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Also see: An In-Depth Article: 2016 Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses.



In-Depth Article: 2016 Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

(Parker Tax Publishing November 2016)

The first installment of Parker's annual two-part series on year-end tax planning recaps 2016's major changes affecting individual taxpayers, and strategies clients can use to minimize their 2016 tax bill. The online version of the article includes links to sample year-end client letters for individuals and businesses.


For tax returns preparers looking to take their minds off the 24/7 election news coverage, year-end tax planning may be just the ticket. While there are several tax proposals before Congress and it's possible that some of the low-cost tax extenders not made permanent by prior year's legislation will be extended, no significant legislative proposals are expected to pass before the end of the year. As discussed below, there are some changes for 2016 that you should be aware of, as well as some expiring tax provisions that your clients may be able to take advantage of.

CLIENT LETTERS for both individuals and businesses are available online now:

Practice Aid: See CPA Client Letter: Year-End Tax Planning for 2016 for INDIVIDUALS. and CPA Client Letter: Year-End Tax Planning for 2016 for BUSINESSES.

As with every year, the tax brackets have increased slightly as they are adjusted for inflation. For 2016, the top tax rate of 39.6 percent will apply to incomes over $415,050 (single), $466,950 (married filing jointly and surviving spouse), $233,475 (married filing separately), and $441,000 (heads of households). However, high-income taxpayers are also subject to the 3.8 percent net investment income tax and/or the .9 percent Medicare surtax. For taxpayers subject to one or both of these additional taxes, there are certain actions that can be taken which may mitigate the damage of these additional taxes.

The due date for filing 2016 tax returns is Tuesday, April 18, 2017, because April 15 is a Saturday, and Monday April 17 is Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. Thus, the tax deadline is extended to the next business day.

Finally, under a new law that goes into effect this tax season, the IRS is prohibited from issuing any refunds before February 15 for returns claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC) and/or the additional child tax credit (ACTC). The refund delay is aimed at allowing the IRS additional time to process such returns and prevent revenue loss due to identity theft and refund fraud relating to fabricated wages and withholdings. The IRS will hold the entire refund. Under the new law, the IRS cannot release the part of the refund that is not associated with the EITC or the ACTC.

I. Changes for 2016 Returns

Obamacare Penalties Increase

Under Obamacare, there is a penalty for failing to have health insurance. The monthly penalty amount is equal to 1/12 of the greater of: (1) a flat dollar amount; or (2) a percentage of the taxpayer's income. The flat dollar amount is equal to the lesser of: (1) the sum of the applicable dollar amounts for all individuals with respect to whom the failure occurred, or (2) 300 percent of the applicable dollar amount. For 2016, the applicable dollar amount is $695, up from $325 in 2015. The percentage of the taxpayer's income is equal to a specified percentage of the excess of his or her household income over his or her filing threshold amount. The specified percentage in 2016 is 2.5 percent, up from 2 percent in 2015. For purposes of this rule, household income is the aggregate modified adjusted gross incomes of the taxpayer and all dependents who are required to file tax returns for the tax year. See Parker Tax ¶190,140.

Increases in Personal Exemptions and Head-of-Household Standard Deduction

Personal exemptions increased by $50 in 2016 to $4,050. However, the amount of the exemption is reduced by 2 percent for each $2,500 ($1,250 for married filing separately), or fraction thereof, by which the taxpayer's AGI exceeds a certain threshold. The threshold amounts, which have been inflation-adjusted for 2016, are (1) $259,400 in the case of a single individual; (2) $285,350 in the case of a head of household; (3) $311,300 in the case of a joint return or a surviving spouse; and (4) $155,650 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return.

Because inflation rates have continued to be low, the only change to the standard deduction was a $50 increase to $9,300 for head-of-households. For married individuals, unmarried individuals (other than surviving spouses and heads of households), and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction amounts remain at $12,600, $6,300, and $6,300, respectively. See Parker Tax ¶10,705.

