Just when you were starting to get comfortable with your annual chore of tax filing, things changed. The 2018 tax reform bill hit the scene. Over the past year, you’ve heard about updates ranging from tax rates to deductions . . . and your head is spinning.
Not that you’ve ever loved tax season (who does?), but now you’re really dreading it.
Don’t worry—we’ve got your update! We want you to feel confident doing your taxes. And here’s the good news: Even though the tax reform bill brought some big changes, it made a lot of things simpler. Stick with us, and we’ll break down the details so you understand what’s changed and how those changes impact you now that it’s 2019!
The tax reform bill impacts your taxes this year. That’s right. Even though the tax reform bill—formally known as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”—was introduced a full year ago, it didn’t apply to the taxes you filed last year.
But when you file in April, you’ll feel the difference. You probably even noticed less money being withheld from your paychecks this year as a result of the changes. Now that tax season is officially here, it’s time to figure out what all those new tax updates mean for you.
Difference in Income Brackets and Marginal Tax Rates
First, one of the most talked about changes in the 2018 tax reform bill was the update to income tax brackets and marginal tax rates.
So what are marginal tax rates? Those are the percentages of your income that you pay in taxes. What this means for you: Your income is not taxed at one rate but at several different rates, depending on how much you make.
How do you know your tax rates? Enter tax brackets. Tax brackets are income ranges. It’s that simple.
Each tax bracket corresponds to a tax rate. For example, if your income is $120,000, your tax rate isn’t a flat 24%. Instead, part of your income is taxed at 10%, part at 12%, part at 22%, and part at 24%.
Here’s the thing about income brackets and tax rates: It’s fairly common for tax brackets to change to account for inflation each year. But the marginal tax rates only change when a new tax law is passed—which doesn’t happen often. That’s why people were especially interested in this part of the tax reform bill.
Is this good or bad news for you? This year, it’s good news! Lower marginal tax rates means you can pocket more money from your paycheck!
In 2017, a single individual with a taxable income of $100,000 paid $20,981.35 in taxes: ($9,325 x 0.10) + ($28,624 x 0.15) + ($53,949 x 0.25) + ($8,100 x 0.28).
Now let’s compare that to the 2018 marginal tax rates. For 2018, a single individual with a taxable income of $100,000 will pay $18,289.50 in taxes: ($9,525 x 0.10) + ($29,175 x 0.12) + ($43,800 x 0.22) + ($17,500 x 0.24).
Plus, getting hitched just got easier! Not only will you have a lower tax rate this year, the shift in tax brackets also removes what used to be an unintentional tax penalty for married filers. Under the 2017 tax law, some married filers were pushed into a higher income bracket when they combined their income with their spouse’s. Now the new income brackets are simply doubled for joint filers, which means that unintentional marriage penalty is gone.
Difference in Standard Deduction
What else has changed? Another important difference in the 2018 tax reform bill is that the standard deduction has almost doubled. That’s great news!
The standard deduction is an automatic reduction in what you owe in taxes. When you pay taxes, you have the option of taking the standard deduction or itemizing your deductions. If you itemize, you calculate your deductions one by one. Itemizing is more of a hassle, but it’s worth it if your itemized deductions exceed the amount of the standard deduction.
But there’s another piece to the puzzle. The 2018 tax reform bill got rid of the personal exemption. That’s the amount a taxpayer used to be able to deduct from their taxable income for themselves and any dependents claimed on their tax return. Here’s how those two changes play out:
In 2017, the personal exemption was $4,050 per dependent (like a child or relative) and per taxfiler. So, back then, a married couple filing jointly with no dependents who made $100,000 received a $12,700 standard deduction and $8,100 in personal exemptions, leaving them with a taxable income of $79,200 ($100,000 – $20,800 = $79,200).
In 2018, that same couple will receive a $24,000 standard deduction and no personal exemptions, leaving them with a taxable income of $76,000.
Essentially, the tax reform bill simplified this portion of the income tax process. In many cases, the increase in the standard deduction will make up for the elimination of personal exemptions, leaving most Americans with quite a bit more money in their pockets.
Difference in Child Tax Credit
The kids are finally paying off. In 2017, if parents made less than $110,000 jointly and $75,000 individually, they received a $1,000 child tax credit for qualified children under the age of 17. The 2018 tax reform bill increases that credit to $2,000 per qualified child and raises the income limits for the credit to $400,000 jointly and $200,000 individually. This means a lot more people will be able to receive tax credits for Junior. Woo-hoo!
More Changes for Taxpayers With Kids
If you have children, you may have a 529 college savings plan in place. Money you put in the account grows tax-free, but up to now, it could only be used for qualifying college expenses. The new tax reform bill changes that.
Now, if you have a 529 savings plan for your child, you can use it for education other than college. For example, if you have children in private school or if you pay for tutoring for your child in kindergarten through twelfth grade, you can use money from your 529 for these expenses tax-free.
While it may seem like a benefit to use a 529 plan prior to college, you should work with a qualified investing professional to make sure—especially if you want to use the 529 plan sooner than you originally intended. Withdrawing too much money before Junior goes to college can cancel out the power of compound growth.
Differences for Homeowners
One of the biggest changes in the new tax law includes the home mortgage interest deduction (MID), which allows taxpayers to deduct from their annual income the interest that they paid during the year on a mortgage. This is applicable to a first or second home. But this new tax law means different standards moving forward.
