trumpwatch

Wake-Up Call - New Year's Edition

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Posted by REM Cycle Staff

Good morning, and welcome to your first Wake-Up Call of 2018! As you know, we have been publishing every other Tuesday since 2016. This year, the REM Cycle staff has resolved to bring you tax tidbits from a variety of sources on alternate Tuesdays. We promise to keep things fresh and lively to get you going in the morning.

That’s it for this week. Did you like your first wake-up call? Leave us a shout-out in the comment section below and let us know what you think.

Have a tip for an article you’d like to see linked here? Please forward it to REMCycle@rem-co.com.

Last-minute tax planning opportunity for New Yorkers

 
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You have undoubtedly heard much grumbling from taxpayers in the great state of New York regarding the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

A quick recap of the pertinent element of the new law: the itemized deduction is capped at $10K for combined income tax or sales tax and property taxes.  Due to a combination of high income tax rates and high property taxes, this cap will be exceeded each year by many New York taxpayers, especially in the New York Metro and surrounding areas.  That, coupled with the fact that most taxpayers will be taking the standard deduction as a result of the elimination of most other itemized deductions, means the $10k limit on SaLT is no sweet deal for those of us living, working, and owning homes in New York State.

These changes go into effect for the 2018 tax year.  But a quick check of the calendar shows me that we are still in 2017, and therefore have time for last-minute tax planning.  New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, made use of his executive power signing an emergency order to allow local New York taxing authorities to bill for 2018 NY real estate taxes in 2017.  You can read the executive order here.

This executive order was a necessary step to ensure the IRS recognizes the pre-payments as deductible for 2017, as the pre-payment would otherwise not be a valid itemized deduction.  Under current law, a deduction is only allowed for amounts actually billed and payable.  So while it might seem at first glance that “allowing” us to pay our property tax early, would benefit only the receivers of tax, it is in fact a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Remember, these property taxes are an add-back for alternative minimum tax purposes, so as always, we recommend you consult your tax adviser, rather than diving into this tax planning opportunity on your own.  There is precious little time to waste!

TrumpWatch 2017: Proposing a Proposal

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Posted by David Roer, CPA

On revisiting a TrumpWatch article I wrote back in January, I was struck by the opening tagline:

“There’s been an abundance of 2016 headlines you’ve no doubt heard on loop this year and are probably sick of listening to – Brexit! Zika! ISIS! The election! Star Wars! One headline that we at REM Cycle can’t get enough of, however, is the Trump Tax proposal.”

Almost a full year later, sadly the same holds true for 2017, except substitute the headlines with: Equifax! Hurricanes! North Korea! The White House! and (still) Star Wars! Sad.

On September 27, President Trump and “The Big Six” (a name given for a tax crew consisting of Gary Cohen, Steven Mnuchin, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Paul Ryan, and Kevin Brady, and which sounds like it could be the title for a Quentin Tarantino film) detailed the skeleton of what a Trump Tax Reform could look like.

While the nine-page plan is just that—a plan—many believe that the window of opportunity for getting a bill passed in 2017 seems unlikely: with only 28 working days remaining on the legislative calendar, chances for a 2017 tax reform are increasingly slim.

With that being said, as the October 15 tax extension deadline has come and gone, we at the REM Cycle look to the future.

We’ll focus on individual tax changes within the proposed nine-page plan.

Let’s begin with tax rates. The proposal indicates a three-tax bracket system: 12%, 25%, and 35% (the current top rate is 39.6%). Trump did leave wiggle room, however, for a fourth bracket to be enacted if the tax-writing committees (maybe they’ll get a Hollywood-esque nickname like “The Big Six” too?) grant it to be so: to quote the plan: “an additional top rate may apply to the highest-income taxpayers to ensure that the reformed tax code is at least as progressive as the existing tax code and does not shift the tax burden from high-income to lower-and middle-income taxpayers.”

Another important detail left out of the plan regarding the three tiers is the income ranges for the three (or potentially four) brackets. This leaves a lot in the air as to determining whom these bracket changes may impact the most.

