Tax legislation enacted at the end of last year makes significant changes that touch virtually all taxpayers. While most of the new provisions have consequences for the 2018 tax year and thereafter, there are at least a few things that pertain to the 2017 tax returns of older taxpayers. (Remember, as always, nothing in this newsletter constitutes legal or tax advice. Please consult tax advisors with your tax questions and for assistance in making decisions.)
- More generous medical expense deductions for 2017 and 2018: The final tax bill retains the deduction for medical expenses and delays a previous change that would have limited the medical expense deduction for people age 65 and older in 2017 and thereafter. Under previous tax law, all taxpayers could deduct out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceed 10% of adjusted gross income, or only 7.5% for taxpayers age 65 or older. The amount of medical expenses that this group of taxpayers would be allowed to deduct was originally scheduled to rise to 10% in 2017. The new tax bill delayed that change, retaining the 7.5% threshold for medical expenses for taxpayers age 65 and over in 2017 and 2018. The change to 10% will go into effect beginning in 2019.
- No change to the taxation of Social Security benefits: Up to 85% of Social Security benefits can be subject to taxation. When that provision was first enacted into law in 1983, it was expected to affect only 10% of households with Social Security income. But unlike tax brackets, the income thresholds subjecting Social Security benefits to taxation have never been adjusted. Today, just as in 1983, individuals with incomes greater than $25,000 (or $32,000 for married couples filing jointly), pay taxes on their Social Security benefits. According to TSCL surveys, roughly half of all households receiving Social Security pay tax on a portion of their benefits. Not only are the numbers who pay the tax growing, but people are paying taxes on larger portions of their Social Security income as well.
- No change to 401(k)s or IRAs: Prior to enactment, concerns were high that tax reform would restrict the amount of pretax contributions working people could make to workplace retirement accounts. Congress did not do this, and the tax rules affecting these accounts, for the most part, remain the same.
Most individual taxpayers will pay lower taxes, at least in the first few years, tax analysts say. But the tax cuts affecting middle-to-low-income people are temporary, and are set to expire in just eight years, by the end of 2025, while the tax cut for families in the very top income bracket is permanent. That’s expected to leave the majority of taxpayers with higher tax bills down the road — something most people living on fixed income simply can’t afford. TSCL is still assessing the expected impacts of the new legislation.