On social media and in the news, there has been a lot of conversation about how the tax law that was passed in late 2017 is impacting individuals’ tax returns for 2018.
In order to clear up some of the confusion, I wanted to share my knowledge and experience as an expert (I’m a certified financial planner and CPA) in the world of tax talk.
I have observed the conjecture among people on social media thinking they paid a lot more in taxes in 2018 than they did in 2017. But, my experience — and I prepare about 100 tax returns every year — is that most people do not understand how to read their tax return.
Line 15 on the 2018 form 1040 shows your total taxes paid and line 7 shows your adjusted gross income. Compare the amounts on these lines from 2018 to 2017 to get an accurate accounting of whether or not you received any benefit from the tax cut.
You may be surprised to realize (if you are working) that you did — or will, if you haven’t filed yet.
Working families are tending to benefit the most. Many people who were able to deduct state income taxes and miscellaneous deductions in past years lost their deductions in this tax code rewrite.
However, due to the impact of the alternative minimum tax (AMT) in prior years, these deductions were added back in the final tax calculation, meaning there was no tax benefit from these deductions in past years. Therefore, losing them had no effect on their taxes, as the AMT limits have been raised so that AMT applies to very few individuals.
If you own your own business, you may have seen a substantial new tax deduction on line 9 of your 1040. The calculation of this deduction here is complicated and beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say, it can be substantial.
Further, if you have children under age 17, for the first time you may have noticed you actually get to claim the child tax credit, which is now $2,000 per child. This is the result of the phase-out limits being substantially raised. This alone could be the primary reason you pay much less in taxes this year.
One significant change in the tax code that people are only starting to notice now is with unearned income taxed to children. Examples of unearned income are portions of scholarships, interest, dividends and capital gains. This income is now taxed at the trust tax rates, so the highest tax bracket comes into play over $12,500 of income! This can be a nasty tax surprise for those whose children have unearned income greater than $2,100, such as recipients of scholarships for room and board.
I’d like to note: If you owe money on your 2018 tax return, it does not necessarily mean you paid more in taxes. It only means your tax withholdings from your income, plus the estimated taxes you paid, were less than the total taxes assessed. This can be prevented by doing tax projections during the year. If you use a comprehensive financial advisor who is also doing your financial planning, they should be preparing a tax projection for you annually so there are no surprises in April.
This article is based on my experience and does not apply to the entire population of tax returns and certainly does not cover every tax situation.