Alternative Minimum Tax Exemption Boosted

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption has been increased in varying amounts between $100 and $400, depending on a taxpayer's filing status. The exemptions for 2016 are (1) in the case of a joint return or a surviving spouse, $83,800 (up from $83,400); (2) in the case of an individual who is unmarried and not a surviving spouse, $53,900 (up from $53,600); (3) in the case of a married individual filing a separate return, $41,900 (up from $41,700); and (4) in the case of an estate or trust, $23,900 (up from $23,800). See Parker Tax ¶12,120.

New Form 1098-T Requirement

Beginning in 2016, in order to claim an American Opportunity or lifetime learning credit or a deduction for education-related tuition and fees, a student must have received a Form 1098-T. The form reports qualified tuition and related expenses received by the educational institution. The information reported on this form will be matched against the information reported to the IRS. Students should receive Form 1098-T from the educational institution to which the taxpayer made payments by January 31, 2017. While the form is supposed to report the aggregate amount of payments received by the educational institution, there is a one year transition period where institutions may report the amount billed for 2016 rather than the amount paid. Beginning in 2017, institutions are subject to penalties if they do not report the aggregate amount of payments received.

Because the form only reports qualified tuition and related expenses, students may see a discrepancy between the amounts paid and the amounts reported. This is due to the fact that certain expenses, such as fees for room, board, insurance, medical expenses, transportation, etc. are not considered qualified tuition and related expenses and thus are not reported on Form 1098-T. See Parker Tax ¶252,518.

Due Diligence Requirements Extended to Returns Claiming a Child Tax Credit or the American Opportunity Tax Credit

New for 2016 tax returns, practitioners must meet due diligence requirements, similar to those applicable to returns claiming an earned income tax credit, if they prepare federal income tax returns on which a child (or additional child) tax credit is claimed or on which the American opportunity tax credit is claimed. If the preparer fails to comply with such due diligence requirements with respect to determining eligibility for, or the amount of, the child tax credit or the American opportunity tax credit, the preparer is liable for a penalty of $500 (before adjustment for inflation) for each such failure. See Parker Tax ¶276,535.

Due Date for Foreign Bank Account Report Moved Up

Effective for 2016 and later years, the due date for a taxpayer's Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) was moved up from June 30 to April 15, so that it now shares the same filing deadline as individual federal income tax returns. A six-month extension is available. For taxpayers abroad, the due date is automatically extended until June 15, with an additional four-month extension available until October 15. See Parker Tax ¶203,170.

II. Individual Tax Provisions Expiring at December 31, 2016

The following are some individual tax provisions that expire at the end of the year assuming no last-minute extension by Congress which practitioners and clients should review before year end.

AGI Limitation on Medical Expense Deductions for Individuals 65 or Older

A taxpayer can deduct medical and dental expenses that exceed a certain percentage of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year. In 2016, that percentage is 10 percent for most taxpayers. However, for any tax year ending before January 1, 2017, the floor is 7.5 percent if the taxpayer or the taxpayer's spouse has reached age 65 before the end of that year. That reduced AGI floor is scheduled to end after 2016 so accelerating medical deductions into 2016 for such taxpayers would be prudent where possible. See Parker Tax ¶82,510.

Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses

Under Code Sec. 222, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income that does not exceed certain amounts may deduct qualified education expenses paid during the year for themselves, their spouses, or their dependents. The maximum tuition and fees deduction for any tax year is $4,000, $2,000, or $0, depending on the amount of the taxpayer's modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). The $4,000 limit applies if the taxpayer's MAGI does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 on a joint return). The $2,000 limit applies if the taxpayer's MAGI exceeds $65,000 ($130,000 on a joint return) but does not exceed $80,000 ($160,000 on a joint return). No deduction is allowed if the taxpayer's MAGI exceeds $80,000 ($160,000 on a joint return). See Parker Tax ¶80,145.

