If you don’t want to save yourself a few million dollars in taxes next year, please ignore this article.
If you do, please read on.
Thanks to Donald Trump’s surprise win, the US tax code is about to undergo the biggest change since John F. Kennedy chopped the maximum tax rate of 90% in 1962.
The good new is that there is a lot you can do to minimize your tax bill for 2016, the last year to take place under current law. But you have to take action immediately or at least by December 31.
On rare occasions, changes in tax law are retroactive to the previous year. It is more likely that the new tax rates won’t take effect until 2017, as the changes will be so momentous.
So I got together with my accountant who is extremely prescient on these matters, and has saved me a bundle of money in the past.
The great irony is that most accountants in the country will be attending tax seminars in coming weeks to bone up on tax preparation for the 2016 tax year. Much of what they will be told will be reversed in coming months.
This is going to be one confusing tax year.
I’ll list off the crucial action items:
1) Defer All Income
Taxes are going to fall in 2017, a little for small income earners, and a lot for the wealthy. Any income you can defer into the New Year will get taxed at the new, lower rate, not this year’s higher rate.
The other benefit is that the taxes on 2017 income won’t be due for 16 months, compared to only four months for 2016.
Be sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s here.
The IRS absolutely hates year-to-year income shifting like this, and they will catch you up at every opportunity. If you have already cashed a check in 2016, the income absolutely CAN’T be moved into 2017.
For those receiving 1099 income, be careful here.
If a check is mailed at the end of December and you don’t receive it until the beginning of January and cash it in January, it will still be counted as 2016 income. That’s because the payer’s 1099 dictates in which tax year the income is reported.
It may be time to have a friendly chat with your payer.
Mismatching Form 1099s and reported income are a major trigger for tax audits (I learned that the hard way).
2) Accelerate All Expenses
Anything that minimizes your 2016 profit to the benefit of your 2017 profit will have the effect of reducing your taxes.
Many overhead expenses, such as utilities’ bills and online services, can be paid several months or a year in advance. Renew all those newspaper and magazine subscriptions NOW.
Have a chat with your employees and see if they are willing to accept year end bonuses early. Make sure all of the payment dates are well documented and preserved in case of a future audit.
3) Capital Gains
During the presidential campaign, nothing definitive was said about long term capital gains taxes which now range from 15%-25%.
However, if you were planning to sell stock, your home, or any other investment assets, it might be wise to defer the closing date until January.
That way, if capital gains taxes ARE cut, you will receive an immediate benefit.
4) Carried Interest
Managers and investors in hedge funds have been enormous beneficiaries of the carried interest tax treatment for the past 45 years.
This allows investors in the appropriate tax efficient structures to be taxed at a 15% rate, instead of the 39% or 43% the rest of us pay. Carried interest is considered a principal cause for the rise of the 1%.
From very early in his campaign, Trump promised to get rid of carried interest which he characterized as an unfair advantage enjoyed by hedge fund managers who largely opposed him.
As with everything else Trump has said, no one really knows if he will carry through with this plan.
I doubt even The Donald knows at this point.
5) Obamacare Penalties
We are now in the middle of the enrollment period for Obamacare for 2017 and most other health care plans. Shunning coverage will generate a fine equal to 2.5% of your adjusted gross income.
The repeal of Obamacare is one of the safest bets out there, as it was such a big campaign issue. So if you feel healthy and want to forgo health coverage, you can now do so free of any penalty or guilt.
The cheapest, lowest end health care policies cost $8,000 a year, and have high $8,000 deductibles. That means your medical expenses have to exceed $16,000 a year for you to receive one penny of net benefits.
That buys a hell of a lot of Band-Aids.
As for me, I’m home free, as Medicare kicks in for me on January 1st. That is assuming, of course, that Medicare still exists.
6) Self Employment Tax
Trump has made much of helping small businesses.
The biggest hit these businesses take is the 15.3% self-employment tax. Minimizing net income in 2016 will also have the advantage of moving income into 2017 when it will be exposed to a lower tax rate, or no tax at all.
However, no information on the details of this tax by the new powers that be has been given whatsoever.
One can only hope.
7) Solar Subsidies
With the denial of global warming now official government policy, subsidies to install solar panels or buy electric cars will almost certainly be the first on the chopping block.
These gave buyers a 30% investment tax credit which they could use to offset taxes on earned income or carry over into future years.
Especially hard hit will be taxpayers in the American Southwest who were major buyers of these panels.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that all of this is a work in progress, and that this is a fast moving target. Trump knows very little about the workings of the federal government, and I’m sure a crash course is underway.
How much campaign rhetoric gets translated into law remains one of the great unknowns of 2017.
It’s Been Nice! So Long!