5 ways to hone retirement plans under new tax regime

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress late last year represents the most significant changes to the tax code since 1986. The changes are biggest for corporate taxpayers. C corps will see their statutory tax rate decline from 35 percent to 21 percent, and pass-through corporate entities — partnerships, sole proprietorships and S corps — where income is taxed at the individual level, will also see permanent and dramatic reductions in their tax liabilities.

The decreases in individual tax rates, on the other hand, are smaller and less certain, with rates set to revert back to current levels by 2026. As a matter of fact, the tax plan will help out corporations a lot more than average Americans. Middle-class Americans itemizing their deductions may actually get hurt by tax reform.

The rule changes regarding deductible expenses, exemptions, credits and the tax brackets pose new income-tax planning challenges for all Americans. They also have implications for retirement planning — most prominently for wealthy Americans — but for taxpayers of more modest means, as well.

Here are five strategies worth considering to improve your retirement planning in the new tax environment.

1. Move to a low-tax state. The lure of the Sunbelt for retirees got a little stronger with tax reform. The capping of the so-called SALT (state and local taxes) deductions at $10,000 will hit taxpayers in high-tax (and invariably blue) states such as California and New York particularly hard. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to sue the federal government over the roughly $14 billion his Department of Finance says it will cost New Yorkers annually.

While the standard deduction on federal tax returns was nearly doubled to $12,000 for individuals, the average SALT deduction on federal returns for New Yorkers in 2015 was $22,000, according to the Tax Policy Center. In California — which also has high income-tax rates — an all-in property tax rate of 1.25 percent on a $1 million home would already put taxpayers over the $10,000 cap.

2. Convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs provide the ultimate benefit in retirement — tax-free income. You can't deduct your contributions to a Roth IRA, but the investment returns in the account are tax-free and so are account withdrawals (optional-not required) as long as you make them after age 59½.

People need to diversify their tax risk. A tax-free retirement account is important over the long haul because higher rates in the future may hurt you in retirement.

The lower marginal income-tax rates that take effect this year make the conversion of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA significantly less expensive. With those rates potentially reverting back to current levels by 2026, paying the taxes now could be far less expensive than in retirement. 

One major consideration: The tax bill did away with the option to undo a conversion by the tax-return date of the following year. If the market has a big downturn, you will owe tax on the full amount at conversion even if the account value drops by 30 percent before year-end. We suggests waiting until after Thanksgiving to make a conversion. Taxpayers could also consider converting smaller amounts over several years to reduce taxable income and potentially their marginal rates.

3. Give to charity in a smart way. The deduction for charitable donations was preserved in the tax bill, but with the standard deduction raised to $24,000 for a married couple, you'll have to give a lot to warrant itemizing deductions.

One strategy is to front-load your anticipated donations over multiple years into one tax year. People can bundle up their anticipated donations for the next five years in a donor-advised fund. Of course, that means it's likely only a one-year tax-saving strategy.

If you're over 70½ years old, make your charitable donations directly from your IRA — whether you itemize deductions or not. The donation counts against your required minimum distribution from the retirement account but is excluded from taxable income. The qualified charitable distribution enables a taxpayer to claim the standard deduction and still get the charitable deduction. If you qualify, it's the only way you should give to charity.

4. Mind your business and estate. The tax bill doubled the estate-tax exemption to $11.2 million per person ($22.4 million per married couple) and kept it indexed for inflation. In 2026 it will revert back to 2017 levels indexed for inflation. For the vast majority of Americans, the increase is meaningless, but for high-net-worth taxpayers — particularly business owners — it raises new issues.

Individuals with a net worth of close to or more than $11 million ($22 million for couples) can still lower the tax hit to their heirs with the use of trusts and estate-planning strategies. With the estate and gift tax still unified, it may also make sense to gift large amounts of assets tax-free to heirs now given the bigger but potentially temporary exemption.

The downside of gifting assets before you die is that heirs do not get a step up to market value in the cost basis of the assets. If and when they sell them, they will be on the hook for capital gains taxes. In a perfect world, people would pay no estate taxes and get a step up in cost basis at death. That sweet spot, however, may require your dying before the exemption reverts back to a lower level.

We suggests that married couples with an estate valued at less than $20 million take a "wait and see" attitude regarding the value of their business or assets before a potential in life transfer.

