ESTATE TAX REPEAL? LET’S KEEP PLANNING!

michael w. hoffmanDonald Trump’s surprise election gives us a tremendous amount of hope that the federal estate tax might finally be repealed. This concept runs in the face of candidate Clinton’s proposal to reduce the estate and gift tax exemption amounts and increase the tax rates from 40% to 65%.

While we do not want to celebrate too early, a critical message is that estate planning should continue with fervor! The Donald Trump phenomenon, which results in a Republican Presidency and a Republican Congress, gives us a great deal of confidence that tax reform will be among the items addressed early in Trump’s administration. Tax reform could and should include the repeal of the federal estate and gift taxes, and the elimination of the generation skipping transfer tax that has been hanging over our heads since 1976.

However, this will take some time, and the reality is that the U.S. still has huge deficits that must be serviced with tax revenue. Granted, the percentage of the federal revenue coming from death taxes is minimal, but there is also the argument that the tax on the transfer of wealth is “fair” in a system that allowed the accumulation of such wealth. This theory is combined with the tempering affect that the death tax has on the growth of family dynasty wealth (taking from the rich to provide for the poor).

It is likely that the current federal estate and gift tax laws will be replaced by a system more popular in other parts of the world, such as the capital gains calculation that takes place in Canada, Great Britain and other western civilizations. In those countries, at death, the difference between the tax basis of property and its fair market value will be subject to a tax similar to the capital gains tax that would have occurred had the decedent sold the appreciated assets. This accomplishes the practical role of allowing tax basis to be stepped up to fair market value at the death of an owner, and replaces the estate and gift tax revenue with a fair method of taxing growth as it is done in the income tax arena. Of course, there will have to be exemptions and exceptions made for family farms and businesses so these types of assets would not have to be leveraged or sold in order to pay Uncle Sam. All of these details, and many more, will have to be worked out by Congress and the U.S. Treasury Department (IRS).

In the meantime, it appears that some of the more popular techniques that we have been implementing over the last 20 or so years will become even more popular. The use of trusts has long been an important aspect of estate planning. Trusts can own property outside of a taxable estate, trusts can allow an orderly transition of control through the naming and choice of trustees, trusts can protect property from creditors and divorce, trusts avoid probate, and trusts provide significant income tax savings flexibility for current and future beneficiaries.

An important trust that we use in estate planning is the Family Trust, where parents set up trusts for their kids while they are alive, as opposed to waiting until both parents are deceased, and begin funding those trusts with assets by way of gift and otherwise, to remove property from the parents’ taxable estates.

One type of Family Trust that we often use is to make the trust a grantor trust for federal income tax purposes. That means for income tax purposes the IRS ignores the existence of the trust and all the taxable income and deductions associated with the Family Trust continue to be reported on the grantor’s individual income tax return. In our practice, we refer to these Family Trusts as “Defective Grantor Trusts”, or DGTs.

One of the features that allows a trust to be a grantor trust during the grantor’s lifetime is the ability to substitute property in the trust with other property from the grantor. This has been a popular benefit of using DGTs because the trust can hold appreciating assets, removing the appreciation from the grantor’s estate, but those appreciated assets can be swapped for cash or other assets, allowing the low-basis, highly-appreciated assets to come back into the grantor’s estate before death, in order to allow a step-up in tax basis at death for income tax purposes. This has always been kind of “have your cake and eat it too”, removing appreciating assets out of your estate, but retaining the ability to get those assets back in order to achieve an increase in tax basis at death. So, one of the things that we have tried to accomplish with our estate planning clients is to assist them in monitoring the assets in their Family Trusts, to determine if and when it would be desirable to substitute those highly appreciated assets for other assets out of our clients’ taxable estates. Of course, timing is everything, and there is always the risk that the substitution might not occur timely, but at least our clients have retained that flexibility.

