While major tax legislation failed to pass Congress in 2022, tax provisions were included in two major initiatives that were recently signed into law.
Tax law changes were included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law in August 2022, and the SECURE 2.0 Act, which was approved in December 2022.
Taxpayers also need to be prepared for changes scheduled to occur after December 31, 2025, which may result in higher taxes for some.
Along with many investors, it’s likely that you view taxes as an important consideration in your financial decision-making process. You want to pay careful attention to how new and potential changes to the tax code, along with economic developments, will affect your bottom line.
Congress debated numerous proposals to significantly change the tax code since the Biden Administration took office in 2021. But a number of major legislative proposals to alter the tax code failed to pass. Nevertheless, some notable tax provisions were included in the Inflation Reduction Act that gained Congressional approval in August 2022, and in the SECURE 2.0 Act, signed into law in December 2022.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes provisions designed to address climate change, healthcare and corporate taxation. Within those measures are new provisions that may affect your tax bill and personal finances.
Based on the outcome of 2022’s mid-term elections, the prospects of major new tax provisions being passed in the session of Congress that began in January 2023 appear slim. The new makeup of Congress has Republicans in control of the House by a narrow majority, while Democrats control the Senate by a narrow majority. “Members of the House and Senate can be expected to put tax legislation forward in the next two years,” says Kevin MacMillan, head of state and federal government relations at U.S. Bank, “but don’t expect anything major to gain passage in both houses.”
Nevertheless, it’s important to be aware of changes that were approved in 2022 under the Inflation Reduction Act and the SECURE 2.0 Act. In addition, certain tax laws put into place in 2017 are closing in on their “sunset” dates. That means if no action is taken by Congress, notable changes to the tax law will occur regardless as older tax provisions, in place prior to 2017, will be reinstated. It’s also important to consider how economic factors, such as inflation and higher interest rates, may affect tax-saving strategies you consider.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes provisions designed to address climate change, healthcare and corporate taxation. Within those measures are new provisions that may affect your tax bill and personal finances. They include the following:
Clean energy tax credits for homeowners
Tax credits are extended to 2032 incentivizing homeowners to add solar or wind power systems. Eligible homeowners could qualify for a 30% tax credit. After 2032, a 26% tax credit would apply until 2034. Tax incentives are also included for the purchase of energy-efficient water heaters, heat pumps and HVAC systems. Rebates for these items can add up to as much as $14,000. These rebates take effect immediately.
Rebates for electric vehicle purchases
Existing tax credits for the purchase of a new electric vehicle are extended through December 2032. The credit applies to any “clean” vehicle, including hydrogen fuel cell cars within price limits. To qualify, vehicles must be assembled in North America and be priced under $80,000 for trucks and SUVs and under $55,000 for all other types of cars.
Qualified buyers of new vehicles receive a $7,500 credit, applied at the point of sale. A new $4,000 tax credit would also apply for the purchase of qualified used electric vehicles. The credit is available to married couples filing a joint return with income less than $300,000 per year and single tax filers with income under $150,000. The credits are effective immediately, but starting in 2024, qualifying vehicles must meet other requirements for American-made components, including batteries.
Affordable Care Act premium subsidies
Subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act were expanded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but scheduled to expire at the end of 2022. The Inflation Reduction Act extends those subsidies through 2025. This is expected to benefit up to 13 million Americans who purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Managing prescription drug prices for seniors
The new law opens the door for Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Beginning in 2023, this will involve only 10 specific drugs, but the list will eventually be expanded to 20. This is designed to lower the cost of medications to Medicare beneficiaries.
Another provision caps Medicare beneficiaries’ drug costs to $2,000 per year beginning in 2025, with some reduced costs taking effect in 2024. Drug manufacturers will be required to pay a rebate if they increase prices faster than Medicare’s rate of inflation, a law that takes effect in 2023. In addition, the Inflation Reduction Act provides seniors with free vaccinations beginning in 2023.
Expanded IRS Enforcement
The legislation provides an additional $80 billion in funding over ten years designed to allow the IRS to pursue more tax enforcement. The purpose is to boost tax collections through increased audits and other enforcement actions. The expanded funding begins immediately.
15% corporate minimum tax
A critical provision applies to most U.S. corporations that earn more than $1 billion in profits. While under current law, these firms are subject to a 21% corporate tax rate, many pay less or no federal tax. Under this change, a new minimum 15% tax would apply based on annual income posted in a corporation’s financial statement, rather than the corporation’s taxable income, effective on January 1, 2023.
