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Year-End Planning Moves to Help Lower Your Tax Bill

Year-End Planning Moves to Help Lower Your Tax Bill

As the end of the year approaches, it is a good time to think of planning moves that will help lower your tax bill for this year and possibly the next.

side-img-irs-work-planFactors that compound the planning challenge this year include turbulence in the stock market, overall economic uncertainty and Congress’s all too familiar failure to act on a number of important tax breaks that will expire at the end of 2016 — not to mention President Trump’s tax reform. (For more information, refer to our article, “Six Tax Planning Strategies to Prepare for a Trump Presidency” on www.withum.com.)

Some of these expiring tax breaks will likely be extended, but perhaps not all. as in the past, Congress may not decide the fate of these tax breaks until the very end of 2016 (or later).

For individuals, these breaks include the exclusion for discharge of indebtedness on a principal residence; the treatment of mortgage insurance premiums as deductible qualified residence interest; the 7.5% of adjusted gross income floor beneath medical expense deductions for taxpayers age 65 or older; and the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses. There is also a host of expiring energy provisions, including: the nonbusiness energy property credit; the residential energy property credit; the qualified fuel cell motor vehicle credit; the alternative fuel vehicle refueling property credit; the credit for 2-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles; the new energy-efficient homes credit; and the hybrid solar lighting system property credit.

Higher-income earners have unique concerns to address when mapping out year-end plans. They must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income and the additional 0.9% Medicare tax.

The surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of: (1) net investment income (NII) or (2) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over an unindexed threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers or surviving spouses, $125,000 for a married individual filing a separate return and $200,000 in any other case). As year-end nears, a taxpayer’s approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on his estimated MAGI and NII for the year. Some taxpayers should consider ways to minimize (e.g., through deferral) additional NII for the balance of the year, others should try to see if they can reduce MAGI other than NII and other individuals will need to consider ways to minimize both NII and other types of MAGI.

The 0.9% additional Medicare tax also may require year-end actions. It applies to individuals for whom the sum of their wages received with respect to employment and their self-employment income is in excess of an unindexed threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for married couples filing separately and $200,000 in any other case). Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax from wages in excess of $200,000 regardless of filing status or other income. Self-employed persons must take it into account in figuring estimated tax. There could be situations where an employee may need to have more withheld toward the end of the year to cover the tax. For example, if an individual earns $200,000 from one employer during the first half of the year and a like amount from another employer during the balance of the year, he would owe the additional Medicare tax, but there would be no withholding by either employer for the additional Medicare tax since wages from each employer don’t exceed $200,000. Also, in determining whether they may need to make adjustments to avoid a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax, individuals also should be mindful that the additional Medicare tax may be over withheld. This could occur, for example, where only one of two married spouses works and reaches the threshold for the employer to withhold, but the couple’s combined income won’t be high enough to actually cause the tax to be owed.

We have compiled a checklist of additional actions based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. Not all actions will apply in your particular situation, but you (or a family member) will likely benefit from many of them. We can narrow down the specific actions that you can take once we meet with you to tailor a particular plan. In the meantime, please review the following list and contact us at your earliest convenience so that we can advise you on which tax-saving moves to make.

Year-End Planning Moves for Individuals

Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done.
For example, you can sell the originally held shares and then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later. It may be advisable for us to meet to discuss year-end trades you should consider making.

Postpone income until 2017 and accelerate deductions into 2016 to lower your 2016 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2016 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher education tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2016. For example, this may be the case where a person’s marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year, or where lower-income in 2017 will result in a higher tax credit for an individual who plans to purchase health insurance on a health exchange and is eligible for a premium assistance credit.

Accelerate exercise of non-qualified stock options if you anticipate higher tax rates in the future.

If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your AGI for 2016.

If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year and the assets in the Roth IRA account declined in value, you could wind up paying a higher tax than is necessary if you leave things as-is. You can back out of the transaction by recharacterizing the conversion — that is, by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later reconvert to a Roth IRA.

It may be advantageous to try and arrange with your employer to have a bonus that may be coming your way, deferred until early 2017.

Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase your 2016 deductions even if you don’t pay your credit card bill until after the end of the year.

If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2016 if you won’t be subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT) in 2016.

