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Where Will We Be This Year-End – The Uncertainty of 2014 Tax Planning

November 19, 2014

Andrew S. Lattimer, CPA

Election Day has come and gone and we still have no answers. The hope is that the new Republican-controlled Congress and President Obama can begin negotiating on common ground. With so many tax provisions expiring at the end of 2013, it has left many taxpayers wondering what can be done for 2014. Some of the tax breaks may be retroactively reinstated and extended. The IRS has already pleaded with the Treasury to act swiftly in order to not cause a delay in the opening of tax season. Many tax practitioners are also hoping for this as tax busy season seems to get more condensed every year.

For individuals, these breaks include: 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 ½ 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 expensing limitation; the research tax credit; and the 15-year write-off for qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified retail improvement property.

Higher-income earners have unique concerns to address when mapping out year-end plans. They must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income and the additional 0.9% Medicare 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). As year-end nears, a taxpayer's approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on their estimated MAGI and 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 NII, 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, in instances in which 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.

Below is a list of tax-planning moves for both individuals and businesses that may be applicable to your situation. However, you should reach out to your tax advisor to discuss your particular situation.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. There may be more opportunities if Congress acts swiftly to reinstate the tax extenders. If that happens, make sure you call your tax practitioner to see what else can be done.

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Disclaimer: Any written tax content, comments, or advice contained in this article is limited to the matters specifically set forth herein. Such content, comments, or advice may be based on tax statues, regulations, and administrative and judicial interpretations thereof and we have no obligation to update any content, comments or advice for retroactive or prospective changes to such authorities. This communication is not intended to address the potential application of penalties and interest, for which the taxpayer is responsible, that may be imposed for non-compliance with tax law.


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