Now, with the chance of repeal of our federal estate tax, the strategy with these same grantor trusts might change. In other words, since only appreciated assets would be subject to a capital gains tax at death, it may become more important than ever to remove these appreciated assets from the estate, put them in a grantor trust, and leave liquid, high basis assets in the parents’ taxable estates. Then, if the next President and/or Congress were to reinstate a federal estate tax, we can easily shift strategy and look to exercise the substitution power that exists with the DGTs.

Remember that we still have the evil overhang of the proposed 2704 regulations (see prior articles) which will eliminate much of the discounting that we have enjoyed for valuation purposes when gifting or selling hard to value assets to Family Trusts. These proposed rules will become effective, according to the IRS, 30 days after they become final. While we don’t know when these proposed regs will become final, it does take typically 12 to 18 months for these regulation projects to become completed. The regs were proposed in early August, so we are still “under the gun” for those clients who have situations that warrant this type of estate planning.

So, let’s be happy with the potential repeal of the estate tax but be realistic in what that means. If anything, as new rules evolve, we should be focusing on flexible estate planning now, more than ever, as future tax reform will create new tax regimes. For instance, if the new tax rules no longer encompass the concept of a $5,500,000 exemption per person, will all that exemption that was not used before the estate tax is repealed be lost forever? So, while President-Elect Trump goes about changing our tax system to make us more competitive in the world, and he is ”draining the swamp”, let us pay attention to details and reap the benefits of continuous planning.

For more information about this or any other estate planning topic, please contact us directly at 404-255-7400 or email us at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

Estate Planning Is in a Pressure Cooker!

Hoffman20

Not only has the IRS threatened to change the rules of valuing gifts, which will have a significant impact on many estate planning techniques used over the last several decades, the presidential elections will have a huge impact over whether the estate and gift tax law survives, or becomes extremely more expensive and complicated.

After an agonizing wait, the IRS issued Proposed Regulations on August 4th that will eliminate many of the valuation discounts applicable for family-owned businesses and wealth in general. These new rules will become effective thirty days after publication of final regulations, which are expected in the next 12 months.

That means gifts prior to the effective date of the regulations may continue taking into account all applicable valuation discounts and used over the last several decades, and those family business owners who postpone these estate planning techniques of transferring wealth to trusts for future generations will be hurt economically under the new rules. While we do not know for sure what the final regulations will say, the question is obvious, is any further postponement worth the risk?

Additionally, there is a substantial difference between the two presidential candidates’ tax policy proposals, particularly relating to the estate and gift tax. Donald Trump proposes to eliminate the estate and gift tax. Mrs. Clinton, however, proposes to reduce the estate tax exemption (which will be $5,490,000 in 2017) to $3,500,000 (per person) with no adjustment for inflation. She proposes to reduce the lifetime gift tax exemption from $5,490,000 (2017) to $1,000,000, with no adjustment for inflation.

This situation is reminiscent of the concern in 2012 when we feared the exemptions may go from $3,500,000 to $1,000,000. Many clients scurried to take advantage of estate and gift tax advantages before year-end. Those clients, by the way, are generally laughing all the way to the bank as not only have they moved significant wealth out of the gift tax system, but the statute of limitations on the IRS’ ability to review the substance of those transactions has just about expired.

Mrs. Clinton is not done there! She proposes to raise the current estate tax rate from a flat 40% to 45% on estates under $10,000,000, 50% for estates from $10,000,000 to $50,000,000, 55% for estates from $50,000,000 to $500,000,000, and 65% for estates for over $500,000,000. While this seems shocking, the maximum estate tax margin rates when I began practicing in 1976 was technically 77%!

Obviously, the double attack from the IRS and the potential Clinton Administration will raise havoc in the estate planning circles. Be ready to react relatively quickly as these proposals threaten to become reality.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please contact us at 404-255-7400 or email us at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

Planning 2016: Sophisticated Charitable Giving

mary_croppedSignificant tax savings can be achieved through a properly planned program of gifts to charity. Although a contribution may be motivated by humanitarian reasons, it is nevertheless wise to take the tax considerations into account when making a contribution. Charitable giving can be divided into two general categories. First, there are donations that are made on a regular basis and involve relatively small amounts. Second, there is the large extraordinary donation often associated with estate planning. Different planning concepts govern each type of donation.

