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Tax Tip of the Week | Happy Holidays & Happy New Year! December 25, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Tax Tip, Uncategorized , add a comment

Enjoy the Holidays!

We are going to take a break from our tax and business tips this week. Instead, the family of Bradstreet & Company would like to wish you and your family the most joyous holiday season and best wishes for 2020.

We hope you enjoy the Tax Tip of The Week. As always, your topic suggestions and questions are always appreciated.

Is the Tax Tip of the Week real?

While your kids are questioning if Santa is real, we continue to receive some interesting feedback that some of you don’t realize this is really Bradstreet & Company CPAs reaching out each week (… some suspect this is a “packaged” communication to which we add our logo.) Well, rest assured it’s us and we love to hear from you. 

Enjoy the week and, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”.

Wishing you all great things,

The Staff at Bradstreet & Company

Tax Tip of the Week | IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2020 December 18, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip , add a comment

Previously, the IRS used inflation measured by the consumer price index for urban consumers, known as the CPI-U. That index tracks the cost of certain goods and services the typical household buys, from bread and soap to the cost of utilities.

Under tax reform, inflation is measured using something called Chained CPI. With Chained CPI, the people measuring inflation assume buyers have choices when they spend money, and they shift from one product to another when the price of that product goes up. For example, if the price of coffee beans increases too much, you may start drinking tea. If you don’t like tea as well as coffee, you may argue that you are worse off now because you can’t afford your favorite beverage. But to the economists measuring Chained CPI, you found a cheaper replacement, and that’s what matters.

Using Chained CPI, tax benefits and limitations don’t rise as quickly or as high as they would under the old measurement system. 

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced the tax year 2020 annual inflation adjustments for more than 60 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules and other tax changes. Revenue Procedure 2019-44 provides details about these annual adjustments.

The tax law change covered in the revenue procedure was added by the Taxpayer First Act of 2019, which increased the failure to file penalty to $330 for returns due after the end of 2019. The new penalty will be adjusted for inflation beginning with tax year 2021.

The tax year 2020 adjustments generally are used on tax returns filed in 2021.

The tax items for tax year 2020 of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following dollar amounts:

•    The standard deduction for married filing jointly rises to $24,800 for tax year 2020, up $400 from the prior year. For single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $12,400 in for 2020, up $200, and for heads of households, the standard deduction will be $18,650 for tax year 2020, up $300.

•    The personal exemption for tax year 2020 remains at 0, as it was for 2019, this elimination of the personal exemption was a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

•    Marginal Rates: For tax year 2020, the top tax rate remains 37% for individual single taxpayers with incomes greater than $518,400 ($622,050 for married couples filing jointly). The other rates are:
o    35%, for incomes over $207,350 ($414,700 for married couples filing jointly);
o    32% for incomes over $163,300 ($326,600 for married couples filing jointly);
o    24% for incomes over $85,525 ($171,050 for married couples filing jointly);
o    22% for incomes over $40,125 ($80,250 for married couples filing jointly);
o    12% for incomes over $9,875 ($19,750 for married couples filing jointly).
Note:  The lowest rate is 10% for incomes of single individuals with incomes of $9,875 or less ($19,750 for married couples filing jointly).

•    For 2020, as in 2019 and 2018, there is no limitation on itemized deductions, as that limitation was eliminated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

•    The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2020 is $72,900 and begins to phase out at $518,400 ($113,400 for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $1,036,800).The 2019 exemption amount was $71,700 and began to phase out at $510,300 ($111,700, for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption began to phase out at $1,020,600).

•    The tax year 2020 maximum Earned Income Credit amount is $6,660 for qualifying taxpayers who have three or more qualifying children, up from a total of $6,557 for tax year 2019. The revenue procedure contains a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds and phase-outs.

•    For tax year 2020, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit is $270, as is the monthly limitation for qualified parking, up from $265 for tax year 2019.

•    For the taxable years beginning in 2020, the dollar limitation for employee salary reductions for contributions to health flexible spending arrangements is $2,750, up $50 from the limit for 2019.

