“When reviewing your 2017 return, look for things that cost you money,” Jacobs says. “Take a few extra minutes and start planning for 2018.” For example, you may have an investment that has an unrealized loss and is tax-inefficient. Selling it now won't change your 2017 tax bill, but it will help lower your taxes in 2018 and beyond, he says. It’s also too late to make 2017 contributions to your 401(k) or 403(b) plan, but if you’re skimping, boost them now.
Also, understand how the new tax law will affect your taxes. Federal marginal tax rates have been lowered across the board. If you haven’t been itemizing deductions, your taxes will probably go down unless your income rises significantly, he says
“Nevertheless, some people will see their taxes increase. It’s important to get a handle on how tax reform will affect you,” he says. Some people can do this calculation themselves. But because of the complexities of tax reform, many will need a knowledgeable tax preparer to help them, Jacobs says.
Then you can see if you’re likely to get a refund next year or will owe money. This will help you figure out if your payroll withholding is too high or low.
If you pay estimated taxes quarterly, you should calculate your expected 2018 taxes so that you won’t overpay, he says.
Make the most of new small-business tax breaks; consider conversion
A new 20 percent qualified business income deduction lets certain business owners and self-employed people take a 20 percent deduction against their 2018 income.
Taxpayers who own or have an ownership stake in a pass-through business entity such as a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC) or an S corporation are eligible. So are self-employed people (sole proprietors).
“The deduction will lower taxes for many business owners and self-employed people,” Jacobs says. “Some of them will save thousands or more in federal income tax.”
In general, to qualify for the full deduction, your taxable income must be under $157,500 for single filers or $315,000 if you're married filing jointly. C corporations do not get the new deduction, although the top federal tax rate for C corporations has been cut to 21%. If you’re the owner of a C corporation, it’s wise to investigate if converting to an S corporation or LLC would be worthwhile, and vice versa, Jacobs says.
Many taxpayers won't benefit from itemized deductions anymore
The new tax rules double the standard deduction. In 2018, it’s $24,000 for married couples filing jointly and $12,000 for singles. People 65 and over and the blind or disabled get an additional deduction.
Because of the higher standard deduction and a new limit of $10,000 in deductions for state and local taxes, many people who previously itemized will no longer benefit from doing so.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean your tax bill will increase,” Jacobs says. “It might. It might not.”
If you paid alternative minimum tax in 2017, it’s unlikely that you will come April 2019. It’s estimated that the number of taxpayers hit by AMT will drop by 96 percent, he says.
Savvy tax-planning strategies
“Once you know your situation, then you can make some savvy tax-planning moves,” he says.
If your expected deductions are just below the new standard deduction, it can make sense to bunch charitable contributions so you’ll still receive a tax benefit.
“Instead of making annual charitable contributions that aren’t deductible, you may choose to make several years’ worth of contributions in one year to get a tax benefit,” he says. If you want to give money to your favorite charities every year, a donor-advised fund may be the perfect solution. These funds let people make charitable contributions, receive an immediate tax benefit and then recommend grants to charities from the fund over time, Jacobs says.
You could give, for instance, $10,000 to a donor-advised fund in one year instead of giving $2,500 a year to charities directly over four years. And you don’t have to give cash. A donor-advised fund will gladly accept appreciated securities.
Don’t give the IRS a free loan
Check your payroll withholding to make sure you're not paying too much or too little during the year, Jacobs advises. The withholding tables that employers use have changed, and many people are finding that they need to adjust their withholding allowances in order to avoid a bad surprise next year. The more withholding allowances you claim, the less tax will be withheld from your paycheck.
“While people love getting refunds, a large refund isn't necessarily a good thing,” Jacobs says. “It usually means you paid too much to the government during the year and missed out on the income or investment appreciation you could have earned.”
If you get refunds every year, consider reducing your withholding so you're not making interest-free loans to the government each year, he says. “You need the cash flow more than they do.”
Jacobs is chief investment officer of Palisades Hudson Financial Group, based in its Atlanta office. The firm is a fee-only wealth management, financial planning and tax-advisory firm with $1.4 billion under management.
Palisades Hudson Financial Group is a fee-only financial planning firm and investment manager based in Fort Lauderdale with $1.4 billion under management. It offers financial planning, wealth management, and tax services. Its Entertainment and Sports Team serves entertainers and professional athletes. Branch offices are in Stamford, Connecticut; Atlanta, Georgia; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas. The firm’s daily blog and monthly newsletter covering financial planning, taxes and investing are online at www.palisadeshudson.com.