Because people are living longer now than ever before, many individuals are serving as care providers for loved ones (such as parents or spouses) who cannot live independently. Such individuals often have questions regarding the tax ramifications associated with the cost of such care. For these individuals, the cost of such care may be deductible as a medical expense.
Incapable of Self-Care – For the cost of caring for another person to qualify as a deductible medical expense, the person being cared for must be incapable of self-care. A person is considered incapable of self-care if, as a result of a physical or mental defect, that person is incapable of fulfilling his or her own hygiene or nutritional needs or if that person requires full-time care to ensure his or her own safety or the safety of others.
The tax code places limits on the amounts that individuals can gift to others (as money or property) without paying taxes. This is meant to keep individuals from using gifts to avoid the estate tax that is imposed upon inherited assets. This can be a significant issue for family-operated businesses when the business owner dies; such businesses often have to be sold to pay the resulting inheritance (estate) taxes. This is, in large part, why high-net-worth individuals invest in estate planning.
Exemptions – Current tax law provides both an annual gift-tax exemption and a lifetime unified exemption for the gift and estate taxes. Because the lifetime exemption is unified, gifts that exceed the annual gift-tax exemption reduce the amount that the giver can later exclude for estate-tax purposes.
Annual Gift-Tax Exemption – This inflation-adjusted exemption is $15,000 for 2018 and 2019 (up from $14,000 for 2013–2017). Thus, an individual can give $15,000 each to an unlimited number of other individuals (not necessarily relatives) without any tax ramifications. When a gift exceeds the $15,000 limit, the individual must file a Form 709 Gift Tax Return. However, unlimited amounts may be transferred between spouses without the need to file such a return – unless the spouse is not a U.S. citizen. Gifts to noncitizen spouses are eligible for an annual gift-tax exclusion of up to $155,000 in 2019 (up from $152,000 in 2018).
There are both opportunities and pitfalls for IRA owners, and while you definitely don’t want to get caught up in a pitfall, you may want to take advantage of the opportunities. IRAs come in two varieties: the traditional and the Roth. The traditional generally provides a tax deduction for a contribution and tax-deferred accumulation, with distributions being taxable. On the other hand, there is no tax deduction for making a Roth contribution, but the distributions are tax-free.
So, it leaves taxpayers with a significant decision, with long-term consequences of whether to contribute to traditional or Roth IRA. If you can afford to make the contributions without a tax deduction, then the Roth IRA is probably the better choice in most circumstances. However, some high-income restrictions limit the deductibility of a traditional IRA and the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA.
Pitfalls – Here are some of the pitfalls that can be encountered with IRAs:
If you have a large capital gain from the sale of a stock, asset, or business and would like to defer that gain with the possibility of excluding some of it from taxation, you may want to check out the new investment vehicle created by tax reform, called a qualified opportunity fund (QOF).
Congress, as a means of helping communities that have not recovered from the past decade’s economic downturn, included a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act intended to promote investments in certain economically distressed communities through QOFs. Investments in QOFs provide unique tax incentives that lawmakers designed to encourage taxpayers to participate in these funds.
Reinvesting Gains – Taxpayers who have a capital gain from selling or exchanging any non-QOF property to an unrelated party may elect to defer that gain if it is reinvested in a QOF within 180 days of the sale or exchange. Only one election may be made with respect to a given sale or exchange. If the taxpayer reinvests less than the full amount of the gain in the QOF, the remainder is taxable in the sale year, as usual. Only the gain need be reinvested in a QOF, not the entire proceeds from the sale. This is in sharp contrast to a 1031 exchange where the entire proceeds must be reinvested to defer the gain.
Thanks to the tax reform, beginning in 2019, the penalty for not having adequate health insurance, which the government refers to as the “individual shared responsibility payment,” will no longer apply.
The elimination of this penalty as of 2019 does not impact the health care subsidy for low-income families, which is known as the premium tax credit and which is available for policies acquired through a government insurance marketplace. This elimination also does not affect the penalties assessed on employers that do not offer affordable insurance to employees and that have 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees.
However, the penalty still applies for individual taxpayers who did not have minimum essential health coverage for 2018 and is the greater of the sum of the family’s flat dollar amounts or 2.5% of the amount by which the household’s income exceeds the income-tax-filing threshold.
For 2018, the flat dollar amounts are $695 per year ($57.92 per month) for each adult and half that amount ($347.50; $28.96 per month) for each child under the age of 18; the maximum family penalty using this method is $2,085 per year ($173.75 per month).
As part of the recent tax reform, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the deduction for home mortgage interest and property taxes has undergone substantial alterations. These changes will impact most homeowners who itemize their deductions each year.
Mortgage Interest – Prior to the tax reform, a taxpayer could deduct the interest he or she paid on up to $1 million of acquisition debt and $100,000 of equity debt secured by the taxpayer’s primary home and/or designated second home. This interest was claimed as an itemized deduction on Schedule A of the homeowner’s tax return. This tax deduction was often cited as one of the reasons to purchase a home, rather than renting a place to live.
Qualified home acquisition debt is debt incurred to purchase, construct, or substantially improve a taxpayer’s primary home or second home and is secured by the home.