In 2017, if you itemized your deductions, the IRS allowed you to deduct the interest you paid on your primary residence and/or second home, as long as your original mortgage principal wasn’t more than $1 million.
In 2018, the maximum mortgage principal in the tax reform bill was lowered to $750,000. But before you worry, know that taxpayers with existing mortgages in between $1 million and $750,000 will be grandfathered into the old deduction.
The deductions for homeowners are further reduced by the doubling of the standard deduction, which decreases the number of households that itemize their deductions. The new tax law increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers (formerly $6,350 and $12,700, respectively). For many homeowners, it no longer makes sense to itemize deductions.
HELOC interest deductions
In the past, homeowners could use their home equity to get low, tax-deductible interest rates on large purchases. For instance, homeowners could take out a HELOC to renovate their kitchen or pay off higher interest debt.
Previously, by taking out a HELOC, you could get a lower interest rate and deduct up to $100,000 in the interest you pay on that line of credit. But this cheaper financing may be a thing of the past under the new tax bill, as that loophole has been mostly closed.
Now, homeowners can deduct interest on HELOCs only under two circumstances: if the money is used to pay for home improvements or if the combined total of your first mortgage balance and HELOC don’t exceed $750,000 — the new limit on mortgage amounts qualified for interest deductions, which is down from the previous $1.1 million.
Other equity options
If you were planning on taking out a HELOC to pay for something other than home improvements, or if the new tax rules make a HELOC less favorable to you, it might be worth looking into a cash-out refinance instead. You can also talk to a mortgage professional to discuss your particular situation to see what’s best for you.
Difference in the SALT Deduction
The SALT deduction is another deduction that was debated before the tax reform bill was voted in. No, we’re not talking about table salt. SALT stands for “state and local taxes,” and this deduction addresses whether or not you can deduct state income taxes and/or sales taxes if you decide to itemize your deductions.
In the past, there was no limit on the deduction of state and local taxes, which was an advantage to those living in states with high taxes like California and New York. The new tax reform bill keeps the SALT deduction but limits the total deductible amount to $10,000, including income, sales and property taxes.
That means that you may not be able to deduct all of your state and local taxes if you live in a state with high taxes. But if these taxes were under $10,000 for you already, you won’t even notice this change.
The Estate Tax Exemption
What’s the estate tax? Basically the estate tax is a tax you pay on inherited money and property. Simple enough, right? Currently, heirs pay a tax rate of 40% on any inherited property valued over $5.49 million. In the new tax reform bill, you can inherit a total of $11.2 million in your lifetime before you are hit with the 40% tax.
What About Charitable Donations?
Good news for those who like to give like no one else! In 2017, you could deduct up to half of your income in qualified charitable donations if you itemized your deductions. The new tax reform bill has increased that limit to 60% of your income.
What About Medical Expenses?
Another frequently used deduction is the medical expense deduction. Before the new tax reform bill, you could deduct unreimbursed medical expenses above 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), which is your total income minus other deductions you have already taken. The new tax reform bill has reduced that hurdle to 7.5% of your AGI, which means you can deduct more.
What About Health Care?
The tax reform bill doesn’t repeal the The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, but it does get rid of the penalty you owe if you don’t get health insurance. Keep in mind that this change doesn’t actually take effect until next year. So that means the penalty (which is $695 this year) still applies when you file your 2018 taxes. While getting rid of penalties is good news, don’t use that as an excuse not to get health insurance. We know. Insurance is expensive, but not having it can cost you way more!
Other Deductions That Are Disappearing
There are a few other deductions that didn’t make it past the chopping block in the new tax reform bill, like:
- Casualty and theft losses (except those attributable to a federally declared disaster)
- Unreimbursed employee expenses
- Tax preparation expenses
- Alimony payments
- Moving expenses
- Employer-subsidized parking and transportation reimbursement
And if you’re used to being able to write off miscellaneous work expenses, like travel or meals with clients, those tax breaks disappeared as part of the tax reform bill. That may seem like bad news, but there are plenty of other ways to save money on your small-business taxes.
If you have a small business or a side hustle, a tax pro can help you take advantage of all the deductions you qualify for.
2019 Changes That Affect Your 2020 Taxes
So we’ve covered all the big changes that affect your taxes this year, but what about 2019 taxes that you’ll file in April 2020?
Here are some things you should be aware of:
- Income tax brackets will increase in 2019 to account for inflation.
- The standard deduction will increase to $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.
- There will no longer be a penalty for not having health insurance coverage (which we mentioned earlier).
Get Your Taxes Done Right
While the tax reform bill simplified some parts of the tax code, it’s all still pretty complicated. Can we get an amen?
Some of the tax changes this year—like the increased standard deduction—may make it easier for you to file on your own with a simple tax software. Or you may feel so stressed that you know you’re going to lose sleep if you try to do it on your own. Here’s the thing: No matter how you file, you should feel confident about your taxes!
If you have a complicated tax situation or you own a small business, working with a pro is likely the smartest move. In those scenarios, a missed deduction on your part could cost you a lot more than working with a pro.
And if you’re looking for a trustworthy tax expert in your area, we can help. We’ve vetted some of the best tax pros in the area. They have years of experience, and believe it or not, they love this stuff. They can talk taxes all day long and have a thorough understanding of the tax changes this year and how they affect you. The sooner you connect with a pro, the sooner you can check taxes off your to-do list.
Sources – Dave Ramsey, Zillow
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