•    For tax year 2020, participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,350, the same as for tax year 2019; but not more than $3,550, an increase of $50 from tax year 2019. For self-only coverage, the maximum out-of-pocket expense amount is $4,750, up $100 from 2019. For tax year 2020, participants with family coverage, the floor for the annual deductible is $4,750, up from $4,650 in 2019; however, the deductible cannot be more than $7,100, up $100 from the limit for tax year 2019. For family coverage, the out-of-pocket expense limit is $8,650 for tax year 2020, an increase of $100 from tax year 2019.

•    For tax year 2020, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $118,000, up from $116,000 for tax year 2019.

•    For tax year 2020, the foreign earned income exclusion is $107,600 up from $105,900 for tax year 2019.

•    Estates of decedents who die during 2020 have a basic exclusion amount of $11,580,000, up from a total of $11,400,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2019.

•    The annual exclusion for gifts is $15,000 for calendar year 2020, as it was for calendar year 2019.

•    The maximum credit allowed for adoptions for tax year 2020 is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $14,300, up from $14,080 for 2019.

Credit Given to:  Sally Herigstad. Posted on the Internal Revenue Service Website.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Your 2019 Guide to Tax Deductions December 11, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business Consulting, Deductions, Depreciation options, General, tax changes, Tax Deadlines, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

Practically all of the significant federal tax law changes were first effective on your 2018 federal income tax return. Many of these changes are still in place for your 2019 income tax return. Apparently, the media believes these changes to be old news; and, therefore, are not giving it any press coverage. But, the impact of these changes were so far-reaching, a refresher for all of us should be in order.

                               -Mark Bradstreet

Here are all of the tax deductions still available to American households and the requirements for claiming each one.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the biggest overhaul to the U.S. tax code in decades, and it made some significant changes to the tax deductions that are available. Many tax deductions were kept intact, but others were modified, and some were eliminated entirely.

There are also several different types of tax deductions, and these can get a bit confusing. For example, some tax deductions are only available if you choose to itemize deductions, while others can be taken even if you opt for the standard deduction. With all that in mind, here’s a rundown of what Americans need to know about tax deductions as the 2019 tax filing season opens.

What is a tax deduction?

The term “tax deduction” simply refers to any item that can reduce your taxable income. For example, if you pay $2,000 in tax-deductible student loan interest, this means your taxable income will be reduced by $2,000 for the year in which you paid the interest.

There are several different types of tax deductions. The standard deduction is one that every American household is entitled to, regardless of their expenses during the year. Taxpayers can claim itemizable deductions instead of the standard deduction if it benefits them to do so. Above-the-line deductions, which are also known as adjustments to income, can be used by households regardless of whether they itemize or not. And finally, there are a few other items that don’t really fit into one of these categories but are still tax deductions.

The standard deduction
When filling out their tax returns, American households can choose to itemize certain deductions (we’ll get to those in a bit), or they can take the standard deduction — whichever is more beneficial to them.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction. Before the increase, about 70% of U.S. households used the standard deduction, but now it is estimated that roughly 95% of households will use it. For the 2018 and 2019 tax years, here are the standard deduction amounts.

Tax Filing Status2018 Standard Deduction2019 Standard Deduction
Married Filing Jointly$24,000$24,400
Head of Household$18,000$18,350
Single$12,000$12,200
Married Filing Separately$12,000$12,200

DATA SOURCE: IRS.

To be perfectly clear, unless your itemizable deductions exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status, you’ll be better off using the standard deduction.

Itemized deductions

The alternative to taking the standard deduction is choosing to itemize deductions. Itemizing means deducting each and every deductible expense you incurred during the tax year.

For this to be worthwhile, your itemizable deductions must be greater than the standard deduction to which you are entitled. For the vast majority of taxpayers, itemizing will not be worth it for the 2018 and 2019 tax years. Not only did the standard deduction nearly double, but several formerly itemizable tax deductions were eliminated entirely, and others have become more restricted than they were before.

With that in mind, here are the itemizable tax deductions you may be able to take advantage of when you prepare your tax return in 2019.

Mortgage interest

The mortgage interest deduction is among the tax deductions that still exist after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but for many taxpayers it won’t be quite as valuable as it used to be.

