top view of man holding android smartphone near macbook and newspaper
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

(By Chris Heerlein) – If you want to pay less in taxes, you must create a forward-looking plan. And it’s wise to start strategizing and implementing those tactics in 2019.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 gives us a lot to think about when crafting a financial framework. With the legislation scheduled to run through 2025, you want to be aware of certain provisions and exceptions in the tax-reform law and how you can take advantage of them.

State taxes. The tax-reform changes impose a $10,000 limitation on the deduction of state taxes. The IRS says that maximum does not apply to property taxes imposed on business property. For those of you with home offices, to the extent that you can allocate real estate taxes on your home to that office, understand that’s deductible outside or above the $10,000 limit.

Home equity lines of credit. If you take out a home equity line and use the proceeds to reinvest in your home, such as a new kitchen or a new wing in your bedroom, the interest remains deductible. But if you use those proceeds to, say, pay off college tuition or credit cards, there’s no allowable deduction. We see families borrowing money on their home to use for repairs, improvements, and sometimes even to cover retirement income and keep their tax bracket under control. Borrowing home equity can be good, but you need to keep track of what you’re doing with the proceeds because if they’re invested in the home, you can still take a deduction.

Charitable contributions. These are deductible, as they always were, but the reason to be concerned about this category is the doubling of the standard deduction. Prior to the new tax law, only about a third of people in the United States actually itemized deductions. And after this increase in the standard deduction, guess what? It goes down to less than 10% of Americans.

Think about that: 90% of people will claim a standard deduction. Now, why does that affect charitable contributions? Well, as you may know, you can claim a deduction for a charitable contribution only if you itemize. If you don’t itemize and take the standard deduction, you get no tax benefit for charitable contributions. But here are some workarounds:

For people over the age of 70 ½ — the age when you have required minimum distributions on your IRAs and 401(k)s — there’s something called a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), and you can take up to $100,000 out of your IRA each year and basically have it sent directly to a qualified charity. This is a wonderful strategy for families that give small amounts and large amounts. And you avoid all tax on that distribution that ends up at the qualified charity. You can claim the standard deduction and still avoid tax on the IRA required distributions, but remember, the first dollars you give to charity should be money out of your IRA.

What about those of you younger than 70½? Here’s what you might want to do. This is a little outside the box but it’s a powerful strategy. Bundle several years or so of contributions to your qualified charity. Let’s pull five years out as an example. You can actually bundle these contributions into a single year so that you will go over the standard deduction in that one year and claim a deduction for the excess contributions. A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is when families put money into the fund, they get the full tax deduction for whatever goes into the fund that year, plus they can distribute that money over time, at their direction. I recommend this a lot of times to clients, especially those taking the standard deduction.

Entertainment and meal expenses. There are some big changes when it comes to entertainment expenses and meal expenses. The new tax law disallows any deduction for entertainment expenses period. Meals — an integral part of business dealings, of course — are a bit different. The IRS says you can still deduct the meal expense as long as you have a separate receipt. Going forward, make sure that your food costs for clients are separately stated on those invoices and receipts. That’s a big one and can add up fast.

Then there’s the very important SSA-44 Form. Let’s say you’re a high-wage earner and you are going to work half the year when you retire at 65. You get off the employer health care plan and go on Medicare. Well, the government dictates your Medicare premiums by how much income you report. If you go over these thresholds, you are going to get a letter in the mail that says, “You’re Medicare premiums are going up.” And I’m talking perhaps $500-plus per person more for the same coverage your neighbor is getting. The SSA-44 Form is something you would file with your tax return in a year that you retired and were over these income limits, and they’ll give you a once-in-a-lifetime exception around those limits.

Chris Heerlein, author of Money Won’t Buy Happiness – But Time to Find It, is an Investment Adviser Representative and partner at REAP Financial LLC. He hosts the “Retire Ready” TV and radio shows in Austin, Texas, and has been featured in national media outlets such as Fortune, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Money magazines. Heerlein also is an ongoing contributor to the financial publication Kiplinger.