Some Deductions May Be Smaller (or Nonexistent) When You File Your 2018 Tax Return

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces most income tax rates and expands some tax breaks, it limits or eliminates several itemized deductions that have been valuable to many individual taxpayers. Here are five deductions you may see shrink or disappear when you file your 2018 income tax return:

  1. State and local tax deduction. For 2018 through 2025, your total itemized deduction for all state and local taxes combined — including property tax — is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 if you’re married and filing separately). You still must choose between deducting income and sales tax; you can’t deduct both, even if your total state and local tax deduction wouldn’t exceed $10,000.
  2. Mortgage interest deduction. You generally can claim an itemized deduction for interest on mortgage debt incurred to purchase, build or improve your principal residence and a second residence. Points paid related to your principal residence also may be deductible. For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA reduces the mortgage debt limit from $1 million to $750,000 for debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, with some limited exceptions.
  3. Home equity debt interest deduction. Before the TCJA, an itemized deduction could be claimed for interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt used for any purpose, such as to pay off credit cards (for which interest isn’t deductible). The TCJA effectively limits the home equity interest deduction for 2018 through 2025 to debt that would qualify for the home mortgage interest deduction.
  4. Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor. This deduction for expenses such as certain professional fees, investment expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses is suspended for 2018 through 2025. If you’re an employee and work from home, this includes the home office deduction. (Business owners and the self-employed may still be able to claim a home office deduction against their business or self-employment income.)
  5. Personal casualty and theft loss deduction. For 2018 through 2025, this itemized deduction is suspended except if the loss was due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.

Be aware that additional rules and limits apply to many of these deductions. Also keep in mind that the TCJA nearly doubles the standard deduction. The combination of a much larger standard deduction and the reduction or elimination of many itemized deductions means that, even if itemizing has typically benefited you in the past, you might be better off taking the standard deduction when you file your 2018 return. Please contact us with any questions you have

Economic Damages: Recovering What Was Lost

A business can suffer economic damages arising from a variety of illegal conduct. Common examples include breach of contract, patent infringement and commercial negligence. If your company finds itself headed to court looking to recover lost profits, diminished business value or both, it’s important to know how the damages might be determined.

What methods are commonly used?

The goal of any economic damages case is to make your company, the plaintiff, “whole” again. In other words, one critical question must be answered: Where would your business be today “but for” the defendant’s alleged wrongdoing? When financial experts calculate economic damages, they generally rely on the following methods:

Before-and-after. Here, the expert assumes that, if it hadn’t been for the breach or other tortious act, the company’s operating trends would have continued in pace with past performance. In other words, damages equal the difference between expected and actual performance. A similar approach quantifies damages as the difference between the company’s value before and after the alleged “tort” (damaging incident) occurred.

Yardstick. Under this technique, the expert benchmarks a damaged company’s performance to external sources, such as publicly traded comparables or industry guidelines. The presumption is that the company’s performance would have mimicked that of its competitors if not for the tortious act.

Sales projection. Projections or forecasts of the company’s expected cash flow serve as the basis for damages under this method. Damages involving niche players and start-ups often call for the sales projection method, because they have limited operating history and few meaningful comparables.

An expert considers the specific circumstances of the case to determine the appropriate valuation method (or methods) for that situation.

What’s next?

After financial experts have estimated lost profits, they discount their estimates to present value. Some jurisdictions have prescribed discount rates, but, in many instances, experts subjectively determine the discount rate based on their professional opinions about risk. Small differences in the discount rate can generate large differences in final conclusions. As a result, the subjective discount rate is often a contentious issue.

The final step is to address mitigating factors. What could the damaged party have done to minimize its loss? Most jurisdictions hold plaintiffs at least partially responsible for mitigating their own damages. Like discount rates, this subjective adjustment often triggers widely divergent opinions among the parties involved.

Are you prepared?

You probably don’t relish the thought of heading to court to fight for economic damages. But these situations can occur — often quite unexpectedly — and it’s better to be prepared than surprised. Contact us for more information.

Make Sure the Price is Right with Market Research

One way to help ensure that the new year is a profitable one is to re-evaluate your company’s pricing strategy. You need to devise an approach that considers more than just what it cost you to produce a product or deliver a service; it also must factor in what customers want and value — and how much money they’re willing to spend. Then you need to evaluate how competitors price and position their offerings.