Specifically, homeowners are allowed to deduct the interest they pay on as much as $750,000 of qualified personal residence debt on a first and/or second home. This has been reduced from the former limit of $1 million in mortgage principal plus up to $100,000 in home equity debt.

On that note, the deduction for interest on home equity debt has technically been eliminated for the 2018 tax year and beyond. However, if the home equity loan was used to substantially improve the home, the debt is considered a qualified residence loan and can therefore be included in the $750,000 cap.

Charitable contributions

This is perhaps the least changed of the major tax deductions. Contributions to qualified charitable organizations are still deductible for tax purposes, and in fact the deduction has become a bit more generous for the ultra-charitable. U.S. taxpayers can now deduct charitable donations of as much as 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI), up from 50% of AGI.

One negative change to note: If you donate to a college in exchange for the ability to buy athletic tickets, that is no longer considered a charitable donation for tax purposes.

Medical expenses

The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct qualified medical expenses above a certain percentage of their adjusted gross income. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced this threshold from 10% of AGI to 7.5%, but only for the 2017 and 2018 tax years. So, when you file your 2018 tax return this year, you can deduct qualified medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of your AGI. For example, say your AGI is $50,000, and you incur $5,000 in qualified medical expenses. The threshold you need to cross before you can start deducting those expenses is 7.5% of $50,000, or $3,750. Your expenses are $1,250 above the threshold, so that’s the amount you can deduct from your taxable income.

However, the medical deduction threshold is set to return to 10% of AGI starting with the 2019 tax year. So, when you file your 2019 tax return in 2020, you’ll use this higher percentage to determine whether you qualify for the deduction.

State income tax or state sales tax

The IRS gives taxpayers the choice to claim either their state and local income tax or their state and local sales tax as an itemized deduction. Naturally, if your state doesn’t have an income tax, the sales tax deduction is the way to go. On the other hand, if your state does have an income tax, then deducting that will generally save you more money than deducting sales tax.

One quick note: If you choose the sales tax deduction, you don’t necessarily need to save each and every receipt to document how much sales tax you’ve paid. The IRS provides a handy calculator you can use to easily determine your sales tax deduction.

Property taxes

If you pay property tax on a home, car, boat, airplane, or other personal property, you can count it toward your itemized deductions. This deduction and the deduction for income or sales tax are collectively known as the SALT deduction — that is, the “state and local taxes” deduction.

There’s one major caveat when it comes to the SALT deduction. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits the total amount of state and local taxes you can deduct — including property taxes and sales/income tax — to $10,000 per year. So if you live in a high-tax state or simply own some valuable property that you pay tax on, this could significantly limit your ability to deduct these expenses.

The bottom line on itemizable deductions

That wraps up the major itemizable deductions that are still available under the newly revised U.S. tax code. As you can see, there aren’t many of them, and some of those that remain — such as the medical expense and SALT deductions — are quite limited.

For itemizing to be worth your while, you need some combination of these deductions to exceed your standard deduction. It’s easy to see why most taxpayers won’t itemize going forward.

As a personal example, my wife and I have traditionally itemized our deductions. However, in 2018 we’ll have about $9,000 in deductible mortgage interest, a few thousand dollars in charitable contributions, and about $6,000 in state and local taxes, including property taxes. In previous years, this would have made itemizing well worth it, but it looks like we’ll be using the standard deduction when we file our return in 2019.

Above-the-line tax deductions

While you need to itemize deductions to take advantage of the deductions I discussed in the previous section, there are quite a few tax deductions that you can use regardless of whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.

These are known as adjustments to income and are more commonly referred to as above-the-line tax deductions. And with a few exceptions, most of these survived the recent tax reform unscathed. Here are the above-the-line deductions you may be able to take advantage of in 2019.

Tax-deferred retirement contributions

If you contribute to any tax-deferred retirement accounts, you can generally deduct the contributions from your taxable income, even if you don’t itemize. This includes:

Contributions to a qualified retirement plan such as a traditional 401(k) or 403(b). For 2018, the maximum elective deferral by an employee is $18,500, and for the 2019 tax year this is increasing to $19,000. If you’re 50 or older, these limits are raised by $6,000 each year.

