2018 Tax Planning: How Tax Reform Impacts You

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The new tax act, which was signed into law by President Trump on December 22, is the most comprehensive reform of the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years. The passage of the tax reform act will have a significant impact on the tax strategies of many Americans in 2018 and beyond.

Here are some of the ways that tax reform could affect tax planning for you and your family.

Standard Deduction Raised

To itemize or not? This is the big question many individuals and families will be facing now that the standard deduction has been drastically increased — from $13,000 to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, from $9,350 to $18,000 for heads of household, and from $6,500 to $12,000 for singles.

With a higher standard deduction, it may no longer make sense to go to the trouble of itemizing deductions for things like charitable contributions, home mortgage interest or state and local taxes. If the standard deduction is higher than the total of your itemized deductions, you will likely be better off just claiming the standard deduction. Not only could this save you tax dollars, but it will also simplify tax preparation.

Some Itemized Deductions Limited

Speaking of itemized deductions, some of the most popular deductions have been limited by tax reform. These include a $10,000 limit on deductions for state and local taxes you pay and a limit on deducting mortgage interest to the interest paid on new loans up to $750,000, down from $1 million before tax reform.

Due to all of these factors, there’s a chance that it might not be as beneficial for you to itemize deductions going forward as it has been in the past. You’ll need to crunch the numbers to determine the best strategy for yourself and your family.

Section 529 Plans Expanded

Section 529 plans have become a popular way for many families to save money for their children’s college educations. Thanks to tax reform, you can now use money you’ve saved in a 529 plan not only for college expenses, but also for private K-12 education expenses (up to $10,000).

Additionally, education-related tax breaks like the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning tax credits — which are worth up to $2,500 and $2,000 per qualifying student, respectively — were retained by the tax reform act, so you can continue to factor these into your education savings plans going forward.

Estate Tax Exemption Doubled

The tax reform act doubled the estate tax exemption from $5.6 million per person ($11.2 million per couple) to $11.2 million per person ($22.4 million per couple). This means that the 40% tax on assets transferred to heirs upon death will now only apply to estates that are larger than these exemption limits.

As a result, it will be easier for wealthy individuals and families to pass their assets on to children and grandchildren without the burden of taxation or the need to utilize complicated and expensive trust arrangements.

Capital Gains and Dividends Rates Unchanged

The tax law retains the existing long-term capital gains and dividends rates of 0%, 15% and 20%. Therefore, your investment tax strategies may not need to change drastically.

In 2018, the capital gains and dividend tax brackets are as follows:

Bracket Single Head of Household Married Filing Jointly
0% $0-38,599 $0-51,699 $0-77,199
15% $38,600-424,799 $51,700-451,399 $77,200-478,999
20% $425,800+ $452,400+ $479,000+

AMT Retained, But Exemptions Increased

Though earlier drafts of the tax reform bill repealed the individual Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), the final version retained the AMT. But significant increases in the AMT exemptions and income phase-out levels — which are rising to $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for married couples filing jointly — will result in far fewer individuals and families having to pay the AMT going forward.

Popular Tax Breaks Preserved

From a tax planning perspective, it’s also worth noting that the tax reform act preserved the home sale capital gain exclusion of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. This means you can still potentially shield profits on qualified home sales up to these amounts from federal income tax.

And the law preserved and even expanded the medical expense itemized deduction. Previously, only medical expenses that exceeded 10% of annual adjusted gross income (AGI) were deductible, but this threshold has been reduced to 7.5% for 2017 and 2018. So if you had major medical expenses last year or will have them this year, you might benefit from this provision.

Our Take

This is just a brief discussion of some of the potential impacts of the new tax act. Be sure to consult with a tax professional for more details on how tax reform could affect you and your family.

Contact a Financial Advisor

This blog is for informational purposes only; we are not in the business of providing tax or legal advice and we generally recommend seeking the advice and counsel of a tax professional before taking any action that may cause a material taxable event.

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Gregory DePalma, CFP®

Gregory DePalma, CFP®

Gregory DePalma is a Senior Financial Advisor at Personal Capital. He provides holistic financial planning services for individuals and families. Prior to Personal Capital he was a stockbroker at Scottrade and served as a Financial Advisor specializing in student aid and education funding. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis with a double major in Economics and Sociology. Gregory is a CFP® professional.
Gregory DePalma, CFP®

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2 comments

  1. Ray Wessmiller

    Well written and very useful article – all I needed to know in one place! Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Sister Martha Veasey

    Thanks. With major medical on going and charitable contributions, great to have this knowledge at this apportioned time for adjustments.

    Reply

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