Part 1 of this post focused on the two investment-related tax areas of the new tax law that went into effect on January 1st – (a) the Medicare investment income tax and (b) long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. It made the point that while the amount of potential income tax liability resulting from exposure to one or both of these changes may be significant, neither one in and of itself, or in combination for that matter, should cause you to overhaul an otherwise appropriate retirement income planning investment strategy.
After preparing income tax projections using current vs. prior tax law, your CPA or other income tax professional will be able to determine two things: (a) the total amount of your additional projected income tax liability attributable to various changes in the law, and (b) the amount of your additional projected income tax liability attributable to specific changes in the law, including the Medicare investment income tax and 20% long-term capital gains and qualified dividends tax.
Once you determine the amount of your projected income tax liability attributable to specific changes in the law, the next step is to determine (a) the applicable income threshold type and amount that you have exceeded, and (b) the projected amount of excess income over the applicable threshold amount. In the case of the Medicare investment income tax, the threshold type is modified adjusted gross income (“MAGI”) and the amount is $200,000 if single or $250,000 if married filing joint. If your additional projected income tax liability is attributable to long-term capital gains and/or qualified dividends, the threshold type is taxable income and the amount is $400,000 if single or $450,000 if married filing joint.
Whether you’re affected by the Medicare investment income tax or the 20% (vs. 15%) tax on long-term capital gains and dividends, the next step is to determine the various components of income that comprise your gross income. Once you do this, you need to determine which specific non-investment related components can be reduced, as well as the amount of reductions for each component, in order to reduce the amount of your projected income tax liability attributable to changes in the tax law.
It’s important to keep in mind that some types of income can be reduced indirectly. An example of this is taxable salary which can be reduced significantly by various types of pre-tax deductions as available, including, but not limited to, 401(k) plan and cafeteria plan contributions. Another example is self-employment income which can be reduced by self-employment expenses.
In addition to determining which specific non-investment related components can be reduced, it’s also important to determine if any losses can be created or freed up as another means of reducing gross income. This can include capital losses to offset capital gains, net operating losses, as well as passive activity loss carryovers that can be freed up as a result of the sale of a rental property. The latter strategy can be a double-edged sword since this may also result in a capital gain that may increase exposure to the Medicare investment income tax and/or the 20% capital gains tax.
Since the starting point for determining exposure to both the Medicare investment income tax and 20% capital gains tax calculations is adjusted gross income (“AGI”), the next step is to determine potential deductions for AGI, or “above-the-line” deductions, that you may not be currently taking advantage of. This includes self-employed retirement plan contributions, self-employed health insurance premiums, and health savings account (“HSA”) contributions, to name a few.
If your issue is the 20% capital gains tax, in addition to reducing your AGI, there’s another way that you can potentially reduce your exposure to this tax and retain the 15% favorable capital gains tax. Keeping in mind that the threshold type in the case of the 20% capital gains tax is taxable income which is calculated by subtracting itemized deductions and personal exemptions from AGI, you may be able to increase your itemized deductions in order to reduce your taxable income.
As you can see, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to the Medicare investment income tax and 20% capital gains tax without changing your investment strategy. If you have an otherwise appropriate retirement income planning investment strategy, don’t let the tax tail wag the dog.
Robert Klein, CPA, PFS, CFP®, RICP®, CLTC® is the founder and president of Retirement Income Center in Newport Beach, California. Bob is also the sole proprietor of Robert Klein, CPA. Bob applies his unique background, experience, expertise, and specialization in tax-sensitive retirement income planning strategies to optimize the longevity of his clients’ after-tax retirement income and assets. He does this as an independent financial advisor using customized holistic planning solutions based on each client’s needs and personality.