Copyright 2018 - Pfeiffers Accounting & Consulting LLC

        Answers to commonly asked tax questions

 

        With all of the headlines about the changes to tax law, you probably have lots of questions. Here are answers to some of the most common  questions taxpayers have this year. 

  • Q. I’m hearing about a lot of changes to 2018 taxes. What should I do?
    A. You’re right, there are a lot of changes in 2018 due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), including to the income tax brackets. The simple answer to the question, “What should I do?” is to not make any major changes until you finish filing your 2017 taxes. Once you understand your 2017 tax obligation, you are in a better position to plan for 2018.

    However, there are a few things you can start thinking about now. Depending on where you fall in the new income tax brackets, you may want to consider ways to lower your taxable income. This could include increasing your contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts or health savings accounts (HSAs). You’ll also want to make sure your employer has adjusted your federal tax withholding so that you don’t have to wait to receive a large refund (or tax bill) next year. You can review the IRS withholding calculator using your latest pay stub data to make sure the changes are accurate.

    Q. What is the penalty amount if I didn’t have health insurance in 2017?
    A. The penalty per adult is calculated as the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of your yearly household income, up to a maximum of $3,264 for individuals or $16,320 for a family of five or more. Note that the penalty is still in place for tax years 2017 and 2018. The TCJA eliminates the penalty for 2019 through 2025.

    Q. Is Social Security taxed?
    A. It depends. You won’t pay tax on more than 85 percent of your Social Security income, but how much gets taxed depends on your income bracket. If your combined income is less than $25,000 for the year, you won’t pay tax on Social Security income.

    Q. When is the last day to do my taxes?
    A. Technically, Tuesday, April 17. But don’t wait until the last minute. Ask for help to get started now, or to file an extension so you have time to complete your tax return later. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get your refund. It usually takes about three weeks to arrive from the date you file. Also, remember you need to keep most tax related documents for at least three years, so don’t toss your paperwork after you file.

    Q. The IRS contacted me, what should I do?
    A. Ask for help. There are numerous scammers who impersonate the IRS during tax season. The real IRS will never contact you via social media, email or text message. In addition, an IRS agent will not contact you over the phone unless you first receive official correspondence in the mail. If you have received a notice in the mail, immediately ask for help to determine how to proceed. 

     

Alert: Expired home and education tax breaks revived

Congress passed a federal budget bill in early February that revived dozens of expired tax breaks for the 2017 tax year. They include a deduction for education expenses as well as several tax breaks for homeowners.

If you have not yet filed your 2017 tax return, please be aware these late changes are retroactive to the beginning of 2017. Check out this list of the most useful tax breaks to see if they apply to your situation:

Tuition and fees deduction. If you paid qualified tuition and related higher education expenses, you may be able to deduct as much as $4,000 of those costs. This can be done on a regular return (without itemizing). The deduction is capped at $4,000 for single filers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $65,000 or less ($130,000 joint) and at $2,000 for single filers with AGI of $80,000 or less ($160,000 joint).

Mortgage insurance deduction. If you paid mortgage insurance premiums, you can now once again deduct those amounts as an itemized deduction. This deduction begins to phase out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 or more.

Mortgage debt forgiveness exclusion. If qualifying mortgage debt on your primary residence was discharged or forgiven, you can exclude that amount from your income.

Energy-efficient home improvement credit. Energy-efficient home improvements (such as upgrades to windows, or heating and cooling systems), may be eligible for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the amount paid, up to $500. If you think any of these apply to you, bring all the related documentation to your tax filing appointment. If you have already filed, you may need to file an amended tax return to capture these very late law changes.

Get ready to save more in 2018

You can save more for retirement next year using tax-advantaged accounts, thanks to a boost in the maximum 401(k) contribution rate by the IRS. The maximum rate increases by $500 to $18,500, which is the first increase in three years. Those aged 50 or older can still contribute an additional $6,000 on top of that amount. This is good news, because a 401(k) is one of most potent tools in your retirement arsenal. It offers many benefits over other forms of saving, including:

  • Tax-deferred growth. Pre-tax income of $18,500 invested over 30 years with 6 percent annual cumulative interest will grow to $111,901.92. That's compared with $67,588.76 of the same amount of income invested after being taxed at the highest rate. While you'll owe tax on 401(k) withdrawals after retirement, you may be able to manage your 401(k) withdrawals to fall into a lower income bracket.
  • Roth option. You may opt to make your contributions to a 401(k) as a Roth investment, meaning you invest post-tax income, but you can withdraw from your Roth tax-free during retirement. A mix of traditional and Roth accounts will give you flexibility to manage your income tax rate during retirement.
  • Company match. Many companies offer to match the first few percentage points of their employees contributions to a 401(k). Even if you can't max out your contribution, you should try to invest up to your company's match limit. Otherwise, you're just leaving money on the table.

While 401(k)s have great utility, they come with a few downsides. Any withdrawals made before age 59 1/2 are assessed a 10 percent penalty fee, in addition to being taxed as regular income during the year they are withdrawn. Any investments in 401(k)s also are limited to a few choices set by your employer's retirement plan, so a limited number of conventional investment options in mutual funds is one of the trade-offs of using a 401(k).