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Tax Cuts & Jobs Act: 2018 Standard Deduction and Exemptions

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made dramatic changes that affected pretty much every US taxpayer. This is the first article of the series of articles on the Act. I will start this series with the discussion of simple US domestic issues (such as 2018 standard deduction and personal exemptions), then gradually turn to more and more complex US domestic and international tax issues, and finish with the examination of the highly complex issues concerning E&P income recognition for US owners of foreign corporations and the new type of Subpart F income.

Today, I will focus on the 2018 standard deduction and exemptions.

Standard Deduction for the Tax Year 2017

Standard deduction is the amount of dollars by which you can reduce your adjusted gross income (“AGI”) in order to lower your taxable income and, hence, your federal income tax. The standard deduction is prescribed by Congress. If you use standard deduction, you cannot itemize your deductions (i.e. try to reduce your AGI by the amount of actual allowed itemized deductions) – you have to choose between these two options.

Standard deduction varies based on your filing status (there is an additional standard deductions of individuals over the age of 65 or who are blind).

For the tax year 2017, the standard deduction are as follows: $6,350 for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately, $12,700 for married couples filing a joint tax return and $9,350 for heads of household.

2018 Standard Deduction and Exemptions

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the 2018 standard deduction will virtually double in size: $12,000 for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately, $24,000 for married couples filing a joint tax return and $18,000 for heads of household. All of these amounts will be indexed for inflation.

It is important to point out, however, that these increased standard deduction amounts will only last until 2025. Then, the standard deduction should revert to the old pre-2018 law.

Personal Exemptions & Impact of 2018 Standard Deduction

Personal exemption is an additional amount of dollars by which the Congress will allow you to reduce your AGI (already reduced by either standard deduction or itemized deductions). When IRC Section 151 was enacted in 1954, the idea behind a personal exemption was to exempt from taxation a certain minimal amount a person needs to survive at a subsistence level.

Personal exemption can be claimed for you and your qualified dependents; in case of joint tax returns, each spouse is granted a personal exemption. However, a personal exemption for a spouse can be claimed even if the spouses are filing separate tax returns, but certain requirements have to be met.

For the tax year 2017, the personal exemption amount is $4,050. The exemption is subject to a phase-out at a certain level of income.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 repeals personal exemptions for the tax years 2018-2025. After 2025, the law reverts to the one that existed as of the tax year 2017. In other words, the increase in 2018 standard deduction will be at least partially offset by the elimination of 2018 personal exemption.

In some cases, where taxpayers claim many personal exemptions for their dependants, the elimination of personal exemptions may actually result in the increase in taxation (compared to the 2017 law) despite the increase of 2018 standard deduction. Of course, such an increase in taxation needs to take into account potential increase in child tax credit under the new law. Hence, in order to assess the full tax impact of the tax reform for large families, one needs to consider other factors in addition to just 2018 standard deduction.

2017 Tax Filing Season Begins January 23 & Tax Returns due April 18, 2017

On December 12, 2016, the IRS announced today that the 2017 tax filing season (for the tax year 2016) will begin on January 23, 2017. The 2017 tax filing season e-filings will be accepted by the IRS starting that date. The IRS again expects that more than four out of five tax returns will be prepared electronically using tax return preparation software.

2017 Tax Filing Season Deadline is on April 18, 2017

The filing deadline to submit 2016 tax returns will be April 18, 2017 (Tuesday), rather than the usual April 15. The delay is caused by the fact that April 16 falls on a Saturday which would usually move the deadline to the following Monday (April 17). However, April 17 is the Emancipation Day, which is a legal holiday in the District of Columbia, and the final deadline is pushed to April 18, 2017 (under the law, legal holidays in the District of Columbia affect the national filing deadlines).

Early Paper Filing Offers No Advantage in the 2017 Tax Filing Season

Many software companies and tax professionals will begin accepting tax returns before January 23 and then they will submit the returns when the IRS systems open. It is noteworthy to state, however, that the IRS will begin processing paper tax returns only on January 23. Hence, there is no advantage to filing paper tax returns in early January instead of waiting for the IRS to begin accepting e-filed returns.

Some of the 2017 Tax Filing Season Refunds Could Be Affected by the PATH Act

The IRS also reminded the taxpayers that the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (the PATH Act) will have a direct impact on the timing of some refunds. In particular, the PATH Act requires the IRS to hold refunds that claim Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (“ACTC”) until February 15. The hold applies to the entire refund, not just the portion associated with EITC and ACTC. Then, it will take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions. With weekends and holidays, the IRS estimates that many taxpayers will not be able to access their refunds until after February 27, 2017.

The idea behind the new law is to protect the taxpayers by giving the IRS more time to detect and prevent tax fraud, which has become a huge headache for the IRS in the past few years.