Contributions to a traditional IRA. The IRA contribution limit is $5,500 for the 2018 tax year and $6,000 for 2019, with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution allowed if you’re 50 or older. However, it’s important to point out that if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, your ability to take the traditional IRA deduction is income-restricted.

If you are self-employed, your contributions to a SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA, or Solo 401(k) are generally deductible, unless they are made on an after-tax (Roth) basis.

Health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA) contributions

If you contribute to a tax-advantaged healthcare savings account (HSA), your contributions are tax-deductible up to the IRS’s contribution limits. The 2018 contribution limit is $3,450 for those with single healthcare policies or $6,900 those with family coverage. In 2019, these limits will increase to $3,500 and $7,000, respectively. There’s also a $1,000 catch-up allowance if you’re 55 or older.

An HSA has many unique features. Most importantly, you can withdraw your HSA funds tax-free from your account at any time to cover qualifying medical expenses. That means you can get a tax break on both your contribution and your withdrawal — a perk that no IRA or 401(k) offers. Once you turn 65, you can withdraw money for non-healthcare purposes for any reason without paying a penalty — though you’ll have to pay income tax on withdrawals that don’t go toward qualifying medical expenses. Additionally, unlike a flexible spending account (more on this below), an HSA allows you to carry over and invest your money year after year.

You can participate in an HSA if all of the following apply:

You’re covered by a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

You’re not covered by another health plan that is not an HDHP

You’re not enrolled in Medicare

You’re not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return

If you don’t qualify for an HSA, you may still be able to contribute to a flexible spending account, or FSA. The FSA contribution limit is $2,650 in 2018 and $2,700 in 2019. While FSAs aren’t quite as beneficial as HSAs, they can still shelter a good amount of your income from taxation. Beware that you can only roll over up to $500 in leftover funds to the following year, so for the most part, FSAs are “use it or lose it” accounts.

Dependent care FSA contributions

There’s another type of flexible spending account that’s designed to help families pay for child care expenses. Married couples filing jointly can set aside as much as $5,000 per year on a pre-tax basis, and single filers can set aside as much as $2,500 to be spent on qualifying dependent care expenses.

Note that you can’t use a dependent care FSA and the popular Child and Dependent Care tax credit for the same expenses. However, with child care expenses running well into the five-figure range in many parts of the country, it’s fair to say that many parents should be able to take advantage of both child care tax breaks.

Teacher classroom expenses

If you’re a full-time K-12 teacher and have paid for any classroom expenses out of pocket, you can deduct up to $250 of those expenses as an above-the-line tax deduction. Potential qualifying expenses could include classroom supplies, books you use in teaching, and software you purchase and use in your classroom, just to name a few.

Student loan interest

The IRS allows taxpayers to take an above-the-line deduction for up to $2,500 in qualifying student loan interest per year. To qualify, you must be legally obligated to pay the interest on the loan — essentially this means the loan is in your name. You also cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, and if you choose the “married filing separately” status, it will disqualify you from using this deduction.

One important thing to know: Your lender will only send you a tax form (Form 1098-E) if you paid more than $600 in student loan interest throughout the year. If you paid less than this amount, you are still eligible for the deduction, but you’ll need to log into your loan servicer’s website to get the required information.

Half of the self-employment tax

There are some excellent tax benefits available to self-employed individuals (we’ll discuss some in the next section), but one downside is the self-employment tax.

If you’re an employee, you pay half of the tax for Social Security and Medicare, while your employer pays the other half. Unfortunately, if you’re self-employed, you have to pay both sides of these taxes, which is collectively known as the self-employment tax.

One silver lining is that you can deduct one-half of the self-employment tax as an above-the-line deduction. While this doesn’t completely offset the additional burden of paying the tax, it certainly helps to lessen the sting.

Home office deduction

If you use a portion of your home exclusively for business, you may be able to take the home office deduction for expenses related to its use. The IRS has two main requirements you need to meet. First, the space you claim as your office must be used regularly and exclusively for business. In other words, if you regularly set up your laptop in your living room where you also watch TV every night, you shouldn’t claim a home office deduction for the space.