In the context of tax rates, the plan also indicates a full repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT, a 28% minimum tax that, simply put, ‘traps’ those individuals with certain high deductions by the disallowance of them). The plan also eliminates most itemized deductions except for charitable donations and mortgage interest paid, rendering the AMT moot for many taxpayers who are subject.

On the topic of itemized deductions, the items that are getting most discussed are the state taxes paid and real estate tax deduction. These two items are heavily utilized (unless you’re in the AMT) by taxpayers, especially those living in high state-income tax states like New York and California. I envision this to be a heavily disputed topic as any tax reform bill begins to work its way through Congress, especially since President Trump was angered to learn that this would increase middle-income taxpayer burden.

With an elimination of significant itemized deductions, the plan attempted to counter that ‘hit’ by increasing the standard deduction by nearly doubling it: $12,000 for individuals (an increase from $6,350) and $24,000 for married couples (an increase from $12,700).

The plan also mentions the child tax credit, which would make the first $1,000 of the child tax credit refundable as well as increase the income levels at which the credit would begin to phase-out for individuals.

In a section titled “WORK, EDUCATION AND RETIREMENT,” the plan shuns specifics, merely explaining that “the framework retains tax benefits that encourage work, higher education and retirement security ... Tax reform will aim to maintain or raise retirement plan participation of workers and the resources available for retirement.”

Lastly, the plan proposed the full elimination of the generation skipping tax and the estate tax, a tax which applies to Estates in excess of $5.49 million or more as of 2017. This will only benefit the wealthiest Americans (in the top 0.1%).

While the release of the nine-page proposed plan wasn’t too much of a shock (most of the above had been discussed in the infancy of Trump’s presidency earlier this year), I envision the details, once emerged, will begin a more serious discussion of (a) how to begin working on 2018 tax planning and (b) coming up with a catchier nickname than The Big Six.

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for more TrumpWatch updates.

TRUMPWATCH 2017: Border Patrol

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Posted by David Roer, CPA

Although the attention has been on who will build the border between the U.S. and Mexico this past year, an even hotter topic in the coming months may be the potential border, both figurative and literal, between the Republican-led House of Representatives and Trump.

The Border Adjustment Tax is being discussed vehemently these days, both in Congress and in the White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP are strong advocates for it, while President Trump has been outspoken against it (although, in recent weeks, has started to warm up to the idea. Tremendous!).

Before delving into the minutiae, let’s start with the basics: as touched on in prior TrumpWatch columns, the current U.S. corporation tax rate is 35%.

Under current law, corporations are taxed on their net profits, meaning the tax is based on the company’s gross income minus expenses. These expenses are made up of direct cost of goods sold, various operating costs (general administrative expenses, interest expense, advertising, etc.), as well as depreciation, which allows you to write off the cost of a fixed asset over several years, depending on the asset type. To quote Kramer from Seinfeld:

“Jerry, these big companies, they write off everything! ... I don’t know what that means, but they do, and they’re the ones writing it off!”

As discussed in our most recent TrumpWatch on international taxation, U.S. corporations are taxed on profits earned overseas and repatriated back to the U.S.

The proposed GOP plan, backed by House Speaker Ryan and Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, would create a destination-based-cash-flow-tax-with-a-border-adjustment, aka DBCFT (maaaaaybe we’ll just stick with “Border Adjustment Tax” for short).

This proposal indicates that a U.S. company would pay tax on where the goods are sold (i.e., where they end up), not where they are produced. In other words, the proposal would push towards the “consumption tax” concept instead of the “income tax” concept. In addition, the proposal would look to reduce the corporate rate and tax domestic revenue minus domestic costs from 35% to 20% (although Trump’s still proposing a reduction to 15%).

As much as I love to bold and underline words, there actually is a reason for the emphasis on “domestic.” Current law allows for companies to be able to deduct the cost of imported costs and materials from their revenues. The proposal would eliminate this concept: since we’d be shifting to a “consumption tax” (again, taxation on where the goods are consumed), import costs would not be an allowable deduction. Contrarily, exports and other foreign sales would be made tax-free (remember, tax only on where the goods were consumed). The goal: keep businesses, production, and manufacturing within the U.S.