4th Quarter 2016 Underpayment and Overpayment Interest Rates

On September 14, 2016, the IRS announced that the 4th Quarter 2016 underpayment and overpayment interest rates will remain the same.  This means that, the 4th quarter 2016 IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates will be as follows:

four (4) percent for overpayments (two (3) percent in the case of a corporation);
four (4) percent for underpayments;
six (6) percent for large corporate underpayments; and
one and one-half (1.5) percent for the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000.

Under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), the interest rates are determined on a quarterly basis; for taxpayers other than corporations, the overpayment and underpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 3 percentage points. Generally, in the case of a corporation, the underpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 3 percentage points and the overpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 2 percentage points. The rate for large corporate underpayments is the federal short-term rate plus 5 percentage points. The rate on the portion of a corporate overpayment of tax exceeding $10,000 for a taxable period is the federal short-term rate plus one-half (0.5) of a percentage point.

The IRS underpayment rates are especially important for US taxpayers who participate in the OVDP or a voluntary disclosure under the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. This is the case because the IRS underpayment rates are used to calculate the interest charged on any tax due as well as PFIC interest (default Section 1291 PFICs) on any excess distributions.

The IRS interest rates remained at 3% for from the 4th quarter of 2011 through the first quarter of 2016. However, in the second quarter of 2016, the IRS raised the interest rates from 3% to 4% following the increase of the federal short-term rate. The recent 4th Quarter 2016 IRS rates remain the same as in the second and third quarters of 2016. However, the situation may change in the 1st quarter of 2017 if the Federal Reserve raises its rates either in September or December of 2016.

Fifth Protocol to the Canada-US Income Tax Treaty

The Fifth Protocol to the Canada-US Income Tax Convention (also known as the Canada-US Income Tax Treaty) was signed in 2007 and ratified by the U.S. Senate the following year, making significant changes to the then existing treaty.

This article will briefly explain some of the major Fifth Protocol (“Protocol”) changes to the US-Canada Income Tax Treaty (“Treaty”). It is not intended to constitute tax or legal advice, and it does not cover every change to the Treaty.

Cross-border taxation can involve many complex tax and legal issues, so you are advised to seek an experienced attorney in these matters. Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC can assist you in all of your tax and legal needs, and help you avoid making costly mistakes.

Treaty Article XI- Withholdings on Interest

One substantial change to the Canada-US Tax treaty was the elimination of withholding tax on cross-border interest payments to unrelated parties. According to the Protocol, “[I]nterest means income from debt-claims of every kind, whether or not secured by mortgage, and whether or not carrying a right to participate in the debtor’s profits, and in particular, income from government securities and income from bonds or debentures, including premiums or prizes attaching to such securities, bonds or debentures, as well as income assimilated to income from money lent by the taxation laws of the Contracting State in which the income arises.” It should be noted however that “interest” under this definition does not include dividends.

Taxpayer Migration – Protection Against Double Taxation

Under the previous rule, the US and Canada were allowed to tax residents on all of their capital gains without any provisions made for the fact that a country may have leveled a pre-departure tax on emigrants. The Protocol addressed this concern by allowing such individuals to “[E]lect to be treated for the purposes of taxation in the other Contracting State, in the year that includes that time and all subsequent years, as if the individual had, immediately before that time, sold and repurchased the property for an amount equal to its fair market value at that time.” (See Article 8 of the Protocol).

Mandatory Arbitration

For US and Canadian residents subject to certain unresolved double-taxation issues between US and Canadian revenue authorities within a specified time period, the Protocol changed the existing Treaty to allow taxpayers to require that the revenue authorities of the two countries enter a binding arbitration. While the arbitration procedure is mandatory for revenue authorities once compelled by a taxpayer, the decision of whether to do so is entirely optional for the taxpayer. A taxpayer must have filed a tax return with at least one of the two countries to utilize the election.

“Limited Liability Companies” (LLCs) and Other Hybrid Entities

LLCs and certain other hybrid entities face different tax treatment in the US and Canada. In general, in the US, such entities are treated as pass-through vehicles, whereas in Canada, they are treated as corporations (please see Department of Finance Canada for more information about Canadian taxation). Prior to the Protocol, a reduced withholding tax rate was not available to such entities because an entity must be taxable as a “resident” in at least one of the two countries in order to benefit from the Treaty. According to the Department of Finance Canada, under the Protocol changes, “Income that the residents of one country earn through a hybrid entity will in certain cases be treated by the other country (the source country) as having been earned by a resident of the residence country. On the other hand, a corollary rule provides that if a hybrid entity’s income is not taxed directly in the hands of its investors, it will be treated as not having been earned by a resident.”

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with US-Canada Cross-border Tax Issues

If you have any questions regarding US-Canada tax treaties or you have not filed your Forms 8891, contact the experienced tax firm of Sherayzen Law Office for help.