Take an eligible rollover distribution from a qualified retirement plan before the end of 2016 if you are facing a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax and having your employer increase your withholding is unavailable or won’t sufficiently address the problem. Income tax will be withheld from the distribution and will be applied toward the taxes owed for 2016. You can then timely roll over the gross amount of the distribution, i.e., the net amount you received plus the amount of withheld tax, to a traditional IRA. No part of the distribution will be includible in income for 2016, but the withheld tax will be applied pro-rata over the full 2016 tax year to reduce previous underpayments of estimated tax.

Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2016, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for medical expenses of a taxpayer who is at least age 65 or whose spouse is at least 65 as of the close of the tax year, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. If you are subject to the AMT for 2016, or suspect you might be, these types of deductions should not be accelerated.

You may be able to save taxes this year and next by applying a bunching strategy to “miscellaneous” itemized deductions, medical expenses and other itemized deductions.

For 2016, the “floor” beneath medical expense deductions for those age 65 or older is 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). Unless Congress changes the rules, this floor will rise to 10% of AGI next year. Taxpayers age 65 or older who can claim itemized deductions this year, but won’t be able to next year because of the higher floor, should consider accelerating discretionary or elective medical procedures or expenses (e.g., dental implants or expensive eyewear).

You may want to settle an insurance or damage claim in order to maximize your casualty loss deduction this year.

Moving to a state which has no individual income tax, or a lower rate as compared to the state in which you currently reside, maybe a planning consideration. But such a decision should be made with careful planning and preparation as certain conduct could eliminate the tax savings the individual was hoping to achieve; for example, if you spend more than a certain number of days in states of non-domicile, you may nevertheless be considered a resident and subject to taxation.

Increase the amount you set aside for next year in your employer’s health flexible spending account (FSA) if you set aside too little for this year.

Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or another employer-sponsored retirement plan). RMDs from IRAs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70-½. That start date also applies to company plans, but non-5% company owners who continue working may defer RMDs until April 1 following the year they retire. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. Although RMDs must begin no later than April 1 following the year in which the IRA owner attains age 70 ½, the first distribution calendar year is the year in which the IRA owner attains age 70½. Thus, if you turn age 70-½ in 2016, you can delay the first required distribution to 2017, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2017-the amount required for 2016 plus the amount required for 2017. Think twice before delaying 2016 distributions to 2017, as bunching income into 2017 might push you into a higher tax bracket or have a detrimental impact on various income tax deductions that are reduced at higher income levels. However, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2017 if you will be in a substantially lower bracket that year.

If you become eligible in December of 2016 to make health savings account (HSA) contributions, you can make a full year’s worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2016.

If you are thinking of installing energy-saving improvements to your home, such as certain high-efficiency insulation materials, do so before the close of 2016. You may qualify for a “nonbusiness energy property credit” that won’t be available after this year unless Congress reinstates it.

Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. The exclusion applies to gifts of up to $14,000 made in 2016 and 2017 to each of an unlimited number of individuals. You can’t carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.

Year-End Planning Moves for Businesses and Business Owners

Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option. For tax years beginning in 2016, the expensing limit is $500,000 and the investment ceiling limit is $2,010,000. Expensing is generally available for the most depreciable property (other than buildings), off-the-shelf computer software, and qualified real property-qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property. The generous dollar ceilings that apply this year mean that many small and medium-sized businesses that make timely purchases will be able to currently deduct most if not all their outlays for machinery and equipment. What’s more, the expensing deduction is not prorated for the time that the asset is in service during the year. This opens up significant year-end planning opportunities.

Businesses also should consider making expenditures that qualify for 50% bonus first-year depreciation if bought and placed in service this year. The bonus depreciation deduction is permitted without any proration based on the length of time that an asset is in service during the tax year. As a result, the 50% first-year bonus writeoff is available even if qualifying assets are in service for only a few days in 2016.

Businesses may be able to take advantage of the “de minimis safe harbor election” (also known as the book-tax conformity election) to expense the costs of lower-cost assets and materials and supplies, assuming the costs don’t have to be capitalized under the Code Sec. 263A uniform capitalization (UNICAP) rules. To qualify for the election, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $5,000 if the taxpayer has an applicable financial statement (AFS; e.g., a certified audited financial statement along with an independent CPA’s report). If there’s no AFS, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $2,500. Where the UNICAP rules aren’t an issue, purchase such qualifying items before the end of 2016.