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Term Insurance or Permanent Insurance?

Hoffman19Many of our clients wrestle with the decision to purchase term insurance or permanent insurance.  The premiums for term insurance are cheap, particularly when you’re young, while permanent insurance generally provides a level premium with more certainty that a death benefit will be paid.

Term insurance seldom pays a death benefit.  The reasons for this are simple.  Most people live to, or close to their life expectancy.  By the time they have reached their life expectancy, the premiums on term insurance have increased to the point where the insurance is dropped, or the individual has reached an age or health condition that is deemed uninsurable by the insurance company.

For this reason, term life insurance is best for temporary needs such as support for a surviving family (particularly when you are young), funding a buy/sell arrangement for a closely held business, providing cash (key man insurance) for transition of business, and for the repayment of debts.

I often tell clients to load up on term insurance when they are young, partly because it’s so cheap, and partly because their financial “security” needs are so great when their families are young.  Of course, the premiums for term insurance are lower because it seldom pays a death benefit.  The only usual financial “winners” for term insurance are the insurance agent and the insurance company.

As we get older, financial obligations (except retirement) tend to decrease.  Many of us begin to look at permanent insurance as a permanent feature or category of assets that we are accumulating during our lifetime.  Most of us want to have a certain portion of our insurance that is ongoing.  The insurance can provide liquidity to our heirs, cash to pay estate taxes, a fund to provide for the maintenance of a second home, or a mechanism to equalize the estate where certain hard assets (such as farm, business or vacation home) is necessarily directed to one particular heir, while the other child receives cash.

Permanent insurance generally falls into three categories: whole life, universal life (including universal blends and indexed products) and variable life.  Whole life is the most expensive, while universal life is generally the most inexpensive permanent insurance policy.  Variable life has more stock market investment features inside an insurance policy wrapper.

Universal life is popular among our clients as it provides guaranteed lifetime coverage at the lowest level of permanent insurance premiums, and generally level premiums can be pre-paid or lowered by lump-sum or higher premiums in early years.  Generally, with universal life policies, guaranteed cash accumulation for retirement income or other purposes is not a significant objective.  The goal is to lock in a death benefit while keeping premiums as low as possible.

By far, our estate planning clients buy mostly universal life products.  While there are many varieties, studies show that the internal rate of return on universal life products is generally positive, where as the internal rate return on any term policy, if clients live to or close to their life expectancy, is significantly negative.  In other words, with term insurance, we have thrown our money away unless we die prematurely.

Most term insurance lapses before death.  This is fine if the reason for the insurance no longer exists.  However, many policy owners want to extend the coverage of their insurance while their health is still good, because they know that the risk of their health changing increases with age and health changes can happen suddenly.

Be aware that term policies can carry a conversion right.  This is important, even though it might marginally increase the premium cost, because a client might otherwise become higher risk or uninsurable prior to the expiration of the term policy and be unable to get other insurance.

Generally, our clients are rarely content to allow their insurance policies to lapse when they reach the end of the coverage period.  The older we get, the more we see the value of “investing” in insurance as one of our many buckets of asset categories that we are accumulating and tending to during life.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

Why YOU should have a BDIT

Ian 1As a business owner, does anything sound better than having your business protected from creditors and having it grow completely outside of your estate while still having full control over it? The Beneficiary Defective Inheritor’s Trust (the “BDIT”) technique allows all of that. Essentially, a trust beneficiary, the business owner, YOU, can grow your business in a trust established for you by someone else.

The biggest advantage of this strategy is that the BDIT will be for the benefit of the business owner and will be completely discretionary, so there will be no problem getting money out of the company if needed. Some other benefits of this trust are that the beneficiary/business owner has significant control over the trust property and it is a grantor trust with respect to the beneficiary, so that will further remove assets from the beneficiary’s estate while the assets grow tax free. One other advantage is that a BDIT is more flexible than a defective grantor trust as far as changing beneficiaries of the trust, so it might be a good option if a parent is not sure if their child can handle a business or a similar situation.

