The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is a sweeping tax package. Here’s a look at some of the more important elements of the new law that have an impact on both individuals and businesses.
Unless otherwise noted, the changes are effective for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.
- Tax rates. The new law imposes a new tax rate structure with seven tax brackets: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%. The top rate was reduced from 39.6% to 37% and applies to taxable income above $500,000 for single taxpayers, and $600,000 for married couples filing jointly. The rates applicable to net capital gains and qualified dividends were not changed. 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.
- 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.
- New deduction for “qualified business income.“ Starting in 2018, taxpayers are allowed a deduction equal to 20 percent of “qualified business income,” otherwise known as “pass-through” income, i.e., income from partnerships, S corporations, LLCs, and sole proprietorships. The income must be from a trade or business within the U.S. Investment income does not qualify, nor do amounts received from an S corporation as reasonable compensation or from a partnership as a guaranteed payment for services provided to the trade or business. The deduction is not used in computing adjusted gross income, just taxable income. For taxpayers with taxable income above $157,500 ($315,000 for joint filers), (1) a limitation based on W-2 wages paid by the business and depreciable tangible property used in the business is phased in, and (2) income from the following trades or businesses is phased out of qualified business income: health, law, consulting, athletics, financial or brokerage services, or where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more employees or owners.
- 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).
- 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.
- Casualty and theft losses. The itemized deduction for casualty and theft losses has been suspended except for losses incurred in a federally declared disaster.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Health care “individual mandate.” Starting in 2019, there is no longer a penalty for individuals who fail to obtain minimum essential health coverage.
- Estate and gift tax exemption. Effective for decedents dying, and gifts made, in 2018, the estate and gift tax exemption has been increased to roughly $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples). The gift allowance for 2018 has been increased to $15,000 from $14,000.
- Alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption. The AMT has been retained for individuals by the new law but the exemption has been increased to $109,400 for joint filers ($54,700 for married taxpayers filing separately), and $70,300 for unmarried taxpayers. The exemption is phased out for taxpayers with alternative minimum taxable income over $1 million for joint filers, and over $500,000 for all others.
- 529 plan distributions. 529 plan distributions are tax-free if 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. 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. NOTE – Illinois has indicated that 529 plan distributions made to pay elementary or secondary education expenses would be taxable distributions to the extent that a deduction was previously taken for those contributions.
Unless otherwise noted, the changes are effective for tax years beginning in 2018.
- Corporate tax rates reduced. One of the more significant new law provisions cuts the corporate tax rate to a flat 21%. Before the new law, rates were graduated, starting at 15% for taxable income up to $50,000, with rates at 25% for income between 50,001 and $75,000, 34% for income between $75,001 and $10 million, and 35% for income above $10 million.
- Alternative minimum tax repealed for corporations. The corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) has been repealed by the new law.
- Alternative minimum tax credit. Corporations are allowed to offset their regular tax liability by the AMT credit. For tax years beginning after 2017 and before 2022, the credit is refundable in an amount equal to 50% (100% for years beginning in 2021) of the excess of the AMT credit for the year over the amount of the credit allowable for the year against regular tax liability. Thus, the full amount of the credit will be allowed in tax years beginning before 2022.
- Net Operating Loss (“NOL”) deduction modified. Under the new law, generally, NOLs arising in tax years ending after 2017 can only be carried forward, not back. The general two-year carryback rule, and other special carryback provisions, have been repealed. However, a two-year carryback for certain farming losses is allowed. These NOLs can be carried forward indefinitely, rather than expiring after 20 years. Additionally, under the new law, for losses arising in tax years beginning after 2017, the NOL deduction is limited to 80% of taxable income, determined without regard to the deduction. Carryovers to other years are adjusted to take account of the 80% limitation.
- Limit on business interest deduction. Under the new law, every business, regardless of its form, is limited to a deduction for business interest equal to 30% of its adjusted taxable income. For pass-through entities such as partnerships and S corporations, the determination is made at the entity, i.e., partnership or S corporation, level. Adjusted taxable income is computed without regard to the repealed domestic production activities deduction and, for tax years beginning after 2017 and before 2022, without regard to deductions for depreciation, amortization, or depletion. Any business interest disallowed under this rule is carried into the following year, and, generally, may be carried forward indefinitely. The limitation does not apply to taxpayers (other than tax shelters) with average annual gross receipts of $25 million or less for the three-year period ending with the prior tax year. Real property trades or businesses can elect to have the rule not apply if they elect to use the alternative depreciation system for real property used in their trade or business. Certain additional rules apply to partnerships.