Corporations will still have the ability to claim certain credits to reduce their tax liability. A special carve-out provision in this law applies to subsidiaries of private equity firms that amass more than $1 billion in profits annually. Private equity firms that own various subsidiaries with profits totaling more than $1 billion are exempt from the 15% minimum tax.
Tax on stock buybacks
Corporations have commonly repurchased their own stock as a way to boost the value of their shares. The Inflation Reduction Act adds a 1% tax on the value of stock buybacks corporations choose to execute, effective January 1, 2023.
The SECURE 2.0 Act primarily addressed retirement issues, but because many retirement savings strategies have tax ramifications, these changes may have an impact on your tax liability. Key provisions include:
Delays in the starting age for Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)
Through 2022, individuals were required to begin taking RMDs from workplace retirement plans and traditional IRAs by April 1 of the year after the year in which they turned 72. Effect Jan. 1, 2023, the threshold age to begin RMDs shifts to 73. It will move to age 75 on Jan. 1, 2033. While this will delay required distributions, delaying the tax liability associated with distributions, it will result in larger payouts over a shorter lifespan, which could have negative tax consequences in future years.
Automatic enrollment in workplace retirement plans
Beginning in 2025, many newly-created 401(k) and 403(b) plan sponsors will be required to automatically enroll workers in their plans, with pre-tax contributions of 3% to 10%. Such contributions will reduce taxable income, and current tax liability.
Larger “catch-up” contributions
Individuals 50 and older were allowed to make catch-up contributions to workplace retirement plans (above standard maximum contribution amounts) of up to $6,500 in 2022. That figure increases to $7,500 effective on Jan. 1, 2023. Special provisions that take effect on Jan. 1, 2025 will allow workers age 60 to 63 to make catch-up contributions of up to $11,250 per year. Since these are pre-tax contributions, they reduce current tax liability.
Additional penalty-free distributions
Provisions were included in the bill allowing for some early withdrawals (prior to age 59-1/2) for terminally-ill individuals, victims of domestic abuse, and to cover the costs of certain long-term care premiums. Those affected by a federally-declared disaster will be allowed to take up to $22,000 penalty-free, with the option to stretch out payments on the income tax due on the distribution over three years.
529 Plan “Roll-Ups”
Individuals with unused balances in 529 education savings plans will be allowed to shift those dollars, up to $35,000, to a Roth IRA. This opportunity only applies to 529 plans with a lifespan of at least 15 years. Transfers to Roth IRAs can be done to the extent they do not exceed Roth IRA contribution limits in a given year (currently, $6,500 per year, $7,500 for those age 50 and older). Such transfers avoid taxes and a 10% penalty that would apply to earnings accumulated in the 529 plan if the money was taken as a non-qualified distribution.
Expanded flexibility for Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs)
Effective Jan. 1, 2023, individuals 70-1/2 or older can make a one-time gift of up to $50,000 (adjusted annually for inflation) directly from an IRA to a charitable remainder unitrust, a charitable remainder annuity trust or a charitable gift annuity. The amount directed into such a trust or annuity would apply toward the $100,000 annual total QCD gift that is already allowed for qualified 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. This is an effective way to reduce RMDs and avoid the added tax liability that may result from it.
In some cases, tax law changes are already built into the calendar. This is true with many of the provisions included in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) that passed in 2017. A number of the changes designed to be beneficial to taxpayers are scheduled to “sunset” (or no longer apply), by Dec. 31, 2025.
With that date drawing nearer, planning ahead is critical to leverage current tax laws and to mitigate the potential impact of the changes that are scheduled to occur without further Congressional action. Here are some specific changes that will occur after 2025 unless Congress acts to amend their sunset status, and strategies to consider to offset these changes:
Adjustments to 2023 tax brackets
Under current law, the top tax bracket for individual taxpayers, estates and trust income is 37%. It reverts to 39.6% after 2025. In addition, income thresholds that apply to the top tax bracket will decline significantly. Adjusted gross income of single tax filers in excess of $418,400 and married tax filers (joint return of $470,700 would be subject to the 39.6% bracket. By comparison, the top income thresholds for 2023 (for the 37% bracket) are much higher, at $578,125 for single tax filers and $693,750 for married couples filing a joint return.