The mechanics of the BDIT are as follows:

  1. A Parent (or other third party, hereinafter the “Parent”) forms the trust (in a favorable jurisdiction for asset protection) for the benefit of the business owner;
  2.  The Parent contributes $5,000 cash to the trust and allocates $5,000 of GST exemption to it;
  3.  The Parent grants the beneficiary a Crummey power of withdrawal over the $5,000 for 30 days and it lapses;
  4.  The Parent retains no powers that could trigger the grantor trust rules for the Parent;
  5.  The Parent grants full discretion over distributions of income and principal to a third-party trustee;
  6.  The child is granted the power to remove and replace the independent trustee with another independent trustee;
  7.  The Parent grants a broad special power of appointment to the child, exercisable during life or at death;
  8.  The beneficiary will be the Investment Trustee and control all managerial decisions; and
  9.  A formula clause will be used to shift any unintended gifted assets to a non-GST tax exempt BDIT.

However, because the BDIT is a very complex strategy, it must be documented, implemented, and administered very carefully.  If all the proper procedures are followed, this transaction is legitimate despite the IRS not liking it.  Anyone with a growing business should look into a BDIT

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

Hoffman & Associates, Proud Sponsor of the Footprints for the Future 5K

footprints for the future 5kTeam Hoffman & Associates Running for Education in Sandy Springs

Hoffman & Associates (H&A) was a proud sponsor and supporter of the recent Footprints for the Future 5K held on Saturday November 8, 2014. Runners took to the streets in Sandy Springs hoping to make a difference in the lives of students in the 11 public schools in their district.

This inaugural race, organized by the Sandy Springs Education Force (SSEF), helped raise awareness and funds to support their mission of inspiring and supporting all Sandy Springs public school students to graduate and pursue productive lives beyond high school.  According to Joe Nagel, Partner at H&A and co-chair of the event, “I believe in education and in the great work that SSEF is doing in our community.” Joe, whose mother was an educator in Atlanta for many years,  is proud to be involved and making a difference in the lives of so many students.

Several staff members of H&A also participated in the race including Trish Kennedy, Mary Daugherty, Kim Hoipkemier, and Carolina Gomez.

About Sandy Springs Education Force:
In an effort to support Sandy Springs public schools and students, SSEF actively engages the resources of civic leaders, community stakeholders, and businesses to deliver supplemental programs and services in eleven public schools.  For more information about SSEF, please visit their website at www.sandyspringseducationforce.org

About Hoffman & Associates:
Hoffman & Associates, a boutique law firm established in 1991, specializes in high-end estate planning, tax planning and business law. Expertise in these areas comes from a dedicated staff of both attorneys and CPAs delivering personalized service and sound financial guidance.   Hoffman & Associates prides itself in having a standalone tax practice and attorneys licensed in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee. For more information about H&A please visit our website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com

H&A Helps Clients “Step-Up”!

Brusco PhotoClients of Hoffman & Associates truly “step-up” as part of the firm’s ongoing Codicil Project.  This initiative is helping clients save a substantial amount of money in taxes by offering them the opportunity to amend their Wills and achieve a second “step- up” in basis on assets in the estate of the surviving spouse.  “Due to the changes in tax law brought about by the “Tax Relief Act of 2012″, many of our clients are now focused on income tax planning rather than on estate tax planning” states Rhiannon Brusco, Associate at H&A.  “By securing a “step-up” in basis, clients can save their beneficiaries significant money in capital gains taxes because assets are passed at their current fair market value and not at their value when initially acquired by the decedent.”  What does this mean in lay terms? Well, it means that the second home or rental property that mom and dad bought back in 1975 for $50,000 and left to their children in their Will, is now valued at $250,000.  Rather than paying taxes on the $200,000 appreciated value, the “codicil project” assures the children can sell the home using the stepped-up basis of $250,000 and only owe capital gains tax on gain over that higher basis. For more information about Hoffman & Associates, please visit our website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

The IRS Withdraws Proposed Reg Covering IRA Rollovers

Douglas McAlpineThe IRS has withdrawn proposed regulations covering IRA rollovers.  The change is significant because it supports a Tax Court interpretation of the rollover rules creating a possible “gotcha” for the unwary.  If you are considering doing a rollover where you actually withdraw the funds then deposit them into a new IRA within the 60 day window, you need to be aware of this change.  Custodian to custodian direct transfers are not affected.