- Domestic production activities deduction (“DPAD”) repealed. The new law repeals the DPAD for tax years beginning after 2017. The DPAD formerly allowed taxpayers to deduct 9% (6% for certain oil and gas activities) of the lesser of the taxpayer’s (1) qualified production activities income (“QPAI”) or (2) taxable income for the year, limited to 50% of the W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer for the year. QPAI was the taxpayer’s receipts, minus expenses allocable to the receipts, from property manufactured, produced, grown, or extracted within the U.S.; qualified film productions; production of electricity, natural gas, or potable water; construction activities performed in the U.S.; and certain engineering or architectural services.
- New fringe benefit rules. The new law eliminates the 50% deduction for business-related entertainment expenses. The pre-Act 50% limit on deductible business meals is expanded to cover meals provided via an in-house cafeteria or otherwise on the employer’s premises. Additionally, the deduction for transportation fringe benefits (e.g., parking and mass transit) is denied to employers, but the exclusion from income for such benefits for employees continues. However, bicycle commuting reimbursements are deductible by the employer but not excludable by the employee. Last, no deduction is allowed for transportation expenses that are the equivalent of commuting for employees except as provided for the employee’s safety.
- Increased Code Sec. 179 Expensing. The new law increases the maximum amount that may be expensed under Code Sec. 179 to $1 million. If more than $2.5 million of property is placed in service during the year, the $1 million limitation is reduced by the excess over $2.5 million. Both the $1 million and the $2.5 million amounts are indexed for inflation after 2018. The expense election has also been expanded to cover (1) certain depreciable tangible personal property used mostly to furnish lodging or in connection with furnishing lodging, and (2) the following improvements to nonresidential real property made after it was first placed in service: roofs; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; security systems; and any other building improvements that aren’t elevators or escalators, don’t enlarge the building, and aren’t attributable to internal structural framework.
- Bonus depreciation. Under the new law, a 100% first-year deduction is allowed for qualified new and used property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017 and before 2023. Pre-Act law provided for a 50% allowance, to be phased down for property placed in service after 2017. Under the new law, the 100% allowance is phased down starting after 2023.
- Depreciation of qualified improvement property. The new law provides that qualified improvement property is depreciable using a 15-year recovery period and the straight-line method. Qualified improvement property is any improvement to an interior portion of a building that is nonresidential real property placed in service after the building was placed in service. It does not include expenses related to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework. There are no longer separate requirements for leasehold improvement property or restaurant property.
- Depreciation of farming equipment and machinery. Under the new law, subject to certain exceptions, the cost recovery period for farming equipment and machinery the original use of which begins with the taxpayer is reduced from 7 to 5 years. Additionally, in general, the 200% declining balance method may be used in place of the 150% declining balance method that was required under pre-Act law.
- Like-kind exchange treatment limited. Under the new law, the rule allowing the deferral of gain on like-kind exchanges of property held for productive use in a taxpayer’s trade or business or for investment purposes is limited to cover only like-kind exchanges of real property not held primarily for sale. Under a transition rule, the pre-TCJA law applies to exchanges of personal property if the taxpayer has either disposed of the property given up or obtained the replacement property before 2018.
- Availability of the cash method of accounting. Under pre-Act law, C corporations and certain other taxpayers were prohibited from using the overall cash method of accounting. Those restrictions have been narrowed under the new law. For tax years beginning after 2017, taxpayers may generally use the overall cash method of accounting if a gross receipts test is met. That test requires a taxpayer’s gross receipts for the 3-prior tax years to average $25 million or less. This provides qualifying taxpayers the opportunity to possibly defer income.
- Availability of the completed contract method for contractors. Under pre-Act law, contractors did not qualify for the completed contract method if their average annual gross receipts for the 3-prior tax years exceeded $10 million. Under the new law, that restriction has been raised so that it now only applies to taxpayers whose 3-year average annual gross receipts exceeded $25 million. This provides qualifying taxpayers the opportunity to defer income.
- Capitalization of inventory costs. Under pre-Act law, only small producers and resellers (3-year average gross receipts under $10 million) were exempt from the requirement to capitalize certain costs into inventory. This had the effect of delaying deductions for a taxpayer. The new law expands that exception to provide that small producers and resellers are defined as those whose 3-year average annual gross receipts exceeded $25 million. This provides qualifying taxpayers the opportunity to accelerate expenses when compared to the old capitalization rules.