Home equity debt is debt that is not acquisition debt and that is secured by the taxpayer’s primary home or second home, but only the interest paid on up to $100,000 of equity debt had been deductible as home mortgage interest. In the past, homeowners have used home equity as a piggy bank to purchase a new car, finance a vacation, or pay off credit card debt or other personal loans – all situations in which the interest on a consumer loan obtained for these purposes wouldn’t have been deductible.
Individuals with large estates generally want to gift portions of their estate to beneficiaries while they are still living, to avoid or lessen the estate tax when they pass away. That can be done through annual gifts (up to the inflation-adjusted annual limit for each gift recipient each year – $15,000 for 2019) and/or by utilizing the unified gift-estate exclusion for gifts in excess of the annual exclusion amount. The tax reform virtually doubled the unified gift-estate exclusion for years 2018 through 2025, after which – unless further extended by Congress – it will return to its inflation-adjusted former amount. This has caused concerns related to what the tax consequences will be for post-2025 estates if the decedent, while alive, had made gifts during the 2018-through-2025 period utilizing the higher unified gift-estate exclusion. Would that cause a claw back due to the reduced exclusion?
Individuals are always looking for tax deductions that can reduce their tax liability. But what is the actual tax benefit derived from a tax deduction? There is no straightforward answer because some deductions are above the line, others must be itemized, some must exceed a threshold amount before being deductible, and certain ones are not deductible for alternative minimum tax purposes, while business deductions can offset both income and self-employment tax. In other words, there are many factors to consider, and the tax benefits differ for each individual, depending on his or her particular situation and tax bracket.
For most non-business deductions, the savings are based upon your tax bracket. For example, if you are in the 12% tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction would save you $120 in taxes. On the other hand, if you are in the 32% tax bracket, the $1,000 deduction will save you $320 in taxes. Even so, if your taxable income is close to transitioning into the next-lower tax bracket, the benefit will be lower. You also need to consider whether the particular deduction is allowed on your state return and what your state tax bracket is to determine the total tax savings. Currently, the maximum federal tax bracket is 37%, meaning the most benefit that can be derived from a $1,000 income tax deduction is $370. Some individuals justify making discretionary purchases just because they are tax-deductible. Even in the highest tax bracket, you are still paying $630 out of pocket ($1,000 − $370), so it does not make sense to incur a tax-deductible expense just for the tax deduction.
Some holiday gifts you provide to members of your family, employees and others may also yield tax benefits. Here are some examples:
Electric Car Credit – If you purchase an electric car as a holiday gift for your spouse or even yourself, you will find that most come with a tax credit of up to $7,500. To qualify to claim the credit on your 2018 tax return, the car will have to be “placed in service” by December 31, 2018. So merely ordering the vehicle, even if payment for it is made at the time when the order is placed, won’t be enough – you will need to receive the car and start using it before New Year’s Day. But before you leap, you should know that the credit is non-refundable, meaning it can only offset your actual tax liability and that any excess credit over your tax liability will be lost. There is, however, an exception when the electric vehicle is used partially for business, in which case the portion of the credit allocated to the business use will become a general business credit that is carried back one year and then carried forward.
Tax credits are a tax benefit that offsets your actual tax liability, as opposed to a tax deduction, which reduces your income. Congress provides tax credits to individual taxpayers for a number of reasons, including as a form of assistance for lower-income taxpayers, to stimulate employment, and to stimulate certain investments, among other things.
Tax credits come in two types: non-refundable and refundable. A non-refundable credit can only reduce your tax liability to zero; any excess is either carried forward or is simply lost. In the case of a refundable credit, if there is excess after reducing your tax liability to zero, the excess is refundable. The following is a summary of some of the tax credits available to individual taxpayers:
Childcare Credit – Parents who work or are looking for work often must arrange for care of their children during working hours or while searching for work. If this describes your situation and your children requiring care are under 13 years of age, you may qualify for a childcare tax credit.
With the holiday season approaching, and with the great need for aid in the wake of the recent hurricanes and wildfires, you no doubt are being solicited for donations. However, do not be fooled by the scammers who come out from hiding whenever there is a disaster and during the holiday season. The last thing you want to do is get ripped off; not only will your charitable dollars go to waste, but you will also lose your tax deduction, as contributions are only tax-deductible if they are to qualified charities.
Soon, your physical and electronic mailboxes – not to mention your voicemail box – will be filled with charitable solicitations. Before you break out your checkbook, however, be sure to do your homework, especially if you are contemplating a donation to an organization that you are not already familiar with. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding any charity or fundraiser that…
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced the inflation-adjusted increase in benefits for 2019. SSA’s announcement states that Social Security beneficiaries should expect a cost-of-living increase of 2.8%. However, the same announcement says that for those who are retired at full retirement age, the maximum monthly benefit will go from $2,788 to $2,861, a 2.62% increase of $73 a month. Either 2.62% or 2.8% isn’t much in the overall scope of things, considering part of that increase goes to pay for Medicare premiums and copays for medication. Those retired with only Social Security income struggle just to survive month to month.
This should be a wakeup call for still-working individuals who are living (and spending) for the moment and have no, or minimal, retirement plans or retirement savings. It’s almost imperative that individuals include contributions into retirement savings in their budgets, in one form or another, or the inevitable golden years won’t be so golden.