Other tax brackets will move higher after Dec. 31, 2025 as well, including:
Strategies to consider
To the extent you’re able, you may want to consider accelerating income into years prior to 2026 to take advantage of lower tax rates. You also will want to determine the potential benefits of maximizing pre-tax contributions to your retirement plan, if feasible. In addition, if Roth IRA conversions are part of your long-term strategy, it may be advantageous to begin executing those conversions as soon as possible in a strategic manner to capitalize on the current reduced tax brackets.
Unified gift and estate tax deduction cut dramatically
The unified estate and gift tax deduction is valued at $12.06 million per individual in 2022 and $12.92 million in 2023 (effectively $24 million for a married couple in 2022 and nearly $26 million in 2023). Note that the amount is increased in line with the inflation rate, resulting in a significant jump in the exemption in 2023. However, this exemption amount will be cut approximately in half, with a projected inflation-adjusted exemption of $6.8 million per person applicable in 2026 after the current tax law sunsets.
The ability to utilize certain lifetime gifting strategies will be limited, because of a reduced lifetime gift tax exemption beginning on Jan. 1, 2026, if not earlier. The same limitations apply to certain estate planning and wealth transfer strategies at death, because of a reduced estate tax exemption.
Strategies to consider
Individuals with large estates may want to capture the benefits of the current enhanced exemption levels by stepping up the pace of lifetime gifting. For example, the individual lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to drop to approximately $6.8 million in 2026, barring Congressional action. An individual could gift up to $12.9 million prior to 2026. That may exhaust their exemption by 2026, but it will reduce the size of their estate and potential future estate tax liability significantly before more limited exemption levels apply.
In addition, business owners have an opportunity of gifting an ownership position as part of a lifetime gift. Depending on the structure of the business and the share of the business assets being passed on, “illiquidity” and “lack of control” discounts can apply to the valuation of business interests. The business valuation discount is typically in the range of 20% to 40%. For instance, assuming a 30% discount, if passing on $1.4 million of business assets as a gift, the lifetime gift tax exemption that needs to be claimed is much lower (approximately $1 million), reflecting the illiquidity discount. Leveraging business valuation discounts in conjunction with current higher exemption amounts can result in significant wealth preservation and transfer, if the actions occur prior to January 1, 2026.
Be sure to consider any current gifting strategy in the context of your broader financial plan. You want to be certain that large gifts you make now don’t preclude you from pursuing other prioritized goals.
The economic environment changed considerably in 2022. Along with persistently higher inflation, interest rates rose significantly. Interest rates are part of the calculation when establishing Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs). Today’s higher interest rate environment creates a potential tax advantage for those who establish these types of trusts.
A CRT is an irrevocable trust. You place assets into the trust. It will provide income for life or a term up to 20 years to the grantor or a beneficiary. At the end of that term, the remaining value goes to a qualified charitable organization. To determine the amount that qualifies for a charitable tax deduction, an assumed interest rate must be applied. This is the IRS’ so-called “7520 rate.” In December 2022, that rate reached 5.2% (compared to 1.6% in January).1 With a higher applicable rate, the charitable remainder value of the trust increases, which may allow the grantor to claim a larger tax deduction in the year making the gift.
The 7520 rate is also part of the calculation for GRATs, another form of irrevocable trust that you may have. The 7520 rate has a potential impact on the amount to be received back by the grantor and ultimately what is available to the remainderman beneficiary. Consider discussing these strategies with your financial and tax professionals.
The Inflation Reduction Act and SECURE 2.0 Act make modest changes to the tax code that apply immediately. There seem to be limited possibilities of major tax legislation passing Congress in 2023 and 2024. But there is a high degree of certainty about the consequences if Congress does nothing and provisions outlined above expire at the end of 2025.
During the existing but narrowing window of opportunity for significant wealth preservation and transfer, it’s important to consider current tax laws and related sunset provisions, along with the new laws incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act, and plan accordingly. We, as always, closely monitor events in Washington and will keep you apprised of any potential changes to the tax code that could affect your tax liability.
Talk with your wealth professional and tax advisor if you have questions about the potential impact on your own situation and financial plan.
The Secure 2.0 Act, signed into law at the end of 2022, may empower you to reach your savings goals sooner and offer more flexibility in retirement.
Don’t let market volatility and an uncertain economic outlook derail your disciplined investing strategy.