Starting January 1, 2015, a non-custodial rollover is limited to one per year regardless of how many IRA accounts you have.  Previously, you could make one such rollover per year from each separate IRA.

The IRA rules are complicated and often unforgiving.  You should discuss any IRA transfers and withdrawals with your tax advisor before you make any changes to your IRA accounts.   Here is the excerpt from the Federal Tax Weekly, Issue 29,  July 17, 2014:

IRS Withdraws Proposed Reg To Reflect Bobrow’s One-Rollover-Per-Year Limit On IRAs

NPRM REG-209459-78

Reflecting the Tax Court’s decision in Bobrow, TC Memo. 2014-21, CCH Dec. 59,823(M), the IRS has withdrawn Prop. Reg. §1.408-4(b)(4)(ii).  This withdrawal makes good on its announced intention earlier in Ann. 2014-15 to follow this pro-government decision.  In Bobrow, the Tax Court found that a taxpayer could make only one nontaxable rollover contribution within each one-year period regardless of how many IRAs the taxpayer maintained.

  • CCH Take Away. “The Bobrow decision affects only IRA to IRA rollovers,” Rob Kaplan, Ballard Spahr LLP, Philadelphia, told CCH.  Bobrow does not affect the ability of an IRA owner to transfer funds from one IRA trustee or custodian directly to another, because a transfer is not a rollover and is not subject to the one-rollover-per-year limit, Kaplan explained. Bobrow also does not apply to rollovers from a 401(k) plan to an IRA. For example, an individual can take a 401(k) distribution from a former employer, roll it over to an IRA and subsequently roll it over to a plan with a new employer without violating the one-rollover-per-year rule, Kaplan noted.

Background

Generally, Code Sec. 408(d)(3)(A)(i) allows a tax-free rollover of an IRA if the funds distributed to the taxpayer are rolled over into an IRA for the taxpayer’s benefit within 60 days, subject to the one-rollover per-year limit of Code Sec. 408(d)(3)(B).  The Tax Court found in Bobrow that the one-year limitation under Code Sec. 408(d) (3)(B) is not specific to any single IRA maintained by an individual but instead applies to all IRAs maintained by a taxpayer. A taxpayer who maintains multiple IRAs may not make a rollover contribution from each IRA within one year, the court held.  After the Tax Court announced its decision, the IRS issued Ann. 2014-15, indicating it “anticipates that it will follow the interpretation of §408(d)(3)(B) in Bobrow and, accordingly, intends to withdraw the proposed regulation and revise Publication 590 to the extent needed to follow that interpretation.”

  • Comment. At press time, the IRS has not yet issued new regs.  The IRS has indicated that it will not apply the Bobrow ruling before January 1, 2015, Kaplan told CCH.

Withdrawn reg

In 1981, the IRS issued a proposed reg that would have provided that the rollover limitation of Code Sec. 408(d)(3)(B) would be applied on an IRA-by-IRA basis. The proposed reg is contrary to the Tax Court’s decision in Bobrow. Under Bobrow, an individual cannot make an IRA-to-IRA rollover if the individual has made an IRA-to-IRA rollover involving any of the individual’s IRAs within the preceding one-year period. As a result, the IRS has withdrawn the proposed reg.

Publication 590

The taxpayers in Bobrow asked the Tax Court to reconsider its decision based on the IRS’s published guidance (Publication 590). The court denied the motion for reconsideration and reminded the taxpayers that the IRS’s published guidance is not binding precedent.