Doing your homework

Optimal pricing decisions don’t occur in a vacuum; they require market research. Examples of economical ways smaller businesses can research their customers and competitors include:

  • Conducting informal focus groups with top customers,
  • Sending online surveys to prospective, existing and defecting customers,
  • Monitoring social media reviews, and
  • Sending free trials in exchange for customer feedback.

It’s also smart to investigate your competitors’ pricing strategies using ethical means. For example, the owner of a restaurant might eat a meal at each of her local competitors to evaluate the menu, decor and service. Or a manufacturer might visit competitors’ websites and purchase comparable products to evaluate quality, timeliness and customer service.

Charging a premium

Remember, low-cost pricing isn’t the only way to compete — in fact, it can be disastrous for small players in an industry dominated by large conglomerates. Your business can charge higher prices than competitors do if customers think your products and services offer enhanced value.

Suppose you survey customers and discover that they associate your brand with high quality and superior features. If your target market is more image conscious than budget conscious, you can set a premium price to differentiate your offerings. You’ll probably sell fewer units than your low-cost competitors but earn a higher margin on each unit sold. Premium prices also work for novel or exclusive products that are currently available from few competitors — or, if customers are drawn to the reputation, unique skills or charisma that specific owners or employees possess.

Going in low

Sometimes setting a low price, at least temporarily, does make sense. It can drive competitors out of the market and build your market share — or help you survive adverse market conditions. Being a low-cost leader enables your business to capture market share and possibly lower costs through economies of scale. But you’ll earn a lower margin on each unit sold.

Another approach is to discount some loss leader products to draw in buyers and establish brand loyalty in the hope that customers will subsequently buy complementary products and services at higher margins. You also may decide to offer discounts when seasonal demand is low or when you want to get rid of less popular models to lower inventory carrying costs.

Evolving over time

Do your prices really reflect customer demand and market conditions? Pricing shouldn’t be static — it should evolve with your business and its industry. Whether you’re pricing a new product or service for the first time or reviewing your existing pricing strategy, we can help you analyze the pertinent factors and make an optimal decision.

Act Soon to Save 2018 Taxes on Your Investments

Do you have investments outside of tax-advantaged retirement plans? If so, you might still have time to shrink your 2018 tax bill by selling some investments. You just need to carefully select which investments you sell.

Try balancing gains and losses

If you’ve sold investments at a gain this year, consider selling some losing investments to absorb the gains. This is commonly referred to as “harvesting” losses.

If, however, you’ve sold investments at a loss this year, consider selling other investments in your portfolio that have appreciated, to the extent the gains will be absorbed by the losses. If you believe those appreciated investments have peaked in value, essentially you’ll lock in the peak value and avoid tax on your gains.

Review your potential tax rates

At the federal level, long-term capital gains (on investments held more than one year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains (on investments held one year or less). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains. But, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets, instead of aligning with various ordinary-income brackets.

For example, these are the thresholds for the top long-term gains rate for 2018:

  • Singles: $425,800
  • Heads of households: $452,400
  • Married couples filing jointly: $479,000

But the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. The TCJA also retains the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

Don’t forget the netting rules

Before selling investments, consider the netting rules for gains and losses, which depend on whether gains and losses are long term or short term. To determine your net gain or loss for the year, long-term capital losses offset long-term capital gains before they offset short-term capital gains. In the same way, short-term capital losses offset short-term capital gains before they offset long-term capital gains.

You may use up to $3,000 of total capital losses in excess of total capital gains as a deduction against ordinary income in computing your adjusted gross income. Any remaining net losses are carried forward to future years.

Time is running out

By reviewing your investment activity year-to-date and selling certain investments by year end, you may be able to substantially reduce your 2018 taxes. But act soon, because time is running out.

Keep in mind that tax considerations shouldn’t drive your investment decisions. You also need to consider other factors, such as your risk tolerance and investment goals.

We can help you determine what makes sense for you. Please contact us.

Donate Appreciated Stock for Twice the Tax Benefits

A tried-and-true year end tax strategy is to make charitable donations. As long as you itemize and your gift qualifies, you can claim a charitable deduction. But did you know that you can enjoy an additional tax benefit if you donate long-term appreciated stock instead of cash?

Two benefits from one gift

Appreciated publicly traded stock you’ve held more than one year is long-term capital gains property. If you donate it to a qualified charity, you may be able to enjoy two tax benefits:

  1. If you itemize deductions, you can claim a charitable deduction equal to the stock’s fair market value, and
  2. You can avoid the capital gains tax you’d pay if you sold the stock.