5. Talk to a financial advisor or CPA. The numerous changes to the tax code provide a lot of income-tax planning opportunities, which can translate into more retirement savings. But it is complicated. Any decision regarding something like a Roth conversion should be made in conjunction with other issues.

At Zhong & Sanchez, we are dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Picture credit: USA Today; Source: CNBC

Tax Reform and U.S. Expats: The Good, the Bad and the Same

Source: CPA Practice Advisor

Here’s what we know. The new tax reform bill called, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), is the first time in 30 years that the tax code has been fully transformed. While it is expected to ease tax filings and processing for Americans, the same can’t be said for American Expats. These are US Citizens who live abroad (whether for personal or professional reasons), and who are also required to file with the IRS annually. For years, this group of tax-paying Americans have raised concerns about changes they would like made but unfortunately, for the most part, their voices were ignored. Below is a look inside the new tax reform bill for US Expats:

What hasn’t changed:

The Foreign Information Reporting Requirements Expats are required to submit, in addition to their tax returns, are largely unchanged. The Foreign Bank Account Report, AKA FBAR or FinCen 114, the FATCA requirements - Form 8938, Form 5471 (Report of Certain Foreign Corporations), Form 3520 (Report of Foreign Trusts), and the Net Investment Income Tax, are still here and unchanged. This means that many Expats will continue having trouble banking abroad and face onerous penalties if they fail to file.

The two most important tax code provisions for Expats, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and the Foreign Tax Credit have also not been substantially changed. Expats can use the FEIE to exclude over $100,000 in earned income, from their US taxes each year and can use the FTC to reduce their US taxes dollar for dollar by the amount they have paid to a foreign government. This allows individuals to try to avoid double taxation and this has been largely unchanged in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. However, the way the FEIE will increase going forward has been changed, which brings us to what has changed.

What’s New:

The new tax reform changes the way inflation is calculated and will affect a number of tax-related issues. Inflation calculations had previously been calculated using the “regular consumer price index,” but going forward the IRS will use the “chained consumer price index.” The end result is a lower rate of inflation will be used to calculate the increase to the FEIE, which will increase taxes over time.

Modifications were made in tax brackets, exemptions, and deductions. Tax brackets are now larger, meaning you may now be in a lower bracket than you were previously, and the standard deduction has been nearly doubled. For those considering a move to or from the US, two new issues should be considered: 1) the moving deduction has been completely eliminated; 2) the individual mandate, as part of the Affordable Care Act has been eliminated. Unfortunately, the Net Investment Income Tax was not eliminated and will still impact Expats.

The corporate tax has been the most talked about change. This tax reform bill has transitioned the US to a territorial system of corporate taxation. Before, the US operated using worldwide taxation, meaning that corporations had to pay taxes on the income they earned abroad. This change will affect Expats who own corporations outside of the US, because they will face a one-time deemed repatriation tax of 15.5% of any previously untaxed overseas profits as the US transitions to a more territorial system for corporations instead of a worldwide system.

For US Expats, the new tax bill is pretty much the same tax bill with disappointments and frustrations for the nearly 9 million Americans living away from the United States. And, those who own small businesses abroad may actually find their situation is worse under the TCJA than under the old system! We at Zhong and Sanchez will help you sort through TCJA and advise on your international exposure under TCJA. We are dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Capital Gains Tax on a House Sold From a Trust

Source: The Motley Fool

Figuring your tax liability is more complicated when you don't own a home in your own name. Most people don't think much about capital gains tax on the sale of a home, because the tax laws offer a capital gains exclusion of $250,000 to single filers and $500,000 to joint filers when they sell their main home. However, some people use estate planning strategies involving trusts to own their homes, and understanding the effect of having a home within a trust is crucial to make sure that you don't miss out on this key tax break. Below, we'll go into more detail about how to calculate capital gains tax on a house sold from a trust.

The key question: What kind of trust owns the home?

The tax laws treat various types of trusts differently. One key distinction is between revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. If you have a revocable trust, then the tax laws treat that trust as what is known as a grantor trust. What that means is that even though the trust owns legal title to property contributed to the trust, including real estate, the trust assets are treated for tax purposes as if they still belong to the grantor, or the person who put the assets into the trust in the first place.

As a result, if you meet the tests for the capital gains exclusion, then you can claim the exclusion even if you own the home through a revocable trust. In general, to get the benefits of the exclusion, you need to have owned your home for at least two out of the five years prior to the date of sale, and you have to have lived in the property as your main home for at least two out of the past five years.

