In December 2017, the president signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the most sweeping tax-reform legislation in more than 30 years. Most changes apply to the general public, but some have special implications for the military community. Even within the military community, the changes will not have the same impact on everyone. It is important to know your circumstances and adapt to the reforms in a way that reflects your finances and lifestyle.
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Key tax reforms
Picture your financial and personal events over the last year. Maybe you are looking forward to having your first child. Maybe the ink just dried on the paperwork for your new home. Take a look at these key reforms and see if they will affect your spending and family circumstances:
- Standard deduction: For tax year 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles or those who are married but filing separately, $24,400 for those who are married and filing jointly, and $18,350 for those who file as head of household.
- Personal exemption deduction: Beginning in 2018, you can’t claim a personal exemption deduction for yourself, your spouse or your dependents. This may impact decisions on the itemized deductions and dependents you claim on your tax return.
- Itemized deductions: Beginning in 2018, the following changes were made to itemized deductions that taxpayers can claim on Schedule A:
- Your itemized deductions are no longer limited if your adjusted gross income is over a certain amount.
- You can deduct the part of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
- Your deduction of state and local income, sales and property taxes is limited to a combined, total deduction of $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately). As a military member, your state of legal residence and the state where you own a home will determine how much this change impacts you.
- Under the new rules, unreimbursed business expenses, including auto, travel, meals and entertainment and home office expenses, are no longer itemized deductions.
- For debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, the deduction for home mortgage interest is limited to interest on up to $750,000 ($375,000 if you are a married taxpayer filing a separate return) of home-acquisition debt. This new limit doesn’t apply if you had a binding contract to close on a home after Dec. 15, 2017, and closed on or before April 1, 2018. The prior limit would apply in that case.
- Beginning in 2018, you cannot deduct interest on a home equity loan or line of credit unless it’s for buying, building or making substantial improvements to your home.
- The limit on charitable contributions of cash has increased from 50% to 60% of your adjusted gross income.
- Child tax credit: For 2019, the maximum credit is $2,000 per qualifying child. The maximum additional child tax credit is $1,400. In addition, the income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out is now $200,000 ($400,000 if married filing jointly).
- Credit for other dependents: A new credit of up to $500 is available for each of your dependents, such as an adult child with a disability or aged parent, who does not qualify for the child tax credit. In addition, the maximum income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out is increased to $200,000 ($400,000 if married filing jointly).
- Education: As a result of the new tax codes, you can use funds from your 529 education savings plan to pay for private K-12 educational expenses at secondary public, private or religious schools with a limit of $10,000 per student per year.
- Reserve service members: Reserve service members are able to deduct unreimbursed travel expenses to attend drill duty only if it takes place more than 100 miles away from home.
- Moving expenses: Members of the armed forces can still deduct moving expenses as long as the move is part of an authorized permanent change of station or PCS. If you’re voluntarily moving, you will join most other taxpayers in no longer being able to deduct moving expenses from your taxes.
- Deployments to the Sinai Peninsula: If you previously served in the newly designated combat zone, you may qualify for retroactive tax benefits. If so, you’ll need to submit an amended tax return, or Form 1040X, for the year in which you were there, dating to 2015. You generally have 3 years from the date you filed your previous tax return to claim the refund.
- Alimony or maintenance payments: Beginning in 2019, if you make alimony or maintenance payments, you will no longer be able to deduct them from your taxable income, and the recipient will no longer have to claim the payments as income. This went into effect for any divorce or separation agreement signed or modified after Dec. 31, 2018.
- Estate tax exemption: The estate tax exemption has doubled and for 2019 is $11.4 million, so an estate valued at less than the new threshold will not be taxed when the owner dies.
- Investment fees: You can no longer deduct investment fees from taxes. If a major part of your financial strategy includes investments, and you have substantial investor fees, you will be paying more in taxes.
- Penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage: beginning in 2019, the penalty amount is reduced to zero.
How to prepare for the upcoming tax season
Protect your finances by withholding enough to avoid paying additional taxes when you file. Ask yourself the following questions to see if you need to update your withholding selections:
- Are you a two-income family?
- Do you work two or more jobs at the same time or work only part of the year?
- Do you claim credits such as the child tax credit?
- Do you claim older dependents, including children 17 or over?
- Did you itemize deductions in 2018?
- Do you have a high income and historically complex tax returns?
- Did you have a large tax refund or large tax bill in 2018?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider updating your Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer as soon as possible.
- You have accredited Personal Financial Managers and counselors at your fingertips. Set up a no-cost appointment at your nearest Family Center to learn more about how the tax law changes impact your financial goals.
- The Internal Revenue Service provides a useful Tax Withholding Estimator to help you determine whether you or your spouse need to make adjustments.
- The IRS often changes and updates tax forms. Always check the IRS website for the most up-to-date tax forms before planning or preparing your taxes.
- Tax preparation for the military community is available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and Military OneSource. Locate the VITA site nearest to you.
- Military OneSource MilTax services – both expert military tax consultants and tax filing software – can make tax season easier for you. Call 800-342-9647 for 24/7 support. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. Or start a live chat to schedule a consultation with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor. All MilTax services are 100% free to eligible service members and their families.