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 households, 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. This letter presents some tax planning ideas to consider this summer while you have time to think. 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 31of 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 all over again 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% NllT 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 (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 (currently worth less than you paid for them) before yearend 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%NlIT may apply too, which can result in an effective rate of up to 43.4%. However, you don’t to worry about paying 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 gains and long-term gains recognized in those years.
Take Advantage of Generous But Temporary Business Tax Breaks
Several favorable business tax provisions have a limited shelf life that may dictate taking action between now and year-end. They include the following:
- Generous Section 179 Deduction Rules. Your business may be able to take advantage of the temporarily increased Section 179 deduction. Under the Section 179 deduction privilege, an eligible business can often claim first-year depreciation write-offs for the entire cost of new and used equipment and software additions and eligible real property costs. For tax years beginning in 2013, the maximum Section 179 deduction is $500,000, including up to $250,000 for qualifying real property costs. For tax years beginning in 2014, however, the maximum deduction is scheduled to drop back to only $25,000, and most real property costs will be ineligible.
Note: Watch out if your business is already expected to have a tax loss for the year (or is close to it) before considering any Section 179 deduction. The reason is because you cannot claim a Section 179 write-off that would create or increase an overall business tax loss.
- 50% First-year Bonus Depreciation. Above and beyond the Section 179 deduction, your business can also claim first-year bonus depreciation equal to 50% of the cost of most new (not used) equipment and software placed in service by December 31 of this year. For a new passenger auto or light truck that’s used for business and is subject to the luxury auto depreciation limitations, the 50% bonus depreciation break increases the maximum first-year depreciation deduction by $8,000. The 50% bonus depreciation break will expire at year-end unless Congress extends it.
Do Not 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.
We wanted to get you started thinking about tax planning moves for the rest of this year. Please do not hesitate to contact your Keiter tax team if you want more details or would like to schedule a tax planning strategy session.
IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction(s) or tax-related matter(s) addressed herein.