  • Comment. The IRS has apparently not yet updated its online version of Publication 590 to reflect Bobrow.

References: FED ¶49,620 ; TRC RETIRE: 66,702 

 

For more information regarding this or any other tax planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Can You Afford To Ignore Your Business Exit?

Mike HoffmanHere’s another excellent article written by Denis M. Brown from Pace Capital Resources, LLC.  It is from The Exit Planning Review newsletter, issue 282, dated June 8, 2014.  Can You Afford To Ignore Your Business Exit?

Sincerely,

Mike

 

For more information regarding this or any other business planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

2013 Year-End Tax Planning: Personal Tax Considerations

As January 1, 2014 gets closer, year-end tax planning considerations should be starting to take shape. New tax legislation has brought greater certainty to year-end planning, but has also created new challenges. The number of changes made to the Tax Code and the opportunities these changes bring may seem overwhelming. However, early planning will help you to maximize your potential tax savings and minimize your tax liability. This letter is intended to be a mile-high view of some key year-end tax planning strategies.

Changes for 2013 and beyond

In 2012, year-end planning was complicated by the great uncertainty over the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts. For more than 10 years, individuals had enjoyed lower income tax rates, but these rates were scheduled to expire after 2012. Moreover, many tax credits and deductions that had been made more generous were also set to expire after 2012. In January 2013, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which made permanent many, but not all, of the Bush-era tax cuts and also some tax benefits enacted during the Obama administration. Congress also permanently “patched” the alternative minimum tax (AMT) to prevent its encroachment on middle income taxpayers. The result is much greater certainty in year-end tax planning for 2013 because we know what the individual tax rates are in 2014, how many tax credits and deductions are structured, and much more.

Of course, there are always complexities in the Tax Code. In 2013, two new Medicare taxes kicked-in (3.8-percent net investment income (NII) surtax and a 0.9-percent Additional Medicare Tax). In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government’s denial of recognition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, opening the door to allowing married same-sex couples to file joint federal tax returns and take advantage of other tax benefits available to married couples. Beginning in 2014, some of the most far reaching provisions of the Affordable Care Act will become effective: the individual mandate, the start of Marketplaces to obtain insurance and a special tax credit to help offset the cost of insurance.

Planning for expiring tax incentives

First, do not lose the benefit of some generous, but temporary tax incentives that are available in 2013 but may not be in 2014. Are you planning to purchase a big-ticket item such as a new car or boat? The state and local sales tax deduction (available in lieu of the deduction for state and local income taxes) is scheduled to expire after 2013, and you may want to accelerate that purchase to take advantage of the tax break. A valuable tax credit for making certain energy efficient home improvements, including windows and heating and cooling systems, and a deduction for teachers’ classroom expenses are also scheduled to expire after 2013. These are just some of many incentives that will sunset after 2013 unless extended by Congress. The window for maximizing your tax savings for 2013 is closing. Please contact our office for more details.

Planning for new taxes and rates

Some individuals may be surprised that they owe additional taxes in 2013, even with the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Three new taxes are in effect for 2013: the NII surtax, the Additional Medicare Tax and a revived 39.6 percent tax bracket for higher income individuals. The 3.8-percent NII surtax very broadly applies to individuals, estates and trusts that have certain investment income above set threshold amounts. These amounts include a $250,000 threshold for married couples filing jointly; $200,000 for single filers. It should also be noted that trusts will hit the highest tax rate with only $11,950 of retained taxable income.  One strategy to consider is to keep, if possible, income below the threshold levels for the NII surtax by spreading income out over a number of years or finding offsetting above-the-line deductions. If you are considering the sale of your home, and the gain will exceed the home sale exclusion, please contact our office so we can discuss any possible NII surtax.

The Additional Medicare Tax applies to wages and self-employment income above threshold amounts including $250,000 for married couples filing joint returns and $200,000 for single individuals. If you have not already reviewed your income tax withholding for 2013, now is the time to do it. One way to reduce the sting of any Additional Medicare Tax liability is to withhold an additional amount of income tax.