Donating appreciated stock can be especially beneficial to taxpayers facing the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) or the top 20% long-term capital gains rate this year.

Stock vs. cash

Let’s say you donate $10,000 of stock that you paid $3,000 for, your ordinary-income tax rate is 37% and your long-term capital gains rate is 20%. Let’s also say you itemize deductions.

If you sold the stock, you’d pay $1,400 in tax on the $7,000 gain. If you were also subject to the 3.8% NIIT, you’d pay another $266 in NIIT.

By instead donating the stock to charity, you save $5,366 in federal tax ($1,666 in capital gains tax and NIIT plus $3,700 from the $10,000 income tax deduction). If you donated $10,000 in cash, your federal tax savings would be only $3,700.

Watch your step

First, remember that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction, to $12,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. The charitable deduction will provide a tax benefit only if your total itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. Because the standard deduction is so much higher, even if you’ve itemized deductions in the past, you might not benefit from doing so for 2018.

Second, beware that donations of long-term capital gains property are subject to tighter deduction limits — 30% of your adjusted gross income for gifts to public charities, 20% for gifts to non-operating private foundations (compared to 60% and 30%, respectively, for cash donations).

Finally, don’t donate stock that’s worth less than your basis. Instead, sell the stock so you can deduct the loss and then donate the cash proceeds to charity.

Minimizing tax and maximizing deductions

For charitably inclined taxpayers who own appreciated stock and who’ll have enough itemized deductions to benefit from itemizing on their 2018 tax returns, donating the stock to charity can be an excellent year-end tax planning strategy. This is especially true if the stock is highly appreciated and you’d like to sell it but are worried about the tax liability. Please contact us with any questions you have about minimizing capital gains tax or maximizing charitable deductions.

Tax Planning for Investments Gets More Complicated

For investors, fall is a good time to review year-to-date gains and losses. Not only can it help you assess your financial health, but it also can help you determine whether to buy or sell investments before year end to save taxes. This year, you also need to keep in mind the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). While the TCJA didn’t change long-term capital gains rates, it did change the tax brackets for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.

For 2018 through 2025, these brackets are no longer linked to the ordinary-income tax brackets for individuals. So, for example, you could be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate even if you aren’t subject to the top ordinary-income tax rate.

Old rules

For the last several years, individual taxpayers faced three federal income tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends: 0%, 15% and 20%. The rate brackets were tied to the ordinary-income rate brackets.

Specifically, if the long-term capital gains and/or dividends fell within the 10% or 15% ordinary-income brackets, no federal income tax was owed. If they fell within the 25%, 28%, 33% or 35% ordinary-income brackets, they were taxed at 15%. And, if they fell within the maximum 39.6% ordinary-income bracket, they were taxed at the maximum 20% rate.

In addition, higher-income individuals with long-term capital gains and dividends were also hit with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). It kicked in when modified adjusted gross income exceeded $200,000 for singles and heads of households and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. So, many people actually paid 18.8% (15% + 3.8%) or 23.8% (20% + 3.8%) on their long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.

New rules

The TCJA retains the 0%, 15% and 20% rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends for individual taxpayers. However, for 2018 through 2025, these rates have their own brackets. Here are the 2018 brackets:

  • Singles:
    • 0%: $0 – $38,600
    • 15%: $38,601 – $425,800
    • 20%: $425,801 and up
  • Heads of households:
    • 0%: $0 – $51,700
    • 15%: $51,701 – $452,400
    • 20%: $452,401 and up
  • Married couples filing jointly:
    • 0%: $0 – $77,200
    • 15%: $77,201 – $479,000
    • 20%: $479,001 and up

For 2018, the top ordinary-income rate of 37%, which also applies to short-term capital gains and non-qualified dividends, doesn’t go into effect until income exceeds $500,000 for singles and heads of households or $600,000 for joint filers. (Both the long-term capital gains brackets and the ordinary-income brackets will be indexed for inflation for 2019 through 2025.) The new tax law also retains the 3.8% NIIT and its $200,000 and $250,000 thresholds.

More thresholds, more complexity

With more tax rate thresholds to keep in mind, year-end tax planning for investments is especially complicated in 2018. If you have questions, please contact us.

Play Your Tax Cards Right with Gambling Wins and Losses

If you gamble, be sure you understand the tax consequences. Both wins and losses can affect your income tax bill. And changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could also have an impact.

