Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 16.
Candidate Donald Trump made it plain: he doesn't much like the federal income tax and he promised to cut it, for just about everybody. As president, will he deliver?
Know this: already there is a lot of expert tax advice on steps you should take, and shouldn't, to better position yourself. Understand too: you and your employer may have contradictory advice. That is, your employer may want to take steps that would cost you tax dollars but save the company dough.
It gets complicated. But that's the federal tax code.
For starters, what does Trump say about taxes? On his website he declared he would: "Reduce taxes across-the-board." He elaborated: "The Trump Plan will collapse the current seven tax brackets to three brackets."
Brackets & Rates for Married-Joint filers:
Less than $75,000: 12%
More than $75,000 but less than $225,000: 25%
More than $225,000: 33%
Single players are taxed on half as much income.
The plan went on: "The Trump Plan will increase the standard deduction for joint filers to $30,000, from $12,600, and the standard deduction for single filers will be $15,000."
To put this around an income of $75,000 for a couple, the present tax rate is 15%. Under the Trump plan it drops to 12% - plus there's that mammoth jump in the standard deduction. For most Americans, if the Trump tax cuts are enacted into law, there will be more dollars in their pocket every payday.
Tax cuts of this magnitude have not been seen since the Reagan Administration where top rates were slashed from 70% to 28%.
One more proposal to note: "The Trump Plan will lower the business tax rate from 35% to 15%."
You're not a business, why does it matter? Said Gail Rosen, a New Jersey CPA, "Businesses might consider deferring income away from 2016 and paying certain expenses this year."
David Hryck, a New York City tax attorney, puts the spin another way: "The top rate on ordinary income [now] is 39.6%. Should Trump's proposal become law we're going to see the top rate on ordinary income drop to 33%. If you are in this bracket, deferring a year-end bonus from 2017 until 2018 would save you nearly 7% in tax. This is obviously a sizable amount."
It is in your interest to put off collecting that bonus now - but it may be in your company's interest to pay it before year-end. Watch for that tax tension and be mindful that actions by your employer may well impact your taxes - and how much money you get to keep.
Rosen also advised that "you should consider moving expenses into 2016" - in part because the standard deduction begins to look very tasty if Trump's plan is enacted so why itemize? In part also because the lower the income tax rate goes, the less value in any deduction. Take a hefty deduction in 2016 when the rate is higher, assuming Trump's plans become law.
Note: there are complexities in Trump's plan that individuals need to sort. Hryck pointed out, for instance, "there are some taxpayers who will actually pay a higher tax rate under Trump. If you are single and earn between $127,500 and $200,500, your rate is going to jump from 28% to 33% under the new proposal. As a result, you would rather take that year-end bonus into income in 2016 than 2017."
Doug Stives, CPA, professor of accounting at Monmouth University, also said Trump has put a tax bullseye on at least one profession: "One notable exception [to the broad income tax cuts] will likely be hedge fund managers who Trump promises to tax the same as other taxpayers who work."
Before taking concrete steps, crunch your own numbers. The general rule is defer income into later years and take expenses this year - but there are those exceptions.
Will Trump in fact get his tax changes enacted? Los Angeles financial planner David Rae is optimistic: "With GOP in control of House, Senate and White House tax changes are coming."
There will be haggling. Deficit hawks in the GOP already have indicated unease with the magnitude of Trump's proposed tax cuts. Who will win the tug of war and what should we do to maximize our own gains?
Arizona tax attorney Darren Case shared his advice: "The Trump Presidency will have a lot on its plate for the two years leading up to the next election in 2018….New tax legislation would need to filter its way through the House Ways and Means Committee or Senate Finance Committee before making it to the floor for a vote. Thus, it is a reasonable assumption that if any tax simplification were to occur it would be in the first several months of 2018."
What's that mean for you? Case spelled it out: "It would behoove taxpayers to attempt to push income into the 2017 taxable year just in case the Republican controlled government is successfully able to simplify the tax code and reduce the federal income tax rates."