A corporation should consider accelerating income from 2017 to 2016 if it will be in a higher bracket next year. Conversely, it should consider deferring income until 2017 if it will be in a higher bracket this year.

A corporation should consider deferring income until next year if doing so will preserve the corporation’s qualification for the small corporation AMT exemption for 2016. Note that there is never a reason to accelerate income for purposes of the small corporation AMT exemption because if a corporation doesn’t qualify for the exemption for any given tax year, it will not qualify for the exemption for any later tax year.

A corporation (other than a “large” corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss (NOL) for 2016 (and substantial net income in 2017) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2017 income (or to defer just enough of its 2016 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2016. This will permit the corporation to base its 2017 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2016 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2017 taxable income.

If your business qualifies for the domestic production activities deduction (DPAD) for its 2016 tax year, consider whether the 50%-of-W-2 wages limitation on that deduction applies. If it does, consider ways to increase 2016 W-2 income, e.g., by bonuses to owner-shareholders whose compensation is allocable to domestic production gross receipts. Note that the limitation applies to amounts paid with respect to employment in the calendar year 2016, even if the business has a fiscal year.

To reduce 2016 taxable income, consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2017.

To reduce 2016 taxable income, consider disposing of a passive activity in 2016 if doing so will allow you to deduct suspended passive activity losses.

If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation, consider whether you need to increase your basis in the entity so you can deduct a loss from it for this year.

Other Planning Opportunities to Consider

COST SEGREGATION STUDIES

A cost segregation study is a detailed analysis of building acquisition, construction, or renovation costs. The goal is to re-allocate these costs incurred from standard depreciable lives (27.5 or 39 years) to the shortest recovery period in which they can be depreciated (potentially 5, 7, or 15 years). Proper classification can provide benefits such as increased depreciation deductions, a reduction in tax liabilities, and maximization of cash flow from your investments.

Cost seg studies are not exclusive to building costs in the current tax year. A study can be performed on a building that was placed into service during a prior year, allowing the taxpayer to reclaim “missed” depreciation deductions from prior years (without the need to file amended returns).

While the principle of cost segregation is simple to state, the practice of cost segregation can present a formidable challenge. The methodology of a cost seg study involves identification of eligible land improvements and personal property, analysis of cost data, preparation of cost breakdowns, and allocation of costs.

Withum serves a variety of clients in the real estate industry, including commercial, residential and industrial property developers, owners/investors, managers, agents, and brokers.

Our real estate specialists thoroughly understand the intricacies of your industry, including issues related to government regulations (HUD, low-income housing credits, etc.). At Withum, we’ll provide you with the in-depth knowledge, technical skills, and financial advice required by real estate professionals to compete and succeed.

EXPORT INCENTIVES OF AN IC-DISC

The interest-charge domestic international sales corporation (IC-DISC) is an entity often used by U.S. manufacturers and exporters, and their shareholders, to defer taxation on offshore profits. When these accumulated, untaxed profits become taxable, the IC-DISC can convert them from ordinary business income into tax-advantaged dividend income. This ability to defer taxation on offshore profits and transform the character of these amounts at the time the accumulated earnings become taxable also provides the opportunity to use an IC-DISC in a variety of different ways, including retirement planning, compensation planning, and estate or succession planning.

An IC-DISC allows (1) benefits for engineering and architectural services related to foreign construction projects; (2) the performance of services in the United States; and (3) using benefits as a way to reward employees by distributing IC-DISC shares.

An IC-DISC must be a U.S. corporation and obtain IRS approval to qualify. The corporation must have its own bank account and one class of stock, and meet an annual qualified export receipts test and qualified export assets test. The qualified export asset test requires that at least 95% of the IC-DISC’s gross receipts and assets must be related to the export of property, the value of which is at least 50% U.S.-produced content.

If you are involved in manufacturing and exportation and can meet the DISC requirements, this may be a very advantageous tax savings opportunity.

PERSONAL PROPERTY TAX REVIEWS

Your business is subject in certain states to personal property tax compliance and reporting. The most often seen error in commercial personal property tax is the failure to report only those items which qualify as taxable personal property. Conducting fixed asset reviews can identify items that are real property dually reported on both real and personal property tax returns. Reviews of leasehold improvements, in particular, tend to yield items that are a real property which often is reported additionally on personal property tax returns. If your company transfers equipment between sites located in multiple states, such property may also be reported on multiple property tax returns.

