It’s summertime when many of us are taking time off, enjoying weekend getaways and sometimes escaping the office for longer vacations. While you have a little extra time to plan for the balance of the year, consider these midyear tax planning tips, compliments of SFM Advisors.
For most individuals, the ordinary federal income tax rates for 2013 will be the same as last year: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%. However, the fiscal cliff legislation passed early this year increased the maximum rate for higher-income individuals to 39.6% (up from 35%). This change only affects taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married joint-filing couples, $425,000 for heads of household, and $225,000 for married individuals who file separate returns. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the new 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT), which can result in a higher-than-advertised federal tax rate for 2013.
Despite these tax increases, the current federal income tax environment remains relatively favorable by historical standards. Here are some tax planning ideas to consider this summer. Some of the ideas may apply to you, some to family members, and others to your business.
Leverage Standard Deduction by Bunching Deductible Expenditures
Are your 2013 itemized deductions likely to be just under, or just over, the standard deduction amount? If so, consider the strategy of bunching together expenditures for itemized deduction items every other year, while claiming the standard deduction in the intervening years. The 2013 standard deduction is $12,200 for married joint filers, $6,100 for single filers, and $8,950 for heads of households.
For example, say you’re a joint filer whose only itemized deductions are about $4,000 of annual property taxes and about $8,000 of home mortgage interest. If you prepay your 2013 property taxes by December 31 of this year, you could claim $16,000 of itemized deductions on your 2013 return ($4,000 of 2013 property taxes, plus another $4,000 for the 2014 property tax bill, plus the $8,000 of mortgage interest). Next year, you would only have the $8,000 of interest, but you could claim the standard deduction (it will probably be around $12,500 for 2014). Following this strategy will cut your taxable income by a meaningful amount over the two-year period (this year and next). You can repeat the drill in future years. Examples of other deductible items that can be bunched together every other year to lower your taxes include charitable donations and state income tax payments.
Time Investment Gains and Losses
For most individuals, the 2013 federal tax rates on long-term capital gains are the same as last year: either 0% or 15%. However, the maximum rate for higher-income individuals is now 20%, up from 15% last year. This change only affects taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married joint-filing couples, $425,000 for heads of households, and $225,000 for married individuals who file separate returns. Higher-income individuals can also get hit by the new 3.8% NIIT on net investment income, which can result in a maximum 23.8% federal income tax rate on 2013 long-term gains.
As you evaluate investments held in your taxable brokerage firm accounts, consider the tax impact of selling appreciated securities, those that are currently worth more than you paid for them. For most taxpayers, the federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains is still much lower than the rate on short-term gains. Therefore, it often makes sense to hold appreciated securities for at least a year and a day before selling in order to qualify for the lower long-term gain tax rate.
Biting the bullet and selling some loser securities, those that are currently worth less than you paid for them, before year-end can also be a good idea. The resulting capital losses will offset capital gains from other sales this year, including short-term gains from securities owned for one year or less. For 2013, the maximum rate on short-term gains is 39.6%, and the 3.8% NIIT may apply too, which can result in an effective rate of up to 43.4%. However, you don’t need to worry about paying a high rate on short-term gains that can be sheltered with capital losses. You will pay 0% on gains that can be sheltered.
If capital losses for this year exceed capital gains, you will have a net capital loss for 2013. You can use that net capital loss to shelter up to $3,000 of this year’s high-taxed ordinary income from salaries, bonuses, self-employment, and so forth, $1,500 if you’re married and file separately. Any excess net capital loss is carried forward to next year.
Selling enough loser securities to create a bigger net capital loss that exceeds what you can use this year might also make sense. You can carry forward the excess net capital loss to 2014 and beyond and use it to shelter both short-term and long-term gains recognized in those years.
Don’t Overlook Estate Planning
For 2013, the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption is a historically generous $5.25 million, and the federal estate tax rate is a historically reasonable 40%. Even if you already have an estate plan, it may need updating to reflect the current estate and gift tax rules. Also, you may need to make some changes for reasons that have nothing to do with taxes.
So what does all this mean? How does it impact you directly? Call or email us with your questions or to schedule a tax planning strategy session. Tax planning is one of our specialties.
To your wealth,
Joe Maas, CFA, AVA, CFP®, ChFC, CLU®, MSFS, CCIM
President of Synergetic Finance