In between preparing for the year-end holidays, school vacations, travel, work, and so on, tax planning should not be on the back burner. Although 2015 is quickly coming to a close, there is still time, with careful planning, to execute some last minute tax strategies. In many cases, these strategies can help minimize the tax burden. Of course, every individual’s situation is different, so please contact our office for specific details about a year-end tax planning strategy customized to you.
For many taxpayers, one of the most significant questions looming over 2015 returns is will they be able to claim all the deductions, credits and incentives that were available in 2014? Many of these incentives are grouped in a package known as the tax extenders. If you have taken in 2014 (or in a prior year) the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition deduction, teacher’s classroom expense deduction, IRA distribution to charity, among others, you enjoyed the benefit of a tax extender.
Under current law, these popular tax breaks expired after 2014. That means they are no longer available for 2015, unless they are renewed by Congress. At this time, it is highly likely that Congress will vote to extend the extenders at least for 2015. Congress could approve a two-year extension. A vote is expected before January 1, 2016. However, Congress could delay the vote until early January. Uncertainty is never far from the extenders, but the best approach is to develop a year-end planning strategy that reflects both an extension of the extension and develop another plan that does not.
For example, qualified taxpayers contemplating making a gift to a charitable organization should take into account renewal of the tax break for gifts to charity from an IRA. If all the requirements are met, this may be a valuable tax break. However, there are other avenues for gifts to charity that can help maximize tax savings if you do not qualify for the deduction or the deduction is not renewed. Also, keep in mind the rules for substantiating gifts to charity. You do not want to lose the tax benefit of a generous gift to charity because these substantiation rules were not followed. Our office can explore these strategies with you.
While taxpayers wait for action on the extenders, tax bills already passed in 2015 could be valuable. The Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act expands the exemption from the penalty for early retirement withdrawals to include certain federal law enforcement officers, federal firefighters, customs and border protection officers, and air traffic controllers. The Surface Transportation Act of 2015 provides that a veteran’s eligibility to contribute on a pre-tax basis to a health savings account (HSA) is not affected by receipt of medical care from the VA for a service-connected disability.
The roster of traditional year-end tax planning strategies is lengthy and often involves methods to shift income between 2015 and 2016. To postpone income to 2016, taxpayers can consider delaying plans to sell appreciated assets, redeem U.S. savings bonds, completing Roth IRA conversions, and so on. If possible, it may be worthwhile to postpone any bonuses until after 2015. In contrast, some taxpayers may want to accelerate income into 2015. This can be particularly valuable if a taxpayer expects to be in a higher tax bracket in 2016 compared to 2015.
When considering traditional year-end techniques, keep in mind the 3.8-percent net investment income (NNI) tax. The NII tax applies to the lesser of (1) an individual’s net investment income (NII) or (2) the excess of the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over the threshold amount. The thresholds are $250,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return and surviving spouses; $125,000 for married taxpayers filing a separate return; and $200,000 for all other taxpayers.
Gift-making is an important year-end tax strategy that can be overlooked. The Tax Code allows taxpayers to give away up to an “annual exclusion amount” per recipient per year free of gift tax. For 2015, the annual exclusion amount is $14,000. If property is given instead of cash, the value of the gift is the fair market value of the property. If spouses consent to split all gifts that are made by either one of them during any year and each spouse is also a U.S. citizen or resident, then the gifts can be deemed as having been made one half by each spouse. As a result, spouses who consent to split their gifts can transfer twice the annual per-recipient exclusion amount each year, free of gift tax ($28,000 for 2015).
These are just some of the tax strategies to consider before year-end. Please contact our office for more details.