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Effects of SALT Deduction Limit are Kicking In

Posted by taxguru on June 20, 2019

Back when the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) was being finalized and signed into law, many people were decrying one of its most ridiculous and unfair provisions, a cap of $10,000 on the Federal Schedule A deduction for State and Local income and property Taxes (SALT).  Rulers in states with higher than average tax rates, such as the Peoples Republic of California (PRC), New York and New Jersey, correctly predicted that this new limitation on the deductibility of SALT would increase the effective pain level of their taxation schemes for their citizens. Some attempted to get around this limit with ridiculous scams to recharacterize the tax payments as charitable contributions.  Those have been shot down; rightfully so.   

Now that many 2018 1040s have been prepared and taxpayers in the high tax States have been able to see the real world cost of this SALT limit, some are finally deciding that they have reached their tolerance level for how much they are willing to be fiscally raped by their State and local rulers, and are relocating to States with lower taxes.  As is the typical mindset for leftist rulers, their response to this exodus of their golden geese will be to increase the tax hits on those who stay behind.  As most clear thinking people can predict, this will just exacerbate the problem, pushing more and more fiscal rape victims beyond their breaking point. 

From FoxBusiness:

New York, California high-tax state exodus just beginning, expert warns

Low-tax states ramp up efforts to recruit unhappy SALT cap victims

Financial firms fleeing high-tax northeast for billionaire-packed Florida county

Taxes drive New Yorkers to Florida by the truckload in just a decade

 

From NY Post: Wealthy New Yorkers are ditching city’s high taxes for Miami

 

As proponents of free market economics understand, these high tax states could reduce the outflow of tax paying people, and even encourage higher income people to move in, by lowering their tax rates.  However, this concept flies in the face of their mantra of “fairness,” which in their convoluted minds equates to punishing those they decree as “evil rich” by confiscating and redistributing their wealth.

 

Double Taxation
Because some people have classified this new limit on SALT deductions as being a form of “Double Taxation,” this would be as good a time as any for me to explain what that means.  In the income tax “game,” with all of its myriad of interconnected components, one of the most critical calculations is that of the actual Taxable Income that will be subjected to the various tax rates. 

One guiding general principle has long been that you are only taxed on the income that you have been able to keep.  For a business, this means net profit, which is the gross revenues minus the allowable deductions incurred in order to earn that income.  That’s fairly straight forward and generally includes most kinds of business expenses, except those explicitly prohibited by our imperial rulers in DC, such as Entertainment expenses and half of business meals.

For individuals, the calculation of taxable income is controlled by the whims of our rulers.  However, they have long allowed reductions from taxable income for many kinds of payments that reduce the amount of money you are keeping for yourself.  Some of the more common of these have included money donated to charities and payments of most kinds of State and Local Taxes (SALT). There has never been a deduction allowed from Federal taxable income for Federal income taxes.  So, to summarize the effect of this new SALT cap, if you paid $80,000 in SALT during the year, as was the case for some of our clients in the PRC, they are now forced to pay Federal income taxes on $70,000 of money that they were not actually allowed to keep because it was remitted to the State and their local Counties. 

Whether that is “fair” or not obviously depends on your definition of “fairness.”   In my opinion, this is not in the least fair.  And in an ironic twist, this new unfair tax on taxes paid really isn’t the fault of the rulers in those high tax states.  It is the product of the lunacy of the GOP Congress Critters who slapped together the crazy quilt called TCJA. I have no idea how involved President Trump was in the design of the details of TCJA, so I don’t know how much of this mess can be blamed on him.        

 

The Marriage Penalty
With all of the discussions about TCJA, which will never end, considering how insane and convoluted a piece of legislation it was, I haven’t seen anyone mention its effect on the “Marriage Penalty” that is built into the income tax system in our country. The fact that there are several provisions in the tax code that force married couples to pay more income taxes than would be the case if they were able to file as two single people, has been around since well before I started in the tax preparation profession back in 1975.  It has occasionally been addressed and somewhat reduced on a few occasions over the past decades.

However, when I was reviewing the details of TCJA back in December 2017, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the many new complicated limitations and phase-outs had exacerbated the penalty for married couples.  For example, the SALT limit is $10,000 for a couple filing jointly (MFJ) and also $10,000 for a Single taxpayer.  Thus, two single persons could deduct a total of $20,000 in SALT.  As has long been the case, it’s not possible for married couples to get around this by filing separate returns (MFS) because that filing status has several penalties built into it.  In this case, each spouse would only be able to deduct $5,000 of SALT on their 1040.

There are dozens of examples of this marriage penalty in our Tax Code.  Another example that has been around forever is the deductibility of capital losses against other kinds of income.  The limit is $3,000 on an MFJ 1040, $3,000 on a Single 1040 and just $1,500 on an MFS 1040.  TCJA has added a ton of new phase-outs for various credits and deductions that are based on the tax return’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).  In many of those cases, the MFJ phase-out limits are well below double the amounts for Single taxpayers.  Two single returns would have a much higher combined AGI limit before losing their eligibility for those credits and deductions than they would have on a MFJ return.  I admit that each of these Marriage Penalty items doesn’t increase the tax bill by a huge amount on its own.  However, all of them combined frequently add up to several thousands of dollars in extra taxes compared to the same income spread across two Single 1040s.

Back in the 1970s, 80, and 90s, I had done a lot of work with clients involving marriages and divorces in order to minimize the marriage penalties on their tax returns.  Before the big change to the Section 121 exclusion of gains on primary residence sales, which widened the exclusion from just $125,000 per person or per married couple to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per married couple, that one issue was the incentive for a lot of tax divorces in order to qualify for double the exclusion, $250,000 per couple versus $125,000.  In recent months, I have actually been contacted by some clients who have already noticed the TCJA increase in their marriage tax penalties and have inquired about the pros and cons of getting divorced for tax saving purposes.  Tax pros should be ready to help their clients analyze this aspect of tax planning because there is slim to zero chance of our rulers in DC doing the right thing and eliminating the Marriage Penalty in the Tax Code.

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