On a national level, the legislation’s highlights include a lifting of a 40-year ban on the United States’ exporting of crude oil. World leaders are understandably nervous about the Middle East and Russia – two regions largely seen as unstable – being the sole major global suppliers. Now, Congress has voted to make the U.S. an alternative source of “black gold.” So if you’ve waited decades for the right to sell your oil abroad, you’re going to love 2016. And if you don’t have your own crude? If you’re a stockholder in oil companies like Exxon, ConocoPhillips and Chevron, you (like those conglomerates) stand to benefit.
Oil aside, what’s in it for you? Changes in your income taxes, mostly. There are more than 50 alterations to the tax code in the bill. In many cases, it makes permanent a number of provisions that have expired and have been reinstated at the last minute for the past three years. Read on, and see how these might affect your tax planning strategies for the end of the year.
Key Tax Changes: Individuals
Enhanced Child Tax Credit: In the past, you could receive up to $1,000 for each qualifying child, depending on your income. If the credit was more than the taxes owed, the taxpayer could receive some or all of it as a refund, limited to 15% of earnings above a $3,000 threshold. The refund was designed to help lower-income families who didn’t make enough to qualify for the credit. For example, a person with two children who earned $14,000 this year qualified for 15% of $11,000 or $1,650. In 2017, that threshold was set to increase to $10,000, but the bill makes the lower threshold permanent.
American Opportunity Tax Credit: Until 2017, some college students receive up $2,500 in credits for post-secondary education under the American Opportunity Tax Credit. After 2017, the maximum was ratcheted back to $1,800. The spending bill makes the $2,500 permanent.
Deductions for Teachers: The bill makes permanent a $250 tax deduction for supplies teachers purchase out-of-pocket for their classrooms. It’s indexed for inflation now, so each year, teachers can expect a few extra dollars. Hey, every little bit helps.
Charitable Donations: There were a few changes affecting charitable donations. Among the most notable: The Qualified Charitable Distribution provision is now permanent. Taxpayers age 70½ and older can make donations directly from their IRA, without being taxed, on amounts up to $100,000 and have it count as their required minimum distribution. Giving the money to charity means that the RMD will not add to their adjusted gross income for the year. Urgent: The deadline for 2015 Qualified Charitable Distributions is December 31, 2015.
Key Tax Changes: Business
R&D Credit: If your business has less than $50 million in gross receipts, you can use this credit to offset the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Section 179: If your business purchased a big-ticket item, Section 179 of the tax code allows you to deduct up to $500,000 of the item’s cost with a phase-out, beginning when the business reaches $2 million in purchased assets. The limits were poised to drop to $25,000 with phase-outs beginning at $200,000. Now, the higher limits are permanent.
Section 1202: Congress wants investors to pour money into start-ups and fledgling businesses. Section 1202 allows for non-corporate investors who invested in a small business for at least five years to get a 50% discount on the capital gains tax when they sell their stake. The new bills ups that discount to 100%.
The Bottom Line
As with any bill, each political party had some victories and defeats. Republicans won on the oil provision. Democrats kept funding for Planned Parenthood in place. Political insiders believe that the surprise passage of the bill resulted from a combination of lawmakers wanting to get home for the holidays, a desire to avoid threat of a government shutdown, and a nod of support to new House Speaker, Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. Ryan himself remarked, just after the votes were tallied: “We passed more major legislation in a few weeks than we have in a few years.”