Tax and financial advice from the Silicon Valley expert.

Will any of these extenders cut your tax bill for 2018 or 2019?

The domestic spending bill, H.R. 1865, Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, enacted on December 20, 2019, includes the extension of several tax breaks that previously expired on December 31, 2017.

If you qualify, you can amend your 2018 federal income tax returns to claim a refund and use the tax breaks on your 2019 federal income tax returns.  Remember the breaks might not apply to your state income tax return.  See your tax advisor.

Here are some of the extended tax breaks.

  • The exclusion for up to $2 million ($1 million for married, filing separately) of discharged qualified principal residence indebtedness has been extended to discharges before January 1, 2021.
  • The treatment of mortgage interest insurance premiums as residential mortgage interest has been extended to payments before January 1, 2021.
  • The “above the line” deduction for up to $4,000 of qualified education expenses for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income up to $65,000 ($130,000 for married, filing joint returns) has been extended to payments before January 1, 2021.  If modified adjusted gross income exceeds the thresholds, the deduction limit is reduced to $2,000 until the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income reaches $80,000 ($160,000 for married, filing joint returns.)
  • The floor for the medical expense deduction is reduced from 10% to 7.5% and there is no alternative minimum tax adjustment for payments before January 1, 2021.
  • The Health Insurance Costs Credit has been extended to payments before January 1, 2021.  It was previously scheduled to expire on December 31, 2019.  Since it won’t apply to most people who read this, I won’t get into the details here.
  • The Energy Efficient Home Credit is extended through 2020 for homes acquired through 2020.  The credit applies to contractors who construct or manufacture qualifying energy efficient homes in the year the homes are sold or leased for use as a residence.  The credit is $2,000 or $1,000, depending on whether the home is constructed or manufactured and on the energy savings standards satisfied.
  • The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit is extended to property placed in service before 2021.  The nonbusiness energy property credit is (1) 10% of the amounts paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements installed during the tax year, and (2) 100% of the amounts paid or incurred for qualifed energy property, subject to limits.  The maximum lifetime credit is $500.
  • The Qualified Fuel Cell Motor Vehicles Credit has been extended to motor vehicles purchased before 2021.  The credit applies for vehicles propelled by combining oxygen with hydrogen and creating electricity.  The base credit is $4,000 for vehicles weighing 8,500 pounds or less.  Heavier vehicles can qualify for up to a $40,000 credit.
  • The Two-Wheeled Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit has been extended to vehicles acquired before 2021.
  • The Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit has been extended to property placed in service before January 1, 2021.  The credit is 30% of the cost of any qualified alternative fuel vehicle refueling property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year.
  • The Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave has been extended through 2020.  Eligible employers may claim a general business credit equal to an applicable percent of the amount of wages paid to qualified employees during any period in which the employees are on family and medical leave, provided the rate of payment under the program is at least 50% of the wages normally paid to the employee.
  • The Work Opportunity Credit has been extended through 2020.  Employers are generally allowed a 40% credit for qualified first-year wages paid during the tax year to individuals who are members of a targeted group of employees.

This list is not complete.  See your tax advisor for more details.

Urgent news if you have a retirement account with a Conduit Trust named beneficiary

Legislation called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, enacted December 20, 2019, renders any estate plan involving a Conduit Trust beneficiary of a big retirement account (including 401(k) accounts and IRAs) obsolete.

A provision of the Act repeals “stretch” payments over the life expectancy of most successor beneficiaries for inherited retirement accounts of decedents who die after December 31, 2019.  The maximum time for distributions is 10 years after the death of the decedent/plan participant.

What is a Conduit Trust?  The purpose of a Conduit Trust was to control a retirement account, usually with a minor beneficiary, and still qualify for distribution of the account over the beneficiary’s life expectancy, called stretch distributions.  In order to qualify, the account had to be disregarded for income tax reporting with respect to the retirement account distributions.  The way this was accomplished was to require that any retirement account distributions received by the trust be immediately distributed to the beneficiary.

Since life expectancy distributions are usually very small, a huge distribution would be payable to the beneficiary 10 years after the death of the account owner, probably subject to very high federal income tax rates and possibly subject to mismanagement by the beneficiary.

There are some exceptions to the new rule, including (1) the surviving spouse of the employee/participant, (2) a child who is under age 21, (3) certain disabled persons, (4) certain chronically ill persons, and (4) an individual not previously described who is not more than 10 years younger than the employee/participant.

When a child of the decedent reaches age 21, the balance of the account must be distributed within 10 years.

If a beneficiary of a retirement account inherited from a person deceased before 2020 is deceased after 2019, the 10 year limit applies to that person’s successor beneficiaries.

Since the Conduit Trust no longer provides a tax benefit, employees/participants with retirement accounts should consult with their attorney and tax consultant about eliminating the Conduit Trust as a beneficiary and making alternative estate plans for their retirement accounts.

Tax and financial advice from the Silicon Valley expert.