Exclusion of Income Relating to Discharge of Indebtedness on a Principal Residence

2016 is the last year that a taxpayer can, under Code Sec. 108, exclude from income discharge of indebtedness income related to a discharge of qualified principal residence debt (i.e., mortgage on the taxpayer's home). See Parker Tax ¶76,125.

Deduction for Mortgage Insurance Premiums

Under Code Sec. 163(h)(3), taxpayers can treat amounts they paid during the year for qualified mortgage insurance as qualified residence interest. The insurance must be in connection with acquisition debt for a qualified residence. In addition, the insurance contract must have been issued after 2006. No deduction is allowed for amounts paid or accrued after December 31, 2016, or for amounts properly allocable to any period after that date. See Parker Tax ¶83,515.

Nonbusiness Energy Property Tax Credit

Under Code Sec. 25C, for tax years before 2017, an individual can take an energy property tax credit for:

(1) 10 percent of the amounts paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements (such as insulation, exterior windows and skylights, exterior doors, and certain types of roofs) installed during the tax year; and

(2) the amount of residential energy property expenditures (such as electric heat pumps, central air conditioners, and certain water heaters that achieve specified efficiency ratings) paid or incurred during the tax year.

There are various limitations, based on the type of property purchased, with a total $500 lifetime limitation on this credit. See Parker Tax ¶101,505.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

Individuals may take a credit under Code Sec. 25D(g) for expenditures before 2017 made on residential energy efficient property. The credit is equal to the sum of: (1) 30 percent of the taxpayer's qualified solar electric property expenditures for the tax year; (2) 30 percent of the taxpayer's qualified solar water heating property expenditures for the tax year; (3) 30 percent of the taxpayer's qualified fuel cell property expenditures for the tax year; (4) 30 percent of the taxpayer's qualified small wind energy property expenditures for the tax year; and (5) 30 percent of the taxpayer's qualified geothermal heat pump property expenditures for the tax year. While the credit for expenditures made for qualified fuel cell property is limited to $500 for each one-half kilowatt of capacity of the property, the amounts of the other qualified expenditures eligible for the credit are not limited.

The residential energy efficient property credit is a nonrefundable credit. A taxpayer's total nonrefundable credits are allowed only to the extent they do not exceed the sum of: (1) the taxpayer's regular tax liability reduced by any foreign tax credit allowable, and (2) the taxpayer's alternative minimum tax. The credit may be carried over if it exceeds the limitation.

While the credit is generally available for expenditures made in years before 2017, that deadline is extended to December 31, 2021, in the case of any qualified solar electric property expenditures and qualified solar water heating property expenditures. See Parker Tax ¶101,510.

Credits for Certain Motor Vehicles and Vehicle-Related Property

Various credits are available for certain energy efficient vehicles. Under Code Sec. 30B, a credit is available through 2016 for vehicles propelled by chemically combining oxygen with hydrogen and creating electricity (i.e., fuel cell vehicles). Code Sec. 30B potentially allows a credit for four separate categories of vehicles: (1) fuel cell vehicles, (2) advanced lean burn technology vehicles, (3) hybrid vehicles and (4) alternative fuel vehicles.

The base credit is $4,000 for vehicles weighing 8,500 pounds or less. Heavier vehicles can get up to a $40,000 credit, depending on their weight. An additional $1,000 to $4,000 credit is available to the extent a vehicle's fuel economy exceeds the 2002 base fuel economy set forth in the Code. See Parker Tax ¶101,710.

OBSERVATION: Many states provide additional incentives, such as rebates and credits.

