NO NEW TAXES! But Now What?

NoNewTaxes_jpg_800x1000_q100Accountants and financial advisors may be breathing a sigh of relief that there were no major new tax-law changes this year, but that doesn't mean they're happy about the higher taxes their clients are paying now compared to just a few years ago. But income taxes are higher. The top bracket is now 39.6 percent for people earning $400,000 as singles and $450,000 for married couples filing jointly. High earners also pay a 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on their net investment income if their modified adjustable gross income is more than $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for married couples. And there's the 0.9 percent Medicare payroll withholding tacked on to the incomes of people earning $200,000 if single and $250,000 if married.

According to a recent post on, titled Tax planning tips for high-income earners,” tax planning is better done looking ahead three or five years. If you see a trend, such as an increase or reduction in income, you can alter your deductions or deferrals.

To avoid adding to your tax burden, make sure to leverage some income-producing investments, like bonds and real estate investment trusts, as well as tax-sheltered accounts—including 401(k) plans and IRAs. But this investment income is taxed as ordinary income and could bump you into the higher categories if you’re right on the edge of the line. However, if you place it in a retirement account, there’s no tax owed until the funds are withdrawn, and in the case of Roth IRAs, no tax will ever be owed after the contributions are made.

A higher estate tax exemption means that fewer people pay the federal estate tax now, and some experts are reconsidering their traditional advice. A former rule of thumb held that you should give away as much as you can during your lifetime; however, nowadays, there can be some real advantages in keeping things in your estate. In retaining appreciating assets inside the estate, heirs would have the opportunity to get a stepped-up in basis when they inherit. For instance, if a stock grows from $100 to $1,000 during a person's lifetime, the clock will reset for heirs when they inherit it. When the heir sells the stock, his or her cost basis is determined as of the date they inherited the assets (so they will not pay tax on the income from $100 to present—only from $1,000).

Each state has different rules about estate taxes, and you should talk to your estate planning attorney about this. It is also important to remember that not all beneficiaries of an estate actually live in the same state.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: (January 28, 2015)Tax planning tips for high-income earners