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New challenges for 2014 year-end tax planning

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Before the fast-approaching new year, it’s important to take some time and reflect on year-end tax planning. The weeks pass quickly and the arrival of January 1, 2015 will close the doors to some tax planning strategies and opportunities. Fortunately, there is still time for a careful review of your year-end tax planning strategy.

Traditional year-end planning techniques

For many individuals, a look at traditional year-end tax planning techniques is a good starting point. Spreading the recognition of certain income between 2014 and 2015 is one technique. Individuals need to take into account any possible changes in their income tax bracket. The individual income tax rates for 2014 are unchanged from 2013: 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35 and 39.6 percent. Each taxable income bracket is indexed for inflation. The starting points for the 39.6 percent bracket for 2014 are $406,750 for unmarried individuals; $457,600 for married couples filing a joint return and surviving spouses; $432,200 for heads of households; and $228,800 for married couples filing separate returns. For 2014, the top tax rate for qualified capital gains and qualified dividends is 20 percent.

For the second year, individuals also need to plan for potential net investment income (NII) tax liability. The NII tax applies to taxpayers with certain types of income and who fall within the thresholds for liability. Again, spreading income out over a number of years or offsetting the income with both above-the-line and itemized deductions are strategies to consider.

Tax extenders

Many individuals are surprised to learn that some very popular and widely-used tax incentives are temporary. If you claimed the higher education tuition deduction on your 2013 return, you cannot claim it in your 2014 return because the deduction expired after 2013. The same is true for the state and local sales tax deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, the Code Sec. 25C residential energy credit, transit benefits parity, and more. All of these tax breaks expired after 2013 and unless they are extended by Congress, you will not be able to claim them on your 2014 returns.

Businesses are also affected. A lengthy list of business-oriented tax breaks expired after 2013. They include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), research tax credit, Indian employment credit, employer wage credit for military reservists, special incentives for biodiesel and renewable fuels, tax credits for energy-efficient homes and appliances, and more.

The good news is that Congress is likely to extend these tax breaks, probably for two years, and make the extension retroactive to January 1, 2014. That means taxpayers can claim these incentives on their 2014 returns. One hurdle is when Congress will act. In past years, lawmakers waited until very late in the year, or even until the start of the new year, to vote on an extension of these incentives. Late extension puts extra pressure on the IRS to quickly reprogram its return processing systems. Most likely, the IRS will have to delay the start of the filing season. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Retirement savings

In 2014, the Tax Court surprised many with its decision that a taxpayer could make only one nontaxable rollover contribution within each one-year period regardless of how many IRAs the taxpayer maintained (Bobrow, TC Memo. 2014-21). The one-year limitation is not specific to any single IRA maintained by a taxpayer, but instead applies to all IRAs maintained by the taxpayer. The IRS, in turn, announced that it would change its rules to reflect the court’s decision.

The key point to keep in mind is that the Bobrow decision affects only IRA-to-IRA rollovers. The decision does not limit trustee-to-trustee transfers.

Affordable Care Act

Individuals who obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace (and the federal government estimates they number seven million) have special tax planning considerations, especially if they are eligible for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit. The credit is payable in advance to insurers and it appears that most taxpayers have elected this option. These individuals must reconcile the amount paid in advance with the amount of the actual credit computed when they file their tax returns. Changes in circumstances, such as an increase or decrease in income, marriage, birth or adoption of a child, and so on, may affect the amount of the actual credit.

Remember that the Affordable Care Act requires individuals to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return. Many individuals will qualify for an exemption if they are covered under employer-sponsored coverage. Individuals covered by Medicare also are exempt.

If you have any questions about year-end planning, please contact our office.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.