Build Back Better Act, Property Taxes & Q4 Estimated Tax Payments

Rumor has it the Senate is ending session and heading home for the year tomorrow, and their version of the Build Back Better Act (see my last update for what’s included in the House version of the bill) hasn’t even been drafted, so it seems very very unlikely that anything will pass by end of year. That means at least a temporary end to Advance Child Tax payments, the expanded Earned Income Credit, and host of other pandemic-related programs. It also means no changes to retirement plans for now (i.e. the back-door Roth and mega-backdoor Roth remain), but those are definitely on the chopping block for a future bill. I don’t expect them to survive 2022. Lastly, it means that there won’t be a change to the 2021 State And Local Tax (SALT) deduction, again, for now. Build Back Better will re-emerge in 2022 for certain, perhaps with some provisions that are retroactive to 2021, though with a split Senate and a lack of support from at least two Democratic Senators, it’s a heavy lift to get BBB approved next year as well in it’s current form.

The fact that SALT won’t be changing for 2021 means that for those of you sitting on property tax bills for your residence or vacation home (rentals don’t matter…  property tax is always deductible on rentals) or determining if you should make state estimated tax payments for Q4, you should operate under the assumption that the SALT (State And Local Tax) cap will remain at $10K.  It’s possible that it could be retroactively changed in 2022 for 2021, but at that point, it will be too late to do anything for 2021 anyway.  That means that if both of the following are true:

  1. you already have $10K+ of state income taxes paid (check paystubs + estimated tax payments if you made any to cities/states to confirm) or sales tax paid in the case of a no income tax state (use IRS lookup for that for calendar 2021  + property tax paid for calendar 2021 (check escrow statements if you escrow, otherwise you should know what you’ve paid) AND
  2. your 2022 will look similar to 2021 from an income/deductions/SALT standpoint…

… then there is no incentive for you to pay property taxes or state estimated tax payments in 2021 that could be deferred to 2022 (some municipalities allow this…  if yours doesn’t, then the point is moot for you). 

If you don’t already have $10K+ of SALT for 2021, then paying property taxes or state estimated tax payments in 2021 can still be beneficial if you will itemize your deductions on your taxes 2021.  To itemize, for most people, your SALT + mortgage interest + charitable deductions need to exceed the standard deduction ($12,550 single, $18,800 head-of-household, $25,100 married filing jointly).  If you can’t itemize in 2021, then deferring property taxes / state estimated tax payments to 2022 in hopes of being able to itemize then makes sense.

If you know you will not itemize in 2022 but will itemize in 2021, then you could pay property taxes and/or state estimated tax payments in 2021 even if you’re over the SALT limit.  The thinking there is that you wouldn’t be able to deduct those tax payments in 2022 no matter what, so if you pay them in 2021, it sets you up to take advantage of a retroactive SALT deduction increase if such a thing becomes law in 2022.

If you know that you will not itemize in 2021, but will in 2022, then defer property taxes / state estimated tax payments to 2022.

This fun game of “Will I get a tax deduction” is very likely to continue into 2022. We can only hope that the rules for 2021 are finalized in advance of the April 15th, tax deadline for 2021 and maybe, just maybe, the rules for 2022 could be settled before December 2022.

Donor Advised Funds: Maximizing The Tax Benefit of Charitable Contributions

Do you make charitable contributions but find that you can’t deduct them for tax purposes because the standard deduction exceeds your itemized deductions?  If so, you can use something called a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to group multiple years’ of future charitable deductions into one year for tax purposes and realize an immediate tax benefit.  This isn’t just shifting tax from one period to another as is the case for many tax strategies.  This will result in reduced taxes… more of your money kept in your pocket, or alternatively, more money you can give to those charities.