Under Code Sec. 30C, a taxpayer who purchases certain refueling property for alternative fuel vehicles is generally allowed a credit for a 30 percent of the cost of such property. The credit is limited to $1,000. Refueling property is (1) property used for the storage or dispensing of certain clean-burning fuels into the fuel tanks of motor vehicles propelled by such fuel (but only if the storage or dispensing of the fuel is at the point where such fuel is delivered into the fuel tanks of the motor vehicles); (2) property either subject to depreciation or property installed on property that is used as the taxpayer's main home; (3) property the original use of which begins with the taxpayer; and (4) property that is not used mainly outside the United States. Eligible alternative fuels are hydrogen, electricity, and other qualified alternative fuels as defined in Code Sec. 30C(c). See Parker Tax ¶101,715.

Under Code Sec. 30D, a taxpayer who acquires a qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle is generally allowed a credit for the tax year it is placed in service. This credit, potentially worth up to $7,500, generally applies to large four-wheel electric vehicles. A separate credit applies to qualified two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles. See Parker Tax ¶101,705.

III. Tax Planning Options

Retirement Plans Considerations

Fully funding a company 401(k) with pre-tax dollars will reduce current year taxes, as well as increase retirement nest eggs. For 2016, the maximum 401(k) contribution taxpayers can make with pre-tax earnings is $18,000. For taxpayers 50 or older, that amount increases to $24,000.

For taxpayers with a SIMPLE 401(k), the maximum pre-tax contribution for 2016 is $12,500. That amount increases to $15,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older.

If certain requirements are met, contributions to an individual retirement account (IRA) may be deductible. For taxpayers under 50, the maximum contribution amount for 2016 is $5,500. For taxpayers 50 or older but less than age 70 1/2, the maximum contribution amount is $6,500. Contributions exceeding the maximum amount are subject to a 6 percent excise tax. Even if a client is not eligible to deduct contributions, contributing after-tax money to an IRA may be advantageous because it will allow the client to later convert that traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA, including earnings, are free of tax, while earnings on a traditional IRA are taxable when withdrawn.

If a client already has a traditional IRA, practitioners should evaluate whether it is appropriate to convert it to a Roth IRA this year. The client will have to pay tax on the amount converted as ordinary income, but subsequent earnings will be free of tax. And if the client has a traditional 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan that includes after-tax contributions, a new rule allows him or her to generally rollover these after-tax amounts to a Roth IRA with no tax consequences. A rollover of a SIMPLE 401(k) into a Roth IRA may also be available. As with all tax rules, there are qualifications that apply to these rollovers that practitioners should discuss before their clients take any actions.

Additionally, the Treasury Department has introduced a starter retirement account known as "myRA," into which taxpayers may deposit tax refunds. The program allows individuals to establish a Roth IRA with a Treasury Department designated custodian. Taxpayers can continue to participate in the program until the account balance reaches $15,000 or until he or she has participated in the program for 30 years, whichever occurs first. At any time, individuals can transfer the balance to a commercial financial services provider to take advantage of a broader array of retirement products available in the marketplace. Because the accounts offered through the program are Roth IRAs, they have the same tax treatment and follow the same rules as Roth IRAs.

Finally, self-directed IRAs allow an IRA owner to have more control over the type of investments that will be held in the IRA. However, the large amount of money held in self-directed IRAs makes them attractive targets for fraud promoters. Thus, self-directed IRA can be costly if not properly managed. In addition, because of the types of investments taxpayers with self-directed IRAs are able to make, taxpayers have a greater risk of running afoul of the prohibited transaction rules. The prohibited transaction rules impose an excise tax on certain transactions - such as sales of property, the lending of money or extension of credit, or the furnishing of goods, services, or facilities - between an IRA and a disqualified person. If a client has a self-directed IRA, practitioners need to review the specifics of the arrangement.

Avoiding the Net Investment Income Tax

The 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) applies to certain net investment income of individuals with income above a threshold amount. The threshold amounts are $250,000 (married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child), $200,000 (single and head of household), and $125,000 (married filing separately). In general, investment income includes, but is not limited to: interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, non-qualified annuities, and income from businesses involved in trading of financial instruments or commodities. Thus, while the top tax rate for qualified dividend income is generally 20%, the top rate on such income increases to 23.8% for a taxpayer subject to the net investment income tax.

