In December 2017, the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“Tax Act” or “Act”), which introduces the most significant changes to the U.S. tax system since 1986. With a few exceptions, the provisions are generally effective starting in 2018. However, many of the changes are temporary and scheduled to sunset after 2025.

Although the Tax Act may provide simplification in a few aspects by eliminating tax provisions, there are also added complexities. Due to the number of changes, as well as some new concepts introduced in the law, there is a need for guidance from the Internal Revenue Service, and possibly from Congress in the form of technical corrections, on the final application of the law. Timing of this guidance and any technical corrections may take months. Which states will conform and to what extent those states conform with the federal changes adds to the complexities.

Given the magnitude of the tax law changes, many planning strategies will need to be studied and evaluated to assess whether they still make sense. Minimizing taxes is all about planning ahead and knowing the rules, so we at Onisko & Scholz, LLP would like to remind you that we are available to assist you with this effort.

What are some of the significant changes for individual taxpayers?

Below are some highlights of the significant changes to individual taxpayers. As this information is general in nature, it is not intended to address all the Tax Act changes that may impact you.

Tax rates: The Tax Act imposes a new tax structure with different tax brackets. The highest tax rate is reduced from 39.6% to 37%. Generally, the new tax rates are the same or lower for most income levels, although there are a few exceptions.

Standard deduction: The Tax Act increased the standard deduction for 2018 to $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for all other individuals. The additional standard deduction for elderly and blind taxpayers was not changed by the Act.

Personal exemptions: The Tax Act suspends the personal exemption deduction for tax years 2018 through 2025. The withholding rules were modified to reflect the fact that individuals can no longer claim personal exemptions.

Itemized deductions: For tax years 2018 through 2025, the Act suspends the overall limitation on itemized deductions. In addition, the Act suspends the deduction for certain miscellaneous itemized deductions such as investment expenses and unreimbursed employee expenses (e.g., home office expenses, mileage, travel, etc.).

Mortgage interest: For tax years 2018 through 2025, the Act modifies the home mortgage interest deduction reducing the limit on “acquisition indebtedness” to $750,000 ($375,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns). The Act has a carve-out allowing the prior-law limit of $1 million for “acquisition indebtedness” to apply in 2018 if you entered into a binding written contract for the purchase of your principal residence before December 15, 2017, and certain conditions are met in 2018.

Home-equity loans: Although the Act suspends the home-equity loan interest deduction for tax years 2018 through 2025, the IRS has issued clarification as of February 21, 2018, stating that taxpayers in many cases can continue to deduct interest on a home-equity loan if the loan is used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan. As under prior law, the loan must not exceed the cost of the home and must meet other requirements.

State and local taxes: Under the Act, the combined deduction for state and local income and property taxes is limited to $10,000 for individual taxpayers and married couples filing jointly ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) for tax years 2018 through 2025.

“Pass-through” income deductions: For tax years 2018 through 2025, individual taxpayers may be allowed to deduct up to 20% of domestic “qualified business income” from partnerships, S Corporations, trusts and estates, and sole proprietorships. These are business entities that do not pay income tax at the business entity level, but where the profits and other income of the business “pass through” to the owners (or to the beneficiaries in the case of a trust). The rules are very complicated and there are phase-out limitations that may apply.

Individual AMT: The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for individuals was retained but the exemption amount and thresholds were increased. The exemption and threshold amounts will be indexed for inflation. However, the increased exemption amounts and thresholds are scheduled to sunset after 2025.

Child tax and dependent credits: The Tax Act increased the amount of the child tax credit to $2,000 per qualifying child. The maximum refundable amount of the credit is $1,400 per qualifying child. The Tax Act also created a new nonrefundable $500 credit for qualifying dependents who are not qualifying children. The threshold at which the credit begins to phase out was increased to $400,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return and $200,000 for all other taxpayers.

Education provisions: The Tax Act modifies Sec. 529 plans to allow them to distribute up to $10,000 in expenses for tuition incurred during the tax year at an elementary or secondary school. This limitation applies on a per-student basis, rather than on a per-account basis.

Alimony: For any divorce or separation agreement executed after December 31, 2018, the Tax Act provides that alimony and separate maintenance payments will not be deductible by the spouse making alimony payments and will not be considered income for the spouse receiving payments.

Moving expenses: The moving expense deduction is suspended for tax years 2018 through 2025, with the exception of certain military personnel.

Estate tax: The Tax Act doubles the basic exclusion amount from $5 million to $10 million and will be indexed for inflation.

Individual mandate: The Tax Act reduces to zero the amount of the penalty under Sec. 5000A, imposed on taxpayers who do not obtain health insurance that provides at least minimum essential coverage, effective after 2018.

Are there online resources available to me for general information and guidance regarding tax reform?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is working on implementing this major tax legislation. The IRS has committed to providing guidance to taxpayers, businesses and the tax community as it becomes available. Visit regularly for updates and resources.

What should individual taxpayers consider doing now to prepare for the anticipated impact of the Tax Act changes? Many of the tax reform changes are not simple. As such, we are strongly encouraging our clients to consider having some tax planning done this year to assess how the Tax Act will impact them and to take advantage of available tax planning strategies.

If you would like our assistance with your tax planning needs to help you anticipate how the new tax laws will affect your tax situation, please contact us. We look forward to helping you navigate these changes.

Onisko & Scholz LLP