The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) imposed a limit of $10k per year that can be deducted as an itemized deduction for State & Local Taxes (SALT) paid each year.  Note that is true for both single and joint filers (i.e. the cap is not doubled to $20k for joint filers).  Additionally, TCJA doubled the standard deduction from $6k single & $12k joint to $12k single and $24k joint (inflation adjusted each year).  Finally, with depressed interest rates, many have been able to refinance their mortgage in recent years, leading to less of a mortgage interest deduction.  The combination of these factors has led to more and more filers taking the standard deduction rather than being able to itemize, meaning no additional tax benefit for charitable contributions.  With another wave of refinancing in 2020, even more taxpayers will find themselves in this situation. 

Let’s use some real numbers to demonstrate.  For 2020, the standard deduction is $12,400 for single and $24,800 for joint filers.  Let’s say that you’re married and your state income taxes and property taxes paid exceed the $10k limit, so you’d get $10k for SALT deductions in total due to the cap.  Let’s also say you have a $350k mortgage at 3% fixed, resulting in ~$10.5k of mortgage interest for 2020.  Finally, let’s say you give $4k per year to charity.  Since the SALT (10k) + mortgage interest (10.5k) + charitable contributions (4k) only total $24,500 of itemized deductions vs. the $24,800 standard deduction, it means that whether you made the charitable contributions or not, you’d still take the standard deduction.  You therefore get no tax benefit from the charitable contributions.  In fact, even if your total itemized deductions exceed $24,800, if the SALT + mortgage interest alone don’t exceed it, then some portion of your charitable contribution will provide no tax benefit.

If only there were a way to group several years’ worth of charitable contributions into a single year so you’d exceed the standard deduction (by a lot!), get a large tax benefit in that one year, and then take the standard deduction in the future years.  Enter the Donor Advised Fund.  A DAF is just an account with a DAF provider to which you make a lump sum contribution in a given year.  Since the contribution is irrevocable, and the DAF is a non-profit itself, you get to take the full amount of the contribution as a deduction in the year in which it’s made.  The money then remains in that account (it can even be invested) and you can make grants out of the account at any time to the charities of your choice.  Almost all charities, non-profits, and religious organizations are supported, though check with the DAF to make sure the organizations you want to support are allowed before making your contribution.

Back to the numerical example…  Instead of donating $4k each year for 5 years, you contribute $20k to a DAF in 2020 and then use the DAF to make $4k per year grants to the organizations you wish to support from 2020 – 2024.  In this case, your total deductions in 2020 amount to $40,500 (10k SALT + 10.5k mortgage + 20k charity) allowing you to itemize.  You’d then still take the standard deduction for the next four years.  The benefit is over $5500 of tax saved!

Even better, if you have highly appreciated assets, you can donate those and take a deduction for the fair market value of the asset, without ever having to pay capital gains tax on the asset’s appreciation.

Now, you may say that you don’t give to charity for the tax benefit, so who cares.  And it’s true.  No one gives to charity for the tax benefit because at most, you’d save $50 cents of tax for every $1 you donated which is clearly not a winning strategy.  But if each $1 you donate only costs you $0.50 cents with a tax benefit, then you could afford to donate twice as much with the tax benefit than without.  Therefore, whether you’re doing it to reduce your tax bill and keep more money in your pocket, or you’re doing it so you have more to donate to the charities (think of it as a government match facilitated by the tax code), there is a clear benefit to donate in a way that will allow you to take a tax deduction.

The typical DAF does charge an asset-based fee, but it is fairly low, in the 0.6-1.0% per year range.  The tax benefits of the DAF almost always outweigh any costs involved.  DAF providers typically cut off new account openings in early to mid-December in order to make sure they can get everything done by the end of year tax deadline, so if you’re interested in opening and funding a DAF, it is best to do so well in advance of end of year. 

In summary, DAF’s have low costs, allow you to reap substantial tax benefits, and still allow you to support the organizations that you typically support.  If your SALT deduction + mortgage interest deduction are below the standard deduction, and you make charitable contributions, you would almost certainly benefit from a DAF.