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2014 Year End Planning Strategy

Year-end tax planning is especially challenging this year because Congress has yet to act on a host of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013. Some of these tax breaks may be retroactively reinstated and extended, but Congress may not decide the fate of these tax breaks until the very end of this year (and, possibly, not until next year). These breaks include, for individuals:

  • the option to deduct state and local sales and use taxes instead of state and local income taxes;

  • the above-the-line-deduction for qualified higher education expenses;

  • tax-free IRA distributions for charitable purposes by those age 70-1/2 or older;

  • and the exclusion for up-to-$2 million of mortgage  debt forgiveness on a principal residence.

For businesses, tax breaks that expired at the end of last year and may be retroactively reinstated and extended include:

  • 50% bonus first year depreciation for most new machinery, equipment and software;

  •  the $500,000 annual IRC 179 expensing limitation;

  • the research tax credit;

  • and the 15-year writeoff for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements and qualified retail improvements.

 

Higher-income-earners have unique concerns to address when mapping out year-end planning. They must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income and the additional 0.9% Medicare (hospital insurance , or HI) tax that applies to individuals receiving wages with respect to employment in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly and $125,000 for married couples filing separately).

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). A taxpayer's approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on his estimated MAGI and net investment income (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 net investment income, and other individuals will need to consider ways to minimize both NII and other types of MAGI.

The additional Medicare tax may require year-end actions. 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 year end to cover the tax. For example, 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 overwithheld. 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 income won't be high enough to actually cause the tax to be owed.

We have compiled a checklist of individual and business 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.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. Again, by contacting us, we can tailor a particular plan that will work best for you. There has been very little legislative change this year other than the possibility of a few last minute tax extenders which are unlikely to be discussed or passed as legislation until after the November elections. The last half of December could bring surprise legislation. Our clients need to stay alert for last minute tax changes by visiting our website www.bhgpaccountants.com, and signing-up for our e-mail newsletters. In light of the ever-evolving and rapidly changing tax code, you need access to real-time information through our website and newsletters to stay abreast of any changes affecting your tax planning. These resources will allow us to stay in close touch in the event Congress revives expired tax breaks, to assure that you don't miss out on any resuscitated tax saving opportunities.