Second, the space you claim must be the principal place you conduct business. Generally, this means you’re self-employed, but there are some circumstances in which the IRS allows employees to take the home office deduction as well.

There are two ways to calculate the deduction. The simplified method allows you to deduct $5 per square foot, up to a maximum of 300 square feet of dedicated office space. The more complicated method involves deducting the actual expenses of operating in that space, such as the proportion of your housing payment and utility expenses that are represented by the space, as well as expenses relating to the maintenance of your home office. You are free to use whichever method is more beneficial to you.

Other tax deductions

In addition to the itemizable and above-the-line deductions I’ve discussed, there are a few tax deductions that deserve separate mention, because they generally apply only if you have specific types of income.

Investment losses: If you sold any investments at a loss, you can use these losses to offset any capital gains income that you have. Short-term losses must first be used to offset short-term gains, while long-term losses must first be applied to long-term gains. And if your investment losses exceed your gains for the year, you can use up to $3,000 in remaining net losses to reduce your other taxable income for the year. If there are still losses remaining, you can carry them forward to future years.

Pass-through income: This deduction is a product of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is designed to help small-business owners save money. U.S. taxpayers can now use as much as 20% of their pass-through income as a deduction. This includes income from an LLC, S-Corporation, or sole proprietorship, as well as partnership income and income from rental real estate, just to name some of the potential sources. The deduction is not available to certain taxpayers whose income comes from “specified service businesses” (more details here) and exceeds certain thresholds.

Gambling losses: You can deduct gambling losses on your taxes, but only to the extent that you have gambling winnings. In other words, if none of your income came from gambling, you can’t deduct the $500 you lost on your last trip to Las Vegas.

Other self-employed deductions: Finally, if you’re self-employed, there are a ton of business deductions you may be able to take advantage of. You can deduct business-related travel expenses, office supplies and equipment, and health insurance premiums from your self-employment income, just to name a few potential deductions. And don’t forget about the special retirement accounts for the self-employed that we covered earlier.

Credit Given to:  Matthew Frankel, CFP

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Make These 2019 Tax Moves Now – Before It’s Too Late December 4, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, Deductions, General, tax changes, Tax Deadlines, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

Although it has been two (2) years now since the sweeping tax law changes of 2017, many taxpayers are still missing out on many of the new available tax planning opportunities. Eleven (11) such tax savings strategies follow as outlined in the following article by Laura Saunders in the WSJ weekend edition of November 2-3, 2019. I will put my own “spin” on some of the bigger opportunities that many business owners are either unaware of or not optimizing.

(1)  Some of the higher deduction retirement plans MUST be set up by year end (December 31, 2019). Too often, I will meet with a taxpayer dropping off their tax detail who mentions their desire of contributing to a Solo 401(k) plan or a profit-sharing plan, etc. Sure, that is fine ONLY IF the plan was established prior to year-end even though the plan contributions are made the following year.

(2)  We see many retired taxpayers who may have low or negative taxable income after their standard or itemized deductions BUT have mega bucks in retirement accounts.  In these situations, a retirement plan distribution could have been taken federally tax free up to the amount of negative taxable income (provided they are over 59 ½). We meet with many retirees to make this calculation near the end of each year.

(3)  Too many taxpayers make conventional charitable contributions ignoring the better options of using IRAs or appreciated stock. These options create an opportunity of potentially “doubling” the tax value of this conventional tax deduction by deducting the full market value without the appreciation ever being taxed. This is truly the best of both worlds which is rare indeed in the tax world.

(4)  Maximizing the 199A pass-through deduction aka the 20% business income deduction or QBID. Many of the factors in this calculation may be optimized to maximize this deduction e.g. salaries and guaranteed payments.  

The article by Ms. Saunders follows.

                           –    Mark Bradstreet

It’s Year Two following the massive tax overhaul of 2017. For Americans who are still getting used to the new rules, it’s important to sort things out before the year ends.

“People are confused about their withholding and refunds, and whether they need to save receipts to prove itemized deductions—plus other things,” says Terry Durkin, an enrolled agent in Burlington, Mass., who prepares over 300 tax returns a year.