As discussed, ATRA extended the Bush-era tax rates for middle and lower income individuals. ATRA also revived the 39.6 percent top tax rate. For 2013, the starting points for the 39.6 percent bracket are 450,000 for married couples filing jointly and surviving spouses, $425,000 for heads of households, $400,000 for single filers, and $225,000 for married couples filing separately. ATRA also revived the personal exemption phaseout and the limitation on itemized deductions for higher income individuals.

Starting in 2013, ATRA also sets the top rate for capital gains and dividends to 20 percent. This top rate aligns itself with the levels at with the new 39.6 percent income tax rate bracket starts: capital gains and dividends to the extent they would be otherwise taxed at the 39.6 percent rate as marginal ordinary income will be taxed at the 20 percent rate. ATRA did not change the application of ordinary income rates to short-term capital gains. However, individuals should plan for the possibility of being subject to a higher top rate (39.6 percent).

Planning for health care changes

Before year-end, individuals need to review how the Affordable Care Act will impact them. The Affordable Care Act brings a sea-change to our traditional image of health insurance. The law requires individuals, unless exempt, to either carry minimum essential health care coverage or make a shared responsibility payment (also known as a penalty). Most employer-sponsored health insurance is deemed to be minimum essential coverage, as is coverage provided by Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs. Self-employed individuals and small business owners should revisit their health insurance coverage, if they have coverage, before year-end and weigh the benefits and costs of obtaining coverage in a public Marketplace (or a private insurance exchange) for themselves and their employees. Small businesses may be eligible for a tax credit to help pay for health insurance. Individuals may qualify for a premium assistance tax credit, which is refundable and payable in advance, to offset the cost of coverage. Please contact our office for more details about the Marketplaces, and health insurance coverage for small businesses and individuals.

Individuals with health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and similar arrangements should take a look at their spending habits for 2013 and predict how they will use these tax-favored funds in the future. In 2013, the maximum salary-reduction contribution to a health FSA is $2,500. Remember that health FSAs have strict “use it or lose it” rules, and the cost of over-the-counter drugs cannot be reimbursed with health FSA dollars unless you obtain a prescription (there are some exceptions).

Individuals who itemize their deductions also need to keep in mind the 10 percent floor for qualified medical expenses. This change took effect at the beginning of 2013. It means that you can only claim deductions for medical expenses when they reach 10 percent of adjusted gross income (for regular tax purposes and for alternative minimum tax purposes). There is a temporary exception for individuals over age 65 for regular tax purposes.

Planning for gifts

Gift-giving is often overlooked as a year-end planning strategy. For 2013, individuals can make tax-free gifts (no tax consequences for the giver or the recipient) of up to $14,000 to any individual. Married couples may “split” their gifts to each recipient, which effectively raises the tax-free gift to $28,000. Gifts between spouses are always tax-free unless one spouse is not a U.S. citizen. In that case, the first $143,000 in gifts made in 2013 is tax-free.

There are special rules for gifts made for medical care and education that can be a valuable component of a year-end tax strategy, especially for individuals who want to help a family member or friend. Monetary gifts given directly to a college to pay tuition or to a medical service provider are tax-free to the person making the gift and the person benefitting from education or medical care.

Gifts to charity also are frequently made at year-end. Through the end of 2013, taxpayers age 70 ½ and older can make a tax-free distribution from individual retirement accounts directly to a charity. The maximum distribution is $100,000. Individuals taking this option cannot claim a deduction for the charitable gift.

Planning for retirement savings

Year-end is a good time to review if your retirement savings plans and tax strategies complement each other. For 2013, the maximum amount of contributions that can be made to an IRA is $5,500, with a $1,000 catch-up amount allowed for individuals over age 50. Keep in mind that the maximum amount that can be contributed to a Roth IRA begins to decrease once a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income crosses a certain threshold. For example, married couples filing jointly will begin to see their contributions begin to phase out when their AGI is $178,000. Once their AGI reaches $188,000 or more, they can no longer contribute to a Roth IRA. For single filers the corresponding income thresholds for 2013 are $112,000 and $127,000. Please note that 2013 contributions, for tax purposes, may be made until April 15, 2014.

Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are very different savings vehicles. A traditional IRA or Roth IRA set up years ago may not be the best savings vehicle today or for the immediate future if employment and other personal circumstances have changed. Some individuals may be contemplating rolling over a workplace retirement plan into an IRA. Very complex rules apply in these situations and rollovers should be carefully planned. The same is true in converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and vice-versa. Every individual has unique goals for retirement savings and no one size fits all. Please contact our office for a more detailed discussion of your retirement plans.

Planning for Small Businesses

There are also strategies available for small businesses seeking to maximize tax benefits in 2013.  Two of the business incentives scheduled to end or significantly change after 2013 are the bonus depreciation allowance and the enhanced section 179 expensing provisions.

Bonus depreciation is scheduled to end after 2013 if not renewed by Congress. Additional 50-percent bonus depreciation was extended by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, signed into law on January 2, 2013) for one-year only and applies to qualifying property placed in service before January 1, 2014. In the case of property with a longer production period and certain non-commercial aircraft, the extension also applies to property acquired before January 1, 2014 and placed in service before January 1, 2015.

Unlike regular depreciation, under which half- or quarter-year conventions may be required, a taxpayer is entitled to the full, 50-percent bonus depreciation irrespective of when during the year the asset is purchased. Therefore, year-end placed-in-service strategies can provide an almost immediate “cash discount” from qualifying purchases, even when factoring in the cost of business loans to finance a portion of those purchases.

An enhanced section 179 expense deduction is available until 2014 for taxpayers (other than estates, trusts or certain non-corporate lessors) that elect to treat the cost of qualifying property (so called section 179 property) as an expense rather than a capital expenditure. The current section 179 dollar cap for 2013 is $500,000. For tax years beginning after 2013, that dollar limit is officially scheduled to plunge to $25,000 unless otherwise extended by Congress. For tax years beginning in 2013, the overall investment limitation is $2 million. That level is also scheduled to fall to $200,000 in 2014. Please contact our office regarding how to best benefit from these provisions in 2013.

Georgia Tax Credits

The State of Georgia has several state specific credits against Georgia income taxes.  Many of you may be aware of or have utilized the Georgia Private School Credit.  Each year Georgia sets aside an amount of money which is available to taxpayers who qualify in advance for the benefit.  Married taxpayers can claim up to $2500 and single taxpayers up to $1000.  Since there is a finite amount available, the fund will be fully utilized well before the end of 2014.  If you wish to claim this credit, you should make it a New Year’s resolution and apply for qualification at the beginning of 2014.  You can get more specific information at http://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Policy/Pages/Tax-Credit-Program.aspx or talk directly with your private school.  This credit is a win/win since you get every dollar up to the limit back on your tax return and you also get a federal income tax deduction on Schedule A if you itemize. 

The film industry in Georgia is entitled to tax credits.  The law allows these credits to be transferred to other taxpayers.  As a result, unused credits are being sold at a discount and you can purchase them to satisfy your Georgia tax liability.  Additionally, you get a full itemized deduction for the amount of the credit but you must report the discount as a short-term capital gain on Schedule D.  An additional benefit is that the credit is treated like withholding and can minimize or eliminate the need for estimated payments and possibly withholding.

A small but frequently overlooked credit is the $150 Driver Education Credit.  If you pay for your child to take a driver’s education course and get a certificate of completion, you are entitled to a credit of the amount spent up to $150.

It should also be noted that the income tax exclusion on retirement income, for taxpayers who are 65 and older, will increase from $100,000 in 2013 to $150,000 in 2014, $200,000 in 2015, and to an unlimited retirement income exclusion effective in 2016.

We have reviewed only some of the many year-end tax planning strategies that could help you minimize your 2013 tax bill and maximize savings.  Please contact our office to schedule an appointment to personalize your 2013 year-end tax planning.

For more information regarding this or any other tax planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

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