a $500 tax credit.

Do You Have High Property Taxes?

Under prior law you could claim an itemized deduction for an unlimited amount of personal state and local income and property taxes. So, a big property tax bill could be completely deducted if you itemized. However, under the new tax code, itemized deductions for personal state and local property taxes and personal state and local income taxes are capped at $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separate status).

Even considering the above factors, with the myriad of potential tax circumstances and the complexity of the changes implemented by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it’s difficult to predict how your taxes will be affected until you run the numbers.

If you have any questions about how to plan for your 2018 tax return, please feel free to contact me at jmiller@mkrcpas.com.

How to Avoid the Alternative Minimum Tax

Congress originally designed the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) to make sure wealthy taxpayers who take advantage of multiple tax breaks and itemized deductions would still pay their fair share in federal income taxes each year. The AMT produces around $60 billion a year in federal taxes from the top one percent of taxpayers. However, because the AMT wasn’t tied to inflation, the tax has extended down to a growing number of middle-income taxpayers. Here’s what to do about it.

AMT Primer

It’s called the Alternative Minimum Tax because it is a mandatory alternative to the standard income tax. If you are a high-income earner, you are required to calculate your taxes twice – once under standard tax rules and again under the stricter AMT rules (the AMT disallows many deductions, such as state and local tax, childcare credits, and property taxes). Ultimately, you are required to pay the higher amount.

Are You at Risk?

First, be aware of the triggers for AMT, as earning a higher income isn’t the only factor. For example, it can also affect those who are married and file jointly, have a large family (more than four dependents), enjoy profits from stock options, or live in a high-tax state. Therefore, any move that reduces your adjusted gross income (AGI) – like upping your contributions to qualified retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and health savings accounts – might help avoid the AMT. Additionally, aim to reduce your itemized deductions and increase your charitable contributions. Finally, pay attention to long-term capital gains – when you sell a home or other investments for a profit. These are taxed at the same rate under both the standard income tax and the AMT, but capital gains could put you over the threshold for AMT, thereby triggering it and disqualifying you from deducting state income taxes paid on the capital gains.
If you practice careful year-round preparation while being mindful of the above triggers, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the AMT.