Although tax planning is a 12-month activity, yearend is traditionally the time to review tax strategies from the past and to revise them for the future. Yearend has also become a time when there is an increasing need to take a careful look at what’s changed within the tax law itself since the beginning of the year. Opportunities and pitfalls within these recent changes – as they impact each taxpayer’s unique situation—should not be overlooked. This is particularly the case during year-end 2016. Here are some of the many consideration that taxpayers should review as year-end 2016 approaches.
As in past years, planning is uncertain because of the expiration of at least some popular but temporary tax breaks. Also added to the mix is the far-reaching Affordable Care Act (ACA) and whatever changes to 2017 the new Congress and Administration may make to the Tax Code.
PATH Act “extenders” and more
Year to year, the tax law changes; and with it, opportunities and pitfalls that need particular attention at year end. In many cases, these changes are accounted for based on a tax-year period. Once the current tax year is over, there often is no going back for a “do-over” for a missed opportunity or to correct a costly mistake. Year-end 2016 is no exception to this rule.
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), enacted immediately before the start of 2016, permanently extended many tax incentives that were previously temporary, removing for the first time in many years the year-end concern over whether these incentives will be extended either retroactively for the current year or prospectively into the coming year. Not all of these “extenders” provisions were extended beyond 2016, however; and some were modified in the process. Others were extended for up to five years, deferring to “tax reform” a more lasting solution. Here’s a list of the major changes made by the PATH Act, especially focused on how they impact year-end transactions:
Five-year Extensions. The PATH Act extended several business-related provisions available for five-years, under the expectation that general tax reform will consider a more permanent fate. Among these provisions, bonus depreciation and the Work Opportunity Credit have widespread applicability. Notably, in addition to extending bonus depreciation, a number of modifications have been made that:
Revised Repair Regulations
The IRS issued final tangible property regulations (aka, the “repair regs”) over three years ago. They continue to control the accounting for costs to acquire, repair and improve tangible property. These “repair regs” impact virtually all asset-based businesses and have reverberated into 2016, with additional “clean-up” expected in 2017.
For 2016 year-end planning, qualifying for new safe harbors: a de minimis expensing safe harbor and a remodel-refresh safe harbor – both can yield substantial immediate deductions if followed.
Business Use of Vehicles
Several year-end strategies for both business expense deductions for vehicles and the fringe-benefit use of vehicles by employees involve an awareness of certain rates and dollar caps that change annually. 2016 changes to the standard mileage rates and vehicle depreciation limits are critical to these strategies.
Affordable Care Act
Despite several delays and legislative tweaks, the basic structure of the ACA for businesses, both large and small, generally remains intact. If an employer is an applicable large employer (ALE), this triggers employer shared responsibility provisions and the employer information reporting provisions. Small businesses, too, are not unaffected by the ACA and should take the ACA into account in year-end planning. Some incentives under the ACA, including health reimbursement arrangements and small business health care tax credits, can help maximize tax savings for small businesses. Information reporting under the ACA continues to challenge all businesses.
The due date for filing partnership and C corporation returns was modified by the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015. Generally applicable to returns for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015, both Forms 1120-S and 1065 are due on or before the 15th day of the third month following the close of the tax year (March 15 for calendar-year taxpayers). The due date for the filing of Form 1120 by C corporations is changed to the 15th day of the fourth month following the close of the tax year (April 15 for calendar-year taxpayers).
Many taxpayers and tax professionals have long advocated for these changes to return due dates. These staggered due dates were recommended not only to enable taxpayers to receive Schedule K-1 information in time to meet their initial filing deadlines. They also help even out the workflow faced by tax preparers both in dealing with initial deadlines and with extensions. Further, the revisions are expected to contribute to a reduction in the need for extended and amended individual income tax returns.
Data, including 2015 return
Year-end planning should start with data collection and a review of prior year returns. This includes losses or other carryovers, estimated tax installments, and items that were unusual. Conversations about next year should include review of any plans for significant purchases or dispositions, as well as any possible life changes. Alternative minimum tax liability also needs to be explored as well as potential liability for the net investment income tax and the Additional Medicare Tax.
Taxpayers holding investments toward the end of the year, whether in the form of securities, real estate, collectibles, or other assets, often have an opportunity to reduce their overall tax bill by some strategic buying and selling (or like-kind exchanging). Balancing the existing tax rates within those considerations is part of that challenge: the ordinary income tax rates, the capital gain rates, the net investment income tax rate, and the alternative minimum tax (AMT), all play a role.
Income caps on benefits
Monitoring adjusted gross income (AGI) at year end can also pay dividends in qualifying for a number of tax benefits. Often tax savings can be realized by lowering income in one year at the expense of realizing a bit more in the other: in this case, either 2016 or 2017. Some of those tax benefits that get phased out depending upon the taxpayer’s AGI level include:
Life events such as marriage, birth or adoption of a child, a new job or the loss of a job, and retirement, all impact year-end tax planning. A change in filing status will affect tax liability. The possibility of significant changes and/ or significant or unusual items of income or loss should be part of a year-end tax strategy. Additionally, taxpayers need to take a look into the future, into 2017, and predict, if possible, any events that could trigger significant income, losses or deductions.
Taxpayers may want to take a look at a number of different provisions in anticipation of retirement, at the point of retirement, or after retirement. Many of these provisions have opportunities and deadlines associated with the concept of taxable year. Among others, these include contributions to employer plans, strategic use of IRAs and “required minimum distributions,” and timing Roth IRA conversions and reconversions to maximize your retirement nest egg.
Acceleration or delay
Year-end tax planning, especially if done “at the eleventh hour,” requires some understanding of the timing rules: when income becomes taxable and when it may be deferred; and, likewise, when a deduction or credit is realized and when it may be deferred into next year or beyond.
Income acceleration/deferral. Taxpayers using the cash method basis of accounting can defer or accelerate income using a variety of strategies. These may include:
Deduction acceleration/deferral. A cash basis taxpayer generally deducts an expense in the year it is paid, although prepayment of an expense generally will not accelerate a deduction. There are exceptions, including those made in connection with:
A New Administration
When the new Administration moves into Washington in January 2017, it is clear that changes will follow. How these changes will impact upon your long-term tax situation remains to be developed. That, and an eventual groundswell for tax reform, make the future more difficult to read than in prior years. Nevertheless, in looking toward the future, you should not lose sight of the short term tax dollars to be saved immediately through 2016 year-end strategies.
Please feel free to call our offices if you have any questions about how year-end tax planning might help you save taxes. Our tax laws operate largely within the confines of “the taxable year.” Once 2016 is over, tax savings that are specific to 2016 may be gone forever.
Robin Kramer & Green, LLP