Inventory planning and exemption reviews can further determine in which states your inventory is subject to tax, the potential for alternative valuation dates, as well as potential exemptions such as the Freeport Election in Texas and Georgia. As warehouses need to report individually, moving your ware-house location from a state in which you are paying property taxes on inventory with no Freeport Election to a state with such exemptions, or which does not tax inventory at all, could remove a significant burden on your P&L.

REAL PROPERTY VALUATIONS

Overpayment of real property taxes can be best addressed through assessment reviews and appeals. These may lower your property’s valuation for tax purposes and aid in minimizing the taxable impact on real property you own that is overvalued by your county and/or state. Even on those properties which you rent, if you are the major tenant you may have the right to appeal their real property tax determinations, which are prorated as a portion of your ultimate rent as passed down by your landlord. Additionally, increasing your current depreciation deductions via cost segregation studies and accounting method changes accelerates the tax benefits of your highly-valued property and assets with potentially overvalued useful lives.

NEXUS AND APPORTIONMENT STUDIES

Proper and annual evaluation of your company’s state nexus for both income and sales and use tax purposes is vital for establishing whether your company is subject to tax based on its presence in the states in you do business. Through a nexus study, you can evaluate the presence of your employees, property and business relationships to determine where you should register to do business, file income and use tax returns, and collect and remit sales taxes from your customers. Further, with those states that have adopted an “economic nexus” standard such as California, evaluation of the amount of your sales in-state can exceed the sales thresholds establishing nexus and a consequent filing responsibility whether or not you have a physical presence in-state. If your business is engaged in substantial Internet sales or provides services which may constitute “software/infrastructure as a service” (“SaaS / IaaS”) the aspects of click-through nexus and the triggering of nexus by tech-specific activities must be continuously evaluated as the states’ antiquated tax legislation seek to meet the business services and practices of the 21st century.

Moreover, determining the proper assignment of income for your multistate company amongst the states in which you have nexus must be engaged in to properly determine sourcing, estimates, and credits for taxes paid applicable to your various state returns. States continually modify and amend both their rules and their formulae regarding how income is classified, segmented and calculated. Through an apportionment study, you can be confident you are applying both the right contemporary state formula (as many states move to a single sales factor from the traditional three-factor property, payroll, and sales) as well as proper sourcing of income for your sales, services and intangibles (which is seeing a significant increase in market-based sourcing over costs of performance).

TRANSFER PRICING

Over the last few years, the chances of a multinational entity being confronted with a transfer pricing audit have grown substantially. Due to the intense focus on transfer pricing by almost all taxing authorities around the globe, combined with the growing focus on international exchange of information, it appears it is only a matter of time before any multinational entity can be subject to transfer pricing audit scrutiny.

Such audits may provide for substantial risk and disputes, and proper preparation is key in managing the risks and obtaining successful results.

In order to best manage the audit process and potential exposure, it is essential to understand that this involves not only the actual audit proceedings, but also the time before and after the actual audit takes place. Some best practices to follow in the preparing and participating in an audit for Transfer Pricing include the following:

Prepare well in advance;
Review your documentation and ensure it meets the IRS standards;
Involve your Transfer Pricing Advisor as early as possible to discuss strategies in preparation for the audit;
Establish structured communications with the Tax Auditor; and
Ensure all intercompany agreements are current.

Even if you do not have an audit currently going on, it might be a good idea to have someone come in and review your transfer pricing strategy, and advise you on any possible deficiencies that could arise under an audit should one come about.

CREDITS AND INCENTIVES

Individual Credits

  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Education Credits
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit
  • Adoption Credit
  • Saver’s Credit

Business Credits

  • Research & Development Credit
  • Small Business Health Care Credit
  • Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit

Individual Deductions

  • Standard Mileage
  • Standard Deductions
  • Gifts by Cash or Check
  • Charitable Contributions
  • Individual Retirement Arrangements

Business Deductions

  • Standard Mileage
  • Business Expenses
  • Home Office Deduction
  • Domestic Production Activities
  • Business Depreciation Deduction
  • Casualty, Disaster & Theft Losses Deduction

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. By contacting a member of our National Tax Services Group at taxbriefs@www.withum.com, we can tailor a particular plan that will work best for you.

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