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2017 Year-end Tax Planning with Pending Legislation for Individuals


During these uncertain times of pending tax legislation, it can be difficult to determine appropriate action to perform effective tax planning*. There may be year-end strategies that can be employed in late December as it becomes clearer from Congress which provisions of each bill will be final. Despite the uncertainty, it is important for taxpayers to be ready to execute strategies for effective tax planning.

Key areas for consideration this tax season include potential tax reform, identity theft concerns, and increased scrutiny of foreign reporting, and this isn’t expected to change any time soon. Some of the major changes for individuals are identified below, starting with the rates.

Tax Rates: Both versions of the bill call for a change in tax rates. For some taxpayers, the rates may be higher and for some lower, depending on the amount and type of taxable income they are reporting. Simply having a higher marginal rate suggests that the tax on each incremental dollar of ordinary income would be subject to that higher rate. Under both versions of the bill, flow-through income from businesses (partnerships, S corporations, and sole proprietorships) will be subject to a different rate structure. It is expected that the long-term capital gains and qualified dividend rates will not change under either version of the bill. Absent non-tax cash-flow considerations, taxpayers who believe their tax rate will decrease following the enactment of tax reform should consider strategies of deferring income and accelerating deductions for 2017. This is generally consistent with conventional tax planning when tax rates remain steady year over year. Taxpayers should remain cautious however; as such strategies can subject taxpayers to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and have a reduced benefit from the 3% haircut on itemized deductions, thereby resulting in a higher overall tax liability. The effect of AMT can eliminate any perceived benefit of tax planning if not considered thoroughly. Furthermore, the type of income should also be considered as deductions offsetting income at the qualified dividends and long-term capital gains rate may not be as valuable as offsetting ordinary income in a subsequent year when analyzed on a combined basis. It is strongly encouraged that taxpayers work with their tax advisers to determine the potential impact of prepaying expenses. Taxpayers who believe their tax rate will increase following the enactment of tax reform should consider strategies of accelerating income and deferring deductions for 2017 (absent any time value of money considerations and other limitations). Since individuals are cash basis taxpayers, income is earned when actually or constructively received and allowable expenses are deductible in the year payments are made. Income deferral opportunities exist by contributing to qualified retirement plans, deferral of stock options, harvesting capital losses, utilizing installment sales or like-kind exchange opportunities, and deferring retirement plan/IRA distributions (other than required distributions). Generally, it is difficult for W-2 wage earners to shift wage income as they may not be in control of the timing of their cash wages. Opportunities may exist for certain earners with respect to the timing of the exercise of options or the timing of certain income as part of a nonqualified deferred compensation plan. Despite the version of the bill that may pass, taxpayers should consider making the maximum contribution to their 401(k) retirement plan given the impact of compounding interest and tax-deferred income accumulation. These contributions lower current-year taxable income while the earnings grow tax-deferred. Moreover, if an employer offers an employer matching contribution, employees should review their contributions made to date to maximize their employer matching contributions in advance of year-end. Possible deduction increases come from using business losses, pre-paying business expenses, applying accelerated depreciation strategies for business use assets, offsetting ordinary income via SEP-IRAs and solo 401(k) plans, etc. Possible deductions are dependent on each taxpayer’s facts and circumstances. The increased standard deduction may cause many taxpayers to lose the benefit of any itemized deductions in subsequent years. For example, under the House bill, the standard deduction for married filing jointly increases to $24,400. Therefore, only those with allowable mortgage interest, property taxes, and charitable contributions in excess of $24,400 would receive any tax benefit. Consequently, taxpayers should focus on accelerating itemized deductions into 2017 if their itemized deductions are generally above the current standard deduction, but below the higher proposed standard deduction. These items include medical expenses, state and local income taxes, real estate taxes, charitable deductions, tax preparation fees, investment fees, etc. For example, a charitable contribution of $15,000 absent other deductions would provide benefit for a married couple to itemize on their 2017 tax return, but the tax benefit from those donations wouldn’t under the proposed higher standard deduction. After considering AMT exclusions, cash-flow considerations, and tax-rate analysis, it may be beneficial to pre-pay some of these items. Please work with your tax adviser to determine how best maximize deductibility of these expenses. For residents in the Chicago area, the first installment of 2017 Cook County real estate taxes are due in February 2018. Real estate taxes for Lake and McHenry Counties are due in June 2018. Guidelines for prepayment vary by county. Local county guidelines are as follows:

Cook County

  • Request a prepayment bill from the Treasurer’s office as soon as possible by email or mail

  • Participants can pay the first installment of their 2017 Cook County real estate taxes, which would equal 55% of their final 2016 real estate taxes paid in 2017

  • Checks should be payable to Cook County Treasurer and include your name, address, PIN, phone number, email address and “prepayment” in the memo line

  • Prepayment must be postmarked by December 31 or brought to the Cook County Treasurer’s office

Lake County

  • Prepayment amounts can be no more than the present year taxes and must be received between December 1 and December 29, 2017

  • Checks should be payable to Lake County Treasurer and include your PIN and “Pre-Payment” in the memo line

  • Refunds will be given only if the taxes calculate less than the pre-paid amount

McHenry County

  • Complete and sign The Advance Tax Agreement and return it to the Treasurer with check by December 29, 2017

  • Prepayments are held in escrow until tax bills are issued

  • Pay any outstanding balance by the first installment due date

  • To correctly identify the property, you’ll need to include the PIN on all parcels along with the payment

Reach out to us if you need prepayment instructions with other counties. ECS Financial Services can help navigate through the complex tax landscape to help you increase your bottom line. Please reach out to an ECS Financial Services team member today to help optimize your tax profile or to hear more about how the pending legislation can affect you.

EndFragment* As of the writing of this article, the House and Senate have each passed their own version of a tax reform bill and now it will be up to a conference committee to craft one unified measure, referred to as a “conference report”. Following the conference report, the bill will then need to once again be approved by the House and Senate before it can be sent to the President to sign into law. The House and Senate are targeting December 22, 2017 to agree upon a bill that can be sent to the President. It is expected on Capitol Hill that the final bill will more closely resemble the Senate’s version because it is more closely in line with Senate budgetary rules. Given the uncertainty and pending changes, the planning considerations proposed in this article are subject to change. Any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this document is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter that is contained in this document.

About the Author - Sanjay Wadhwani received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance from University of Florida in 2004 and a Master of Science in Taxation from University of Central Florida in 2006. Mr. Wadhwani is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Illinois Certified Public Accountants Society. Mr. Wadhwani has over 10 years of public accounting and tax experience. His areas of expertise include individual, corporate, and partnership income tax compliance and consulting.

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