By contrast, the rules are much different for an irrevocable trust. Irrevocable trusts are separate legal entities, and so transferring your home to an irrevocable trust makes it impossible for you to claim the exclusion on capital gains. The proceeds from the sale of a home within an irrevocable trust typically stay within the trust, and the trust itself owes the resulting capital gains tax on the profit. Because tax brackets covering trusts are much smaller than those for individuals, you can quickly rise to the maximum 20% long-term capital gains rate with even modest profits on the sale of a home.

However, there is one aspect of an irrevocable trust that you should keep in mind. Often, revocable trusts become irrevocable after the person who created the trust dies. If the home was included in the estate of the deceased owner, then the property will get a step-up in tax basis. That means that even if the trust becomes irrevocable after the deceased owner's death, the trust won't have capital gain if it immediately sells the home. Only if the trust holds onto the property for a time after death will new gains have a chance to start accruing.

Trusts can be complicated, so it's important to know exactly what trust you're working with in a home-sale situation. With the right planning, you can often reach a tax result that will be advantageous to you.

When in doubt, consult a trustworthy CPA! Zhong and Sanchez is dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

The New Employer 401(k) Match: How Generous Is Your Boss?

Source: https://www.forbes.com/ 

Between the corporate tax cut and the tight labor market, more companies are moving to increase pay and benefits, including their contributions to retirement plans.  In a January survey, one out of four employers told Willis Towers Watson that they have increased their 401(k) match this year or plan to do so next year.

But there’s a catch: If you don’t pay attention and pick the right percentage of salary to save, you could miss out on getting the full increase in the match.

Under the most common match formula, an employer contributes $1 for every $1 the employee saves up to some percent of salary---say 6%. Under the next most common arrangement, the employer contributes 50 cents for every $1 the worker puts away, up to some percent.

In a typical match increase, the employer raises the percentage of salary they’ll match—say from 5% to 7%. But to get that increase you’d have to save at least 7% of your salary. It’s called “stretching” the match in retirement-speak. “As an employee, you’ve got to put more skin in the game,” says Rick Unser, a retirement plan consultant in Hermosa Beach, California, who says he sees employers starting to make employees stretch to contributing 8% or 10% in order to get the full match.

Robert Lawton, a retirement plan consultant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has seen some radical employers moving to a 25% match on 12%, meaning workers would need to contribute 12% of pay to get the maximum employer matching contribution of 3% of pay. “You get the employees to contribute more even though the employer is contributing the same amount,” Lawton says. Usually, the employer is contributing more, and the employee is contributing more as well.

The rule of thumb is you should save 15% of your salary (including any employer match) each year for 40 years. The problem is that many workers haven’t saved anywhere near that much in the beginning of their careers, some have been in and out of the workforce, and others have been in the gig economy, where they don’t have access to a workplace retirement plan, Lawton points out, noting that a lot of workers need to be saving more than 15% of pay.

That said, here are two ways employers are trying to get their employees to at least 15% of pay saved (employee and employer contributions combined). Honeywell recently announced that in April, for workers currently getting a 75% match on the first 8% of pay, the match will increase to 87.5% (for a maximum employer match of 7%, up from 6%). For workers currently getting a 37.5% match on the first 8% of pay, the match will increase to 43.75% (for a new maximum employer match of 3.5%, up from 3%).

At Visa, employees will have to start saving 5% of salary to get the new, increased employer match, which can bring them to the 15% goal. Today Visa matches 200% of employee contributions up to 3% of salary, for a maximum employer match of 6% of pay. The new Visa match, effective in late February, will be 200% of employee contributions up to 5% of salary, for a maximum employer match of 10% of pay. In a paternalistic move, Visa will be changing its default employee pre-tax contribution from 3% to 5%—for workers who contribute less than 5%.

What if you work for a company—or are considering a job switch to one—that has a match that’s less than $1 for $1 on 6% of pay? Check if there's a profit sharing plan or a pension plan, says Rob Austin, director of research at Alight Solutions. “If not, maybe you’re behind the competition,” he says.

When in doubt, consult a trustworthy CPA! Zhong and Sanchez is dedicated to provide high-quality tax and financial reporting services to privately-held entities and small business owners. Our expertise ranges from income tax filing and accounting services to international compliance and financial analysis. Located in the Silicon Valley, you can reach us at 510-458-4451 or schedule your first free consultation today at https://calendly.com/zhongsanchez

Picture credit: shutterstock