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IRS recently issued its 2017 cost-of-living adjustments

November 10, 2016
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Many 2017 cost-of-living adjustments increase slightly
The IRS recently issued its 2017 cost-of-living adjustments. Due to inflation remaining relatively in check, many amounts increase only slightly, and some stay at 2016 levels. As you implement 2016 year-end tax planning
strategies, be sure to take these 2017 adjustments into account.

Individual income taxes
Tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status but, because they’re based on percentages, they increase more significantly for the higher brackets. For example, the top of the 10% bracket increases by $50 to $100, depending on
filing status, but the top of the 35% bracket increases by $1,875 to $3,750, again depending on filing status.

The personal and dependency exemption remains unchanged at $4,050 for 2017. The exemption is subject to a phase-out, which reduces exemptions by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the applicable threshold (2% of each $1,250 for separate filers).

For 2017, the phase-out starting points increase by $1,250 to $2,500, to AGI of $261,500 (singles), $287,650 (heads of households), $313,800 (joint filers), and $156,900 (separate filers). The exemption phases out completely at $384,000 (singles), $410,150 (heads of households), $436,300 (joint filers), and $218,150 (separate filers).

Your adjusted gross income (AGI) also may affect some of your itemized deductions. An AGI-based limit reduces certain otherwise allowable deductions by 3% of the amount by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). The thresholds are the same as for the personal and dependency exemption phase-out.

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) is a separate tax system that limits some deductions, doesn’t permit others, and treats certain income items differently. If your AMT liability is greater than your regular tax liability, you must pay the AMT.

Like the regular tax brackets, the AMT brackets are annually indexed for inflation. For 2017, the threshold for the 28% bracket increased by $1,500 for all filing statuses except married filing separately, which increased by half that amount.

The AMT exemptions and exemption phase outs are also indexed. The exemption amounts for 2017 are $54,300 for singles and heads of households and $84,500 for joint filers, increasing by $400 and $700, respectively, over 2016 amounts. The inflation-adjusted phase out ranges for 2017 are $120,700–$337,900 (singles and heads of households) and $160,900–$498,900 (joint filers). (Amounts for separate filers are half of those for joint filers.)

Education- and child-related breaks
The maximum benefits of various education- and child-related breaks generally remain the same for 2017. However,most of these breaks are also limited based on the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). Taxpayers whose MAGIs are within the applicable phase out range are eligible for a partial break — breaks are eliminated for those whose MAGIs exceed the top of the range.

The MAGI phase out ranges generally remain the same or increase modestly for 2017, depending on the break. For example:

The American Opportunity credit. The MAGI phase out ranges for this education credit (maximum $2,500 per eligible student) remain the same for 2017: $160,000–$180,000 for joint filers and $80,000–$90,000 for other filers.

The Lifetime Learning credit. The MAGI phase out ranges for this education credit (maximum $2,000 per tax return) increase for 2017; they’re $112,000–$132,000 for joint filers and $56,000–$66,000 for other filers — up $2,000 for joint filers and $1,000 for others.

The adoption credit. The MAGI phase out ranges for this credit also increase for 2017 — by $1,620, to $203,540–$243,540 for joint, head-of-household, and single filers. The maximum credit increases by $110, to $13,570 for 2017.

(Note: Married couples filing separately generally aren’t eligible for these credits.)

These are only some of the education- and child-related breaks that may benefit you. Keep in mind that, if your MAGI is too high for you to qualify for a break for your child’s education, your child might be eligible.

Retirement plans
Only a few retirement-plan-related limits increase for 2017, and even those increases are only slight. Thus, you have limited, if any, opportunities to increase your retirement savings if you’ve already been contributing the maximum amount allowed:

Your MAGI may reduce or even eliminate your ability to take advantage of IRAs. Fortunately, IRA-related MAGI phase out range limits all will increase for 2017:

Traditional IRAs. MAGI phase out ranges apply to the deductibility of contributions if the taxpayer (or his or her spouse) participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan:
  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phase out range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:
  • For a spouse who participates, the 2017 phase out range limits increase by $1,000, to $99,000–$119,000.
  • For a spouse who doesn’t participate, the 2017 phase out range limits increase by $2,000, to $186,000–$196,000. For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan, the 2017 phase out range limits increase by $1,000, to $62,000–$72,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.

However, a taxpayer whose deduction is reduced or eliminated can make nondeductible traditional IRA contributions. The $5,500 contribution limit (plus $1,000 catch-up if applicable and reduced by any Roth IRA contributions) still applies. Nondeductible traditional IRA contributions may be beneficial if your MAGI is also too high for you to contribute (or fully contribute) to a Roth IRA.

Roth IRAs. Whether or not you participate in an employer-sponsored plan doesn’t affect your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, but MAGI limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the 2017 phase out range limits increase by $2,000, to $186,000–$196,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers, the 2017 phase out range limits increase by $1,000, to $118,000–$133,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

(Note: Married taxpayers filing separately are subject to much lower phase out ranges for both traditional and Roth IRAs.)

Gift and estate taxes
The unified gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption are both adjusted annually for inflation. For 2017 the amount is $5.49 million (up from $5.45 million for 2016).
The annual gift tax exclusion remains at $14,000 for 2017. It’s adjusted only in $1,000 increments, so it typically increases only every few years. It increased to $14,000 in 2013, so it might go up again for 2018.

Impact on your year-end tax planning and retirement planning
The 2017 cost-of-living adjustment amounts are trending higher than 2016 amounts, but only slightly. Regarding retirement-plan-related limits, only a few increased, and they increased minimally. How might these amounts affect your year-end tax planning or retirement planning? Contact us for answers. We’d be pleased to help.