As the end of the year approaches, now is a good time to review the various changes that impact 2019 tax returns. Some of the changes are likely to apply to your tax situation. In addition, be aware that various tax-related bills currently in Congress may or may not pass this year. If any of them do pass, we will quickly get the details to you.
Medical Threshold – Medical expenses are deductible as itemized deductions only if the total medical expenses for the tax year exceed a specified percentage of a taxpayer’s income. After dropping to 7.5% for 2017 and 2018, this threshold reverts to 10% for 2019. As a result, any medical expenses from 2019 are deductible only to the extent that they exceed 10% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income for the year.
Electric Vehicle Credit Phaseout – As an incentive to get taxpayers to move away from conventional-fuel (gasoline or diesel) vehicles, Congress has provided tax credits of up to $7,500 for the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles. However, Congress’s rules limit the full credit to the first 200,000 vehicles sold by a given manufacturer. Once a company sells 200,000 qualifying vehicles, the credit begins to phase out for that company. Tesla, Chevrolet, and Cadillac have all reached the phaseout point. The table below shows the credits available depending upon the quarter when the vehicle is purchased.
|Vehicles Beginning Phaseout out 2019|
|Before 2019||Jan – Mar 2019||Apr – June 2019||July – Sept 2019||Oct – Dec 2019||Jan – Mar 2020||After Mar 2020|
*All qualifying models
If a qualifying vehicle is used partiality for business, the credit is proportionally allocated between personal and business tax credits. The personal portion can only offset the individual’s current-year tax liability; any excess is lost. The business portion can be carried back for one year and then forward up to 20 years until it is used up; any credit remaining after the 20th year is lost. As a tip, please note that the credit limit is per vehicle, not per taxpayer, so individuals who make multiple purchases can receive multiple credits.
Alimony – One delayed effect of the 2017 tax reform is that, the treatment of alimony changes for some individuals starting in 2019.
For divorces or separations entered into before 2019, alimony payments continue to be deductible for the payer and taxable for the recipient; such payments also still qualify as earned income for purposes of the recipient’s qualification for an IRA deduction. For divorces or separations executed after December 31, 2018, alimony payments are no longer deductible for the payer. In addition, for the recipient, they are no longer taxable income and do not count as earned income for the purposes of IRA deduction.
Divorces or separations entered into before 2019 continue to follow the pre-2019 rules unless they have been modified after December 31, 2018; in that case, the alimony payments are subject to the post-2018 rules if the modification expressly provides for this.
Finalization of State- and Local-Tax Deduction Limitation – The 2017 tax reform limited the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000 (or $5,000 for married individuals filing separately). This has adversely impacted taxpayers in high-tax states such as California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Elected officials in several states have attempted to work around this restriction by establishing (or proposing to establish) state charities. The idea is that taxpayers would make deductible contributions that, in return, would give them tax credits against their SALT equal to most of the value of the charitable contributions. Unfortunately, these officials have overlooked the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that, if a taxpayer receives something in return for a contribution (i.e., a quid pro quo), the contribution is not deductible.
The final regulations generally reduce the charitable-contribution deduction by the amount of any SALT credit received. However, as an exception, if the credit does not exceed 15% of the contribution, the entire contribution is deductible.
Penalty for Not Being Insured – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (tax-reform) that was enacted at the end of 2017 eliminated the Obamacare shared-responsibility payment, effective starting in 2019. Congress didn’t actually repeal this penalty; instead, it effectively repealed it by tweaking by setting zero values for both the percentage of household income used in the calculation and the flat dollar amount of the penalty. As a result, the amount of the penalty is always zero. However, keep in mind that the penalty could be restored in the future if the direction that the political winds are blowing changes. In addition, beginning in 2020, some states may pick up where the federal government left off and charge a penalty to residents without qualified health insurance coverage.
Qualified Opportunity Funds – Taxpayers who receive capital gains on the sale or exchange of property (if the other party is unrelated) may elect to defer – and, potentially, partially exclude – those gains from their gross income if they are reinvested in a qualified opportunity fund (QOF) within 180 days of the sale or exchange. The amount of the gain (not the amount of the proceeds, as in Sec. 1031 deferrals) needs to be reinvested in order to defer the gain. The deferral period ends when the QOF investment ends or on December 31, 2026 – whichever is sooner. At that time, taxes must be paid on the deferred gain.
However, 10% of the deferred gains are forgiven QOF investments have been held for at least 5 years, and 15% of the gains are forgiven when those investments have been held for at least 7 years. Note that, with the deferral end date of December 31, 2026, qualifying for the 15% forgiveness requires a QOF investment on or before December 31, 2019.
Seniors Get a Special Tax Form – Lawmakers have long sought to provide taxpayers who are age 65 and older with a simplified tax form in place of the Form 1040. In the 2018 budget bill, Congress finally included a requirement that the IRS create such a form. As a result, the IRS will introduce Form 1040-SR, which will look a lot like the old form looked before the 2018 tax reform instituted its (politically motivated) division of the Form 1040 into multiple postcard-size schedules. It is unclear how much simpler the Form 1040-SR will be, but it will be available for 2019 returns. Form 1040-SR will be optional.
Family and Medical Leave Credit – The employer credit for family and medical leave, which was created in the 2017 tax reform, ends after 2019. This two-year program provides employers with a tax credit equal to 12.5% of the wages they paid to qualifying employees during any period when those employees were on family and medical leave, provided that the rate of the leave payments are at least 50% of the employees’ normal wages. The credit can be claimed for a maximum of 12 weeks of leave for any employee during the tax year. For each percentage point for which the leave payments exceed 50% of normal wages, this credit increases by 0.25 percentage points (up to a maximum of 25%). Participation in this credit program is optional.
Inflation Adjustments – Just about every tax-related value is adjusted for inflation. Some values are adjusted for any level of change, but others are adjusted only if the change reaches at least a specific dollar amount (so these values may not change every year). The table below includes the actual 2019 inflation adjustments and the projected 2020 adjustments for some of the most frequently encountered values.
|Single or Married Filing Separately||12,000||12,200||12,400|
|Head of Household||18,000||18,350||18,650|
|Married Filing Jointly||24,000||24,400||24,800|
|Additional Standard Deduction (Age 65+ or Blind)|
|Annual Gift-Tax Exclusion||15,000||15,000||15,000|
|Foreign Earned-Income Exclusion||103,900||105,900||107,600|
|IRA Contribution Limit||5,500||6,000||6,000|
|IRA Contribution Limit (Age 50+)||6,500||7,000||7,000|
|401(k) Contribution Limit||18,500||19,000||*|
|401(k) Contribution Limit (Age 50+)||24,500||25,000||*|
All values are in U.S. dollars.
* Value not available as of publication
Form W-4 Revision – During the previous tax season, many people received a smaller federal tax refund than normal or actually owed taxes despite usually getting a refund. In most cases, this was due to the last-minute passage of the tax-reform law at the end of 2017, which did not give the IRS not sufficient time to adjust the W-4 form and related computation tables for the 2018 tax year so as to account for all of the new law’s changes. The planned major revision to the W-4 for the 2019 tax year has since been delayed until 2020, so all taxpayers should make sure that their 2019 withholding is adequate.
If you are conversant with tax terminology, you can use the IRS’s newly updated withholding estimator. This tool helps taxpayers to determine whether their employers are withholding the right amount of tax from their paychecks. However, please note that the results are only as good as the information that is put into the estimator. Users need to properly estimate their other income for the year from various sources.