Unlike the corporate tax cuts, the revisions to the individual code are temporary and expire in 2026.
Add another item to your holiday shopping list: last-minute tax planning.
Congress has passed the most sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code in three decades. The Republican legislation, which President Donald Trump had said that he would sign before Christmas, delivers most of its benefits to corporations and the wealthy, but there are key changes that affect individuals.
Unlike the corporate tax cuts, the revisions to the individual code are temporary and expire in 2026. Most of them kick in on Jan. 1, and there are steps you could take in the coming days to maximize new advantages and minimize the potential hit from other changes.
“Tax advisers are going to be busy the next couple of weeks,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for financial information website Bankrate.com.
Here are five things to talk to your adviser about doing before New Year’s Day.
Pay your property taxes early
The legislation sets limits on the amount of state and local taxes that people can deduct. Beginning in 2018, couples filing jointly will be limited to an annual deduction of no more than $10,000 worth of state and local income, sales and property taxes. Right now, there is no limit on the deduction, and the change will be a hard hit to many residents of California and other high-tax states.
Some states and counties allow prepayment of property taxes, however, residents in Washington state should check with their county property-tax officials; for instance, King County does not allow payment of property taxes until the year they are due.
In some states, homeowners may be able to pay the first installment of 2018 property taxes before the end of 2017 and then deduct them when filing their 2017 tax returns in the spring, if they itemize.
The legislation doesn’t specifically rule out such a move.
But it does prohibit people from prepaying 2018 state or local income taxes this year and claiming them as an itemized deduction for 2017.
Pre-paying property taxes might not be possible if your mortgage servicer pays them for you from an escrow account.
Make an extra mortgage payment
The tax overhaul will nearly double the standard deductions for taxpayers who don’t itemize, from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for couples.
The change is expected to dramatically reduce the number of filers who itemize because fewer people will have total deductions above the new levels.
Given that, taxpayers who anticipate itemizing on their 2017 returns might want to consider making their January mortgage payment before the end of the year.
Doing so would allow you to deduct an extra month of mortgage interest that you might not be able to deduct on your 2018 return if you don’t end up itemizing because of the higher standard deduction, McBride said.
Give more to charity
Charitable contributions are one of the most popular deductions. But with the number of people who itemize set to fall sharply, you might want to consider making your 2018 contributions by Dec. 31 so you would be able to deduct what you give to charity.
“This might be the year, if they can no longer itemize their charitable donations, to clean out the closet and donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or make that extra contribution to your church,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of the Tax Institute at H & R Block, which provides research and analysis to the company’s tax preparers.
Defer or accelerate income
Individual marginal tax rates are shifting lower, so you’ll generally pay less taxes on the same amount of earnings in 2018 compared to 2017.
People who are self-employed, such as contract workers or freelancers, should consider holding off on sending invoices so the payments come in 2018.
“For most people, their federal tax bracket is going to be lower under the tax bill, so it would make sense to defer,” McBride said.
Depending on the size of your family, however, you might not want to make that move.
Instead, it might make sense to accelerate any possible income into this year when you might owe less in taxes.
The tax bill eliminates the existing $4,050 exemption that can be claimed by taxpayers for themselves, their spouses and their dependents and also reduces taxable income.
Those exemptions currently phase out at upper-income levels.
Some of that change is offset by the legislation’s doubling of the child tax credit to $2,000 and making it applicable to higher-income households, as well as adding a $500 family tax credit for dependents other than children.
Some people might have more offsetting family-related deductions this year.
“If you have a big family, three or more kids, it might make sense to accelerate the income into this year before the tax bill takes effect next year,” McBride said.
Take advantage of expiring deductions
Under current law, employees are allowed to deduct unreimbursed business expenses if they total more than 2 percent of their adjusted gross income.
They include a home office, depreciation on a personal computer required for the job, dues to professional societies and subscriptions to journals and trade magazines.
All of those deductions would disappear through 2025 under the Republican tax bill, so you probably want to move as many of those expenses as you can to this year, such as by re-upping professional journal subscriptions.
A key to tax planning is figuring out which deductions to take in one year and which to postpone until the next, said Robert Spielman, a partner at Marcum, an independent public accounting and advisory services firm
“This year’s a little different because we have a lot of deductions going away,” he said.