If it appears that a client will be subject to the NIIT, practitioners can look at the following strategies to help their clients avoid the tax.

(1) Donate or gift appreciated property. By donating property to a charity, taxpayers avoid recognizing the appreciation for income tax purposes and for net investment income tax purposes. If gifting property, taxpayers should gift the property to individuals that have income below the $200,000 (single) or $250,000 (couples) thresholds and let them sell it.

(2) Replace stocks with state and local bonds. Interest on tax-exempt state and local bonds are exempt from the NIIT. In addition, because such interest income is not included in adjusted gross income, it can help keep a taxpayer below the threshold for which the NIIT applies.

(3) If the client is involved in real estate, review the criteria for qualifying as a real estate professional with the client to see if additional steps can be taken to ensure that the client qualifies. As a real estate professional, rental income will be nonpassive and thus escape the NIIT.

(4) Determine if the sale of an appreciated asset would be better structured as an installment sale.

(5) Since capital losses can offset capital gains for NIIT purposes, determine if it makes sense to sell any losing stock, but keeping in mind the transaction costs associated with selling stocks.

(6) If the client will be selling property but doesn't qualify as a real estate professional, consider a like-kind exchange under Code Sec. 1031 to avoid recognizing income subject to the NIIT.

Because the NIIT does not apply to a trade or business unless (1) the trade or business is a passive activity with respect to the taxpayer, or (2) the trade or business consists of trading financial instruments or commodities, taxpayers may strive for classifying an enterprise as a trade or business. However, such classification could have unintended consequences. For example, Form 1099 reporting requirements apply to payments made in the course of the taxpayer's trade or business whereas personal payments are not reportable.

Reducing AMT Impact

A large increase in the income of a taxpayer that lives in a high-tax state could indicate a potential AMT problem since state and local taxes are not deductible in calculating AMT. The same is true with a large increase in personal exemptions which are also not deductible for AMT purposes.

If it looks like a client may be subject to the AMT this year, practitioners should discuss what actions can be taken to reduce his or her exposure. Since the calculation of the AMT begins with adjusted gross income, lowering a clients adjusted gross income by maximizing contributions to a tax-deferred retirement plan (e.g., 401(k)) or tax-deferred health savings account may be appropriate. Additionally, if a client uses his or her home for business, related expenses (e.g., a portion of the property taxes, mortgage interest, etc.) allocable to Schedule C will also reduce adjusted gross income.

Gifting Appreciated Stock to Kids

Practitioners should also consider if there is any income that can be shifted to a child so that the income is paid at the child's tax rate. One strategy is gifting appreciated stock to the child. Where a child has earned income and is taxed at the bottom two income brackets, capital gains generated on the stock sale are taxed at 0 percent, instead of the 15 percent or more that the parent would pay. However, if the child has little or no earned income, the kiddie tax could be a factor. In this case, the parent will want to limit the child's unearned income to $2,100 or less for 2016 in order to avoid having the parent's top tax rate apply to the child's income.

Accelerating Income into 2016

Depending on the client's projected income for 2017, it may make sense to accelerate income into 2016 if the client expects 2017 income to be significantly higher. Options for accelerating income include: (1) harvesting gains from the client's investment portfolio, keeping in mind the 3.8 NIIT; (2) converting a retirement account into a Roth IRA and recognizing the conversion income this year; (3) taking IRA distributions this year rather than next year; (4) for self-employed clients with receivables on hand, trying to get clients or customers to pay before year end; and (6) settling lawsuits or insurance claims that will generate income this year.

Deferring Income into 2017

If it looks like the client may have a significant decrease in income next year, it may make sense to defer income into 2017 or later years. Some options for deferring income include: (1) if a client is due a year-end bonus, having the employer to pay the bonus in January 2017; (2) if a client is considering selling assets that will generate a gain, postponing the sale until 2017; (3) delaying the exercise of any stock options; (4) if a client is selling property, considering an installment sale with larger payments being received in 2017; and (5) parking investments in deferred annuities.