Wins and taxable income

You must report 100% of your gambling winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income as winnings.

Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate. You might pay a lower rate on gambling winnings this year because of rate reductions under the TCJA.

Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, remember that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.

Losses and tax deductions

You can write off gambling losses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. While miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor are not allowed for 2018 through 2025 under the TCJA, the deduction for gambling losses isn’t subject to that floor. So gambling losses are still deductible.

But the TCJA’s near doubling of the standard deduction for 2018 (to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of households and $12,000 for singles and separate filers) means that, even if you typically itemized deductions in the past, you may no longer benefit from itemizing. Itemizing saves tax only when total itemized deductions exceed the applicable standard deduction.

Also be aware that the deduction for gambling losses is limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried forward to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth can’t be deducted unless you qualify as a gambling professional.

And, for 2018 through 2025, the TCJA modifies the limit on gambling losses for professional gamblers so that all deductions for expenses incurred in carrying out gambling activities, not just losses, are limited to the extent of gambling winnings.

Tracking your activities

To claim a deduction for gambling losses, you must adequately document them, including:

  1. The date and type of gambling activity.
  2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.
  3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.)
  4. The amount won or lost.

You can document income and losses from gambling on table games by recording the number of the table you played and keeping statements showing casino credit issued to you. For lotteries, you can use winning statements and unredeemed tickets as documentation.

Please contact us if you have questions or want more information about the tax treatment of gambling wins and losses.

The TCJA Changes Some Rules for Deducting Pass-through Business Losses

Tax losses generated buy businesses are not uncommon, but the losses that can be deducted are limited by tax law in some situations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) further restricts the amount of losses that sole proprietors, partners, S corporation shareholders, and, typically, limited liability company (LLC) members can currently deduct — beginning in 2018. This could negatively impact owners of start-ups and businesses facing adverse conditions.

Before the TCJA

Under pre-TCJA law, an individual taxpayer’s business losses could usually be fully deducted in the tax year when they arose unless:

  • The passive activity loss (PAL) rules or some other provision of tax law limited that favorable outcome, or
  • The business loss was so large that it exceeded taxable income from other sources, creating a net operating loss (NOL).

After the TCJA

The TCJA temporarily changes the rules for deducting an individual taxpayer’s business losses. If your pass-through business generates a tax loss for a tax year beginning in 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct an “excess business loss” in the current year. An excess business loss is the excess of your aggregate business deductions for the tax year over the sum of:

  • Your aggregate business income and gains for the tax year, and
  • $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re a married taxpayer filing jointly).

The excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for NOLs.

For business losses passed through to individuals from S corporations, partnerships and LLCs treated as partnerships for tax purposes, the new excess business loss limitation rules apply at the owner level. In other words, each owner’s allocable share of business income, gain, deduction or loss is passed through to the owner and reported on the owner’s personal federal income tax return for the owner’s tax year that includes the end of the entity’s tax year.

Keep in mind that the new loss limitation rules apply after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your business or rental activity loss, you don’t get to the new loss limitation rules.

Expecting a business loss?

The rationale underlying the new loss limitation rules is to restrict the ability of individual taxpayers to use current-year business losses to offset income from other sources, such as salary, self-employment income, interest, dividends and capital gains.

The practical impact is that your allowable current-year business losses can’t offset more than $250,000 of income from such other sources (or more than $500,000 for joint filers). The requirement that excess business losses be carried forward as an NOL forces you to wait at least one year to get any tax benefit from those excess losses.

If you’re expecting your business to generate a tax loss in 2018, contact us to determine whether you’ll be affected by the new loss limitation rules. We can also provide more information about the PAL and NOL rules.

Casualty Losses Can Provide a 2017 Deduction, but Rules Tighten for 2018

If you suffered damage to your home or personal property last year, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your 2017 federal income tax return. For 2018 through 2025, however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends this deduction except for losses due to an event officially declared a disaster by the President.

What is a casualty? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses on your 2017 return:

  • When to deduct:  Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss on your return for the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.
  • Amount of loss:  Your loss is generally the lesser of (1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or (2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty.  This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive.  If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.
  • $100 rule:  After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.
  • 10% rule:  You must reduce the total of all your casualty losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).  In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.

Note that special relief that affects some of these rules has been provided to certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; and California wildfires.  For details on this relief or other questions about casualty losses, please contact us.