Tax year 2018 marks the first year of the updated tax code under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
While the legislation has been discussed extensively over the past year, some taxpayers still have misconceptions about the changes.
Here are some commonly held — but often mistaken — beliefs about the new tax code.
“The charitable deduction has been eliminated”
While many popular deductions have been eliminated, the charitable deduction remains in place.
“People are confusing the charitable deduction with the standard deduction going up,” says Amy Pirozzolo, Fidelity Charitable’s head of donor engagement.
That’s probably because fewer people will be able to claim the charitable deduction now that the standard deduction has been increased.
Charitable contributions are still deductible, but only as an itemized deduction. To itemize, taxpayers need combined itemized expenses that are greater than the standard deduction.
But tax reform doubled the standard deduction, up to $12,000 from $6,000 for single filers, and to $24,000 from $12,700 for those who are married filing jointly. That means more people are likely to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing.
“The charitable deduction will be used more heavily to help married couples to get over the $24,000 threshold,” says Bob Falcon, and CPA and certified financial planner with Falcon Wealth Managers.
“I will probably itemize”
While that may have been true in the past, an overwhelming majority of taxpayers won’t, going forward.
About 90% of taxpayers are estimated to be able to claim the standard deduction this year, according to Turbo Tax. That’s 20% more people than last year.
“The standard deduction increased dramatically from 2017,” says Deborah Meyer, a CPA and certified financial planner with WorthyNest.
Plus, the amount of possible deductions to itemize has been sharply reduced. “The deduction for state, local and property taxes is capped at $10,000 for the 2018 tax year. In 2017, you could have claimed unlimited state, local and property tax if you were itemizing other deductions,” Meyer says.
Interest on home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) was previously deductible, as well as interest on mortgages up to $1 million. Now, the mortgage interest deduction on primary and secondary residences only applies to loans under $750,000. And taxpayers can no longer deduct interest on HELOCs used to pay personal expenses (like student loan and credit card debt).
Although medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of income are deductible if you’re itemizing in 2018, that’s only going to impact a very small portion of people.
“With the enhanced standard deduction and cap on deductible taxes, you are more likely to claim the standard deduction in 2018,” says Meyer. “Families with large mortgages and or significant charitable contributions may still itemize, but it will be on a case-by-case basis.”
To better understand where your personal situation may fit, TurboTax has a free Standard vs. Itemized Deduction tool.
“I’m going to pay more in taxes because I can’t claim personal exemptions anymore.”
Yes, tax reform has eliminated the personal exemption. But in addition to the standard deduction increasing, the Child Tax Credit has also increased and more of it is refundable. The income-cap phaseout for the Child Tax Credit was also raised to include more people.
“Luckily, because the standard deduction has been doubled, this change doesn’t negatively impact married couples with kids,” says Justin Chidester, a certified financial planner and owner of Wealth Mode Financial Planning.
He says that since the Child Tax Credit has been doubled to $2,000 per child, and the income limit phaseouts have been raised up to $200,000 for single filers and $400,000 for joint filers, most people with children are going to see a decrease in taxes paid, not an increase.
“I don’t need a tax professional”
If there were ever a year to check in with a tax professional, this may be the year since this is the first year for tax reforms.
“I see more people needing the assistance of a professional this year,” says Kate Welker, a certified financial planner with Irvine Wealth Planning Strategies.
Of course, the benefit for the overwhelming majority of taxpayers taking the standard deduction is that their returns will be less involved, says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and tax expert at TurboTax.
“If you have never tried DIY, you could try it,” says Greene-Lewis. “We have CPAs available who could look over your shoulder. Then you could get the assurance you need by connecting live with them.”
“My refund will be higher”
Don’t hold your breath for a bigger refund. Even if you do owe less in taxes, you may have already gotten that money.
“Many individuals that I have done projections for will have a lower tax liability than previous years, but that does not always mean a higher refund,” says Welker.
The tax withholding tables have changed to incorporate the new tax law. That may have changed the amount being withheld from each paycheck and taxpayers may have gotten more each pay period throughout the year.
“I recommend everyone take a look at their paycheck and make sure it makes sense,” says Welker. “The IRS has a withholding calculator that walks through the variables you would want to consider when filling out a W4.”