While losing deductions for imported materials may be detrimental to several companies (like retailers, who derive a bulk of their goods from imports), several economists have noted that this shift in taxation may increase the value of the dollar; thus, if the dollar were to increase, those same imported goods would be less expensive. In simple terms: the increase of the dollar may offset the tax increase to importers. Importantly, consumers will most likely pay more for those products.

Just for comparison’s sake, most other countries use what’s referred to as the Value Added Tax (VAT) system. This is, for all intent and purpose, the same as the proposed Border Adjustment Tax, the only difference being under the VAT, a company cannot deduct wages, while under the proposed plan, wage-deduction would be fair game.

As things stand, there still is that figurative border between the House’s proposal and Trump’s own corporate tax reform proposal (despite Trump warming up to the concept). Either way, the months ahead should prove to be very interesting as to what ultimate corporate tax reform the U.S. will be adopting in the near future.

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for further TrumpWatch updates.

TRUMPWATCH 2017: Re-Patriots Day

Posted by David Roer, CPA

With inauguration day finally behind us, all of the political talk that’s taken over 2016 and 2017 can finally come to an end, right? Wrong. Sad.

Since President Trump has now officially taken office, further details regarding the (probable) tax reform are sure to emerge. One of the key terms you may hear a lot about in the next few weeks is ‘repatriation.’

While many may assume this has to do with the New England Patriots winning yet another Super Bowl title (as a lifelong Seattle Seahawk fan, I am not pleased about that!), it actually has to do with the upcoming proposal to repatriate money from overseas to the United States.

As alluded to in our first Trump Watch post, President Trump’s tax proposal is looking to offer a one-time amnesty to help bring business back from overseas.

As a general rule, the US has a worldwide taxation system. Effectively, this means that if you’re a US citizen, you pay tax on your worldwide income. This concept is similar for corporations: multi-national corporations (think Apple, Microsoft, or GE) must first pay tax to the foreign country in which the foreign subsidiary does business and earns the profit and then to the IRS, once those profits have been properly repatriated back to the US.

Under current law, if these multi-national companies repatriated money back to the US, they would be subject to the top rate of 35%. To give an idea, based on a recent forecast study done by Capital Economics, there is approximately $2.5 trillion of profits from US multi-national companies currently abroad – at the 35% rate, that’s approximately $875 billion in tax dollars!

As you can imagine, major companies are leaving those profits overseas to avoid paying such a tax burden. That is, unless a proper incentive were put in place.

In the hope of increasing jobs (as well as general economic growth), President Trump is pushing for a repatriation ‘tax holiday:’ US firms could repatriate their overseas profits to the US and pay only a one-time 10% amnesty tax, instead of the current 35% rate. Important notes regarding repatriation:

  1. President Trump is proposing a reduction in tax rates from 35% to 15%. If both the tax reduction and amnesty tax proposals pass, the repatriation of profits would save 5% in taxes, not 25% (nonetheless, 5% savings would still be a significant draw).
  2. Per the proposal, this tax would be payable over a ten-year span. This, in addition to the potential low 10% rate, could act as significant incentive to bring cash from overseas.
  3. The Trump proposal also includes a revision to the current international taxation system. As mentioned above, US corporations with foreign subsidiaries do not pay US tax until the money has been repatriated. Under President Trump’s proposal, any future profits of foreign subsidiaries of US companies would be taxed each year as the profits are earned. This would effectively eliminate the repatriation tax concept prospectively, without affecting any of the prior accumulation of profits (that is, the aforementioned ‘tax holiday’ would also apply to prior profits).
  4. Finally, and this is more food-for-thought: it’s important to note that just because a company brings cash domestically, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use it towards job growth and/or domestic investments (domestic economic growth).

A similar repatriation ‘tax holiday’ was offered in 2004 under President Bush, which included specific language that prohibited the repurchase of stock with repatriated funds. Unfortunately, studies show that companies found loopholes to work around this, thereby allowing for corporate stock buybacks and dividends. With that in mind, I’m curious if the repatriate proposal would contain verbiage with caveats as to specifically how such money would need to be used.

With Trump’s presidency officially underway, we can surely expect to hear and see a push towards an ultimate tax proposal. While the above analysis is based only on President Trump’s proposal, it is likely that repatriation will be a hot-topic issue in the months to come.

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for further Trump Watch updates.