With the White House and Republicans on the brink of maybe-possibly-probably squeezing through some major tax changes before the end of the year, offering future tax advice is a bit like trying to nail jelly to the barn door.
The Senate Republicans have passed their version of a tax reform bill, which must now be reconciled with the previous version passed by the House. Even if a final bill is passed and signed by President Donald Trump by the end of the year, the changes wouldn’t go into effect until 2018 ― meaning they won’t necessarily affect your taxes due on April 15, 2018.
However, there are some things you can control with regard to the future, such as when you pay for items that are current deductions but may not be after the final tax bill takes effect.
Here are some things to consider doing while it’s still 2017 ― they may save you money and aggravation later.
Pay your property taxes in full
It seems likely that tax reform could change or eliminate certain deductions, including those for mortgage and property taxes.
You can currently deduct state and local property taxes if you itemize your deductions. Under both the House and Senate bills, the property tax deduction would remain in place but would be capped at $10,000 ― something that will adversely affect people in states with crazy-high real estate prices and taxes.
Property taxes are billed on a fiscal year schedule rather than a calendar year schedule, so if you itemize, consider paying your second half installment during 2017, said Cindy Hockenberry, director of tax research and government relations for the National Association of Tax Professionals. Because of the cuts, she said, you might not have enough allowable deductions to be able to itemize going forward.
It makes sense to pay the tax bill now if you’re able to, even if it isn’t due until April. At least you will be able to deduct it for certain.
Refinance now if you want to take cash out
Currently, you can deduct qualifying mortgage interest up to $1.1 million on your primary residence plus one other home.
The version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by the House reduces the amount of mortgage interest to the first $500,000 and ends any mortgage interest deduction for second (or third) homes. The House bill would grandfather in existing mortgages ― meaning they won’t be affected ― but all new mortgages would be capped at $500,000 for purposes of the deduction and could only apply to your primary residence.
The Senate bill leaves the deduction in place for mortgages up to $1 million but the deduction for equity debt (meaning cash-out refinance loans where you take money out of your home that isn’t designated for improvements) would be eliminated.
Most homes on the market today are priced under $500,000, according to the National Association of Realtors.
There aren’t many people who can afford to pre-pay multiple mortgage payments, but if you were planning to refinance your loan and take out money, now might be an excellent time to do that.
Buy office supplies
Both bills would eliminate itemized deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses and home office expenses, among other things. So if you need a new computer, printer or camera for your business, or know you will be incurring a large work-related expense in 2018, it makes sense to make that purchase in 2017 while you can still itemize the deduction.
Add moving-expense reimbursement to your list of job demands
You can currently claim certain expenses as above-the-line deductions, meaning that you can claim them even if you don’t itemize. Under both proposals, most above-the-line deductions will be history ― including moving expenses for a job.
Keep this in mind as you negotiate with an employer across the country. A long-distance move can cost tens of thousands of dollars. If your prospective employer leaves you to shoulder the expense without tax relief, that may be a deal breaker.
Buy your big-ticket items in 2017 to claim the sales tax deduction
Consider buying cars and big appliances ― or any other major purchases that come with sales tax ― this year. The sales tax deduction is slated to go away in both the House and Senate versions of the tax reform bill.
“If someone is looking to maximize their itemized deductions in 2017, buying a big-ticket item such as a car, boat or RV might be appropriate,” Hockenberry told HuffPost. “If reform passes [in its current form], the deduction goes away in 2018.”
Give generously to charity
Both versions of the tax reform measure retain the deduction for charitable contributions, for those who itemize. The devil lies in the details. The assumption is that fewer people will itemize and will instead opt to take the new higher standard deductions.
Charitable contributions are deducted as itemized deductions on Schedule A. If a taxpayer is no longer able to itemize because their collective deductions do not exceed the standard deduction and because charitable contributions remain an itemized deduction, Hockenberry said, they should make as many contributions as they can in 2017 to maximize tax savings.
Seniors who have a traditional 401(k) or IRA account must take a required minimum distribution each year once they reach age 70.5. If you don’t need this money for living expenses, consider having it sent directly to a charity as a qualified charitable distribution. If taken out as a qualified charitable distribution, it doesn’t increase your adjusted gross income and may even hold down the amount of Social Security that is taxed.
If you’re in escrow to buy a house, try to close in 2017
This is a tall order with only a slight benefit, but it’s worth considering. If you close escrow in 2017, any points paid on the mortgage would be deductible.
That deduction could go away in 2018 if the current bills are passed, Hockenberry said.
The small amount of mortgage interest that would be deductible in 2017 probably wouldn’t save any tax dollars and the one month of property taxes, if any, wouldn’t really make a big difference. But points? Points matter.
Defer receiving the company bonus
Review your income stream and see if there is some way to defer income to 2018, when you might be in a lower tax bracket, Hockenberry said.
The pending tax reform could cause some tax rates to drop. If that happens, people may be better off delaying income until 2018, when it could be taxed at a lower rate. Ask if your annual bonus can be pushed to the first paycheck of 2018.
There are currently seven tax brackets. You can check which one you are in here.
Expect security to be tighter
One of the results of all the online security breaches ― including the Equifax hack in which the Social Security numbers of 143 million people were put at risk ― is the expectation that the IRS will see more identify theft in the form of bogus claims seeking refunds. Some states, including California, will require you to show additional identity information when you file. All taxpayers should be prepared to show their driver’s licenses. If you have already been notified by the IRS that your Social Security information has been stolen, the agency won’t accept an electronic filing from you.
Let Social Security know if your name changed
Recently married or divorced taxpayers who change their name should notify the Social Security Administration. Taxpayers need to do this so that their new name matches their tax return. If there is a mismatch between the name shown on their tax return and the SSA records, it can slow up processing a tax return and delay a refund.