Deferring Deductions into 2017

If a client anticipates a substantial increase in taxable income, practitioners may want to explore pushing deductions into 2017 by looking at the following: (1) postponing year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent deductions are available for such payments, until next year; and (2) postponing the sale of any loss-generating property.

Accelerating Deductions into 2016

If a client expects his or her income to decrease next year, accelerating deductions into the current year can offset the higher income this year. Some options include: (1) prepaying property taxes in December; (2) making January mortgage payment in December; (3) if a client owes state income taxes, making up any shortfall in December rather than waiting until the return is due; (4) since medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10 percent (7.5 percent for individuals age 65 before the end of the year) of adjusted gross income, bunching large medical bills not covered by insurance into one year to help overcome this threshold; (5) making any large charitable contributions in 2016, rather than 2017; (6) selling some or all loss stocks; and (7) if a client qualifies for a health savings account, setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable.

Life Events and Miscellaneous Other Items

Certain life events can also affect a client's tax situation. If the client got married or divorced, had a birth or death in the family, lost or changed jobs, or retired during the year, practitioners should discuss the tax implications of these events.

Other miscellaneous items to consider are the following:

(1) Encourage clients that have a health flexible spending account with a balance to spend it before year end (unless their employer allows them to go until March 15, 2017, in which case they'll have until then). Clients may want to check with their employer to see if they give the optional grace period to March 15.

(2) If a client owns a vacation home that he or she rented out, practitioners should look at the number of days it was used for business versus pleasure to see if there are ways to maximize tax savings with respect to that property. For example, if the client spent less than 14 days at the home, it may make sense to spend a few more days and have the house qualify as a second residence, with the interest being deductible. For a rental home, rental expenses, including interest, are limited to rental income.

(3) If a client has any foreign assets, there are reporting and filing requirements with respect to those assets. Practitioners need to be familiar with the types of accounts that must be reported as noncompliance carries stiff penalties.

What to Expect in 2017

While no one can predict how the election will turn out and what will happen in 2017, both Presidential candidates are calling for major tax reform and have their own tax plans.

According to her website, Hillary Clinton's tax plan involves (1) imposing a 4 percent "Fair Share Surcharge" on the estimated 2 out of every 10,000 taxpayers making more than $5 million per year, with the aim being that the riches Americans pay an effective rate higher than middle-class families; (2) closing certain loopholes, such as the "step up in basis" loophole, for certain taxpayers; (3) restoring the estate tax to its 2009 parameters for certain estates, estimated to affect 4 out of every 1,000 estates after the reform; and (4) enacting the "Buffet Rule," which ensures that those making more than $1 million per year pay at least an effective tax rate of 30 percent.

According to his website, Donald Trump's tax plan involves (1) reducing taxes across the board, especially for working and middle-income Americans; (2) ensuring the rich will pay their fair share, but no one will pay so much that it destroys jobs or undermines the ability to compete; (3) eliminating special interest loopholes and making the business tax rate more competitive to keep jobs in American, create new opportunities and revitalize the economy; and (4) reducing the cost of childcare by allowing families to fully deduct the average cost of childcare from their taxes, including stay-at-home parents.

Also see: CPA Client Letter: Year-End Tax Planning for 2016 for INDIVIDUALS.
             CPA Client Letter: Year-End Tax Planning for 2016 for BUSINESSES.

Disclaimer: This publication does not, and is not intended to, provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and readers should consult their tax advisors concerning the application of tax laws to their particular situations. This analysis is not tax advice and is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for purposes of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The information contained herein is general in nature and based on authorities that are subject to change. Parker Tax Publishing guarantees neither the accuracy nor completeness of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for results obtained by others as a result of reliance upon such information. Parker Tax Publishing assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any changes in tax laws or other factors that could affect information contained herein.

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