2018 New Tax Law Highlights for Individuals

John (Rusty) Davis, CPA

Following is an overview of some of the more important individual 2018 tax changes in the new “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”.

Standard deduction. The new law increases the standard deduction to $24,000 for joint filers, $18,000 for heads of household, and $12,000 for singles and married taxpayers filing separately. Given these increases, many taxpayers will no longer be itemizing deductions. These figures will be indexed for inflation after 2018.

Exemptions. The new law suspends the deduction for personal exemptions. Thus, starting in 2018, taxpayers can no longer claim personal or dependency exemptions. The rules for withholding income tax on wages will be adjusted to reflect this change, but IRS was given the discretion to leave the withholding unchanged for 2018.

State and local taxes. The itemized deduction for state and local income and property taxes is limited to a total of $10,000 starting in 2018.

Mortgage interest. Under the new law, mortgage interest on loans used to acquire a principal residence and a second home is only deductible on debt up to $750,000 (down from $1 million), starting with loans taken out in 2018. And there is no longer any deduction for interest on home equity loans, regardless of when the debt was incurred.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions. There is no longer a deduction for miscellaneous itemized deductions which were formerly deductible to the extent they exceeded 2 percent of adjusted gross income. This category included items such as tax preparation costs, investment expenses, union dues, and unreimbursed employee expenses.

Medical expenses. Under the new law, for 2017 and 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for all taxpayers. Previously, the AGI “floor” was 10% for most taxpayers.

Charitable Contribution Deduction Limitation Increased. For 2017, the deduction for an individual’s charitable contribution is limited to prescribed percentages of the taxpayer’s “contribution base.” Under pre-Act law, the applicable percentages were 50%, 30%, or 20%, and depended on the type of organization to which the contribution was made, whether the contribution was made “to” or merely “for the use of” the donee organization, and whether the contribution consisted of capital gain property. The 50% limitation applied to public charities and certain private foundations. For 2018 and tax years prior to 2026, the 50% limitation to public charities and certain private foundations is increased to 60%. Contributions exceeding the 60% limitation are generally allowed to be carried forward and deducted for up to five years, subject to the later year’s ceiling.

Casualty and theft losses. The itemized deduction for casualty and theft losses has been suspended except for losses incurred in a federally declared disaster.

Moving expenses. The deduction for job-related moving expenses has been eliminated, except for certain military personnel. The exclusion for moving expense reimbursements has also been suspended.

Gambling loss limitation modified. For 2017, taxpayers can claim a deduction for wagering losses to the extent of wagering winnings. However, under pre-Act law, other deductions connected to wagering (e.g., transportation, admission fees) could be claimed regardless of wagering winnings. For 2018 and tax years to 2026, the limitation on wagering losses is modified to provide that all deductions for expenses incurred in carrying out wagering transactions, and not just gambling losses, are limited to the extent of gambling winnings.

Overall limitation on itemized deductions. The new law suspends the overall limitation on itemized deductions that formerly applied to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeded specified thresholds. The itemized deductions of such taxpayers were reduced by 3% of the amount by which AGI exceeded the applicable threshold, but the reduction could not exceed 80% of the total itemized deductions, and certain items were exempt from the limitation.

“Kiddie” Tax rates. The “kiddie tax” rules were simplified. The net unearned income of a child subject to the rules will be taxed at the capital gain and ordinary income rates that apply to trusts and estates. Thus, the child’s tax is unaffected by the parent’s tax situation or the unearned income of any siblings.

Child and family tax credit. The new law increases the credit for qualifying children (i.e., children under 17) to $2,000 from $1,000, and increases to $1,400 the refundable portion of the credit. It also introduces a new (nonrefundable) $500 credit for a taxpayer’s dependents who are not qualifying children. The adjusted gross income level at which the credits begin to be phased out has been increased to $200,000 ($400,000 for joint filers).

Alimony. For post-2018 divorce decrees and separation agreements, alimony will not be deductible by the paying spouse and will not be taxable to the receiving spouse.

Qualified Tuition Programs (“529 Plans”) For 2017, a 529 plan distribution is tax-free if it is used to pay “qualified higher education expenses” of the beneficiary (student). Before the TCJA made these changes, tuition for elementary or secondary schools wasn’t a “qualified higher education expense,” so students/529 beneficiaries who had to pay it couldn’t receive tax-free 529 plan distributions. For 2018, The TCJA provides that qualified higher education expenses now include expenses for tuition in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school. Thus, tax-free distributions from 529 plans can now be received by beneficiaries who pay these expenses, effective for distributions from 529 plans after 2017. There is a limit to how much of a distribution can be taken from a 529 plan for these expenses. The amount of cash distributions from all 529 plans per single beneficiary during any tax year can’t, when combined, include more than $10,000 for elementary school and secondary school tuition incurred during the tax year.

Recharacterization of IRA Contributions. For 2017, if an individual makes a contribution to an IRA (traditional or Roth) for a tax year, the individual is allowed to recharacterize the contribution as a contribution to the other type of IRA (traditional or Roth) by making a trustee-to-trustee transfer to the other type of IRA before the due date for the individual’s income tax return for that year. In the case of a recharacterization, the contribution will be treated as having been made to the transferee IRA (and not the original, transferor IRA) as of the date of the original contribution. Both regular contributions and conversion contributions to a Roth IRA can be recharacterized as having been made to a traditional IRA.

For 2018 and future years, the rule that allows a contribution to one type of IRA to be recharacterized as a contribution to the other type of IRA does not apply to a conversion contribution to a Roth IRA. Thus, recharacterization cannot be used to unwind a Roth conversion.