Most filers must pay 90% of their income and self-employment taxes by year-end or soon after, or else face penalties. The IRS forgave these penalties for many people for 2018, but it won’t for 2019.

There are few ways to cut a 2019 tax bill after Dec. 31, so now is the time to make moves that will lower your tax bill in April.

> Check your withholding. At the top of Ms. Durkin’s, and many tax advisers’, to-do list for clients: Check your withholding or estimated taxes. The overhaul, followed by automatic changes to paycheck withholding in 2018, brought bad refund surprises to many filers last spring.

As it turned out, overall refunds changed little. For both 2017 and 2018, about three-quarters of filers received refunds, which averaged $2,800. But these results conceal wide variations. For 13 million filers earning between $100,000 and $250,000, average 2018 refunds dropped 11% compared with 2017, according to mid-July data from the Internal Revenue Service.

This shift got the attention of the IRS, which has since improved its withholding calculator. Employees and retirees can use it to find out what they owe under Uncle Sam’s pay-as-you-earn system and then fine-tune their refunds. Taxpayers who aren’t employees need to use complex worksheets in IRS Publication 505 or talk to a tax preparer.

But the law contains a boon for many employees. Usually they won’t owe penalties if they increase their withholding late in the year—even if it’s for a spouse’s self-employment income, according to an IRS spokesman.

> Make your payments. Those with income not covered by employer-paycheck withholding must usually make quarterly payments based on earnings for each period to avoid penalties. Are you behind on payments? The sooner a mistake is corrected, the less damage it does.

> Assess itemized deductions. As a result of the 2017 overhaul, more than 25 million taxpayers have switched to claiming the standard deduction rather than itemizing write-offs on Schedule A. The share of returns with Schedule A has dropped to about 10% from about 30%.

For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

The most common itemized deductions are for state and local taxes (SALT), charitable donations and mortgage interest. Now that Congress has limited the SALT deduction to $10,000 per return both for single and married joint filers, it’s often easier for singles than couples to benefit from itemizing.

For example, a married couple who deducts the limit of $10,000 of SALT needs more than $14,400 of other deductions to benefit from itemizing for 2019, because their standard deduction is $24,400. But a single filer who deducts $10,000 of SALT only needs other write-offs totaling more than $2,200, because his standard deduction is $12,200.

Filers taking the standard deduction don’t need to save receipts to prove their write-offs.

> Check deadlines for retirement-savings contributions. There are significant differences.

Savers eligible for traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs for 2019 can open and fund them up to April 15, 2020.

SEP IRAs, for taxpayers with self-employment income, often have higher contribution limits and longer deadlines. Many taxpayers can set up and fund SEP IRAs until Oct. 15, 2020, if they extend the due date of their 2019 return.

Solo 401(k) plans are also for self-employment earnings and have contribution limits higher than those for traditional or Roth IRAs. For 2019, taxpayers can fund a solo 401(k) until Oct. 15, 2020, if they extend their due date. But the plans must usually be set up by Dec. 31, 2019, even if contributions come later.

> Take required payouts from retirement plans. Savers must often begin taking annual payouts from tax-sheltered retirement plans when they turn 70½. Congress is considering raising the beginning date to age 72, but it hasn’t yet.

The payout deadline is Dec. 31, 2019, for most people, and the withdrawal is based on the account value as of the last day of 2018. However, savers taking their first required payout this year have until April 1, 2020. Think twice before doing this, because it means taking two withdrawals in one year and perhaps moving to a higher tax bracket.

Currently no annual payouts are required from Roth IRAs, except for heirs who aren’t spouses.

Required payouts from 401(k) plans are somewhat different, although the deadline for beginning withdrawals is often age 70½. But many still-working employees who are 70½ and older needn’t take required withdrawals from their firm’s 401(k) if the plan allows that.

Also remember that 401(k) payouts can’t be aggregated as IRA payouts can. For example, a saver with four traditional IRAs can take the total required withdrawal from just one IRA. But if required payouts are due from two 401(k)s, the saver must take the required amount from each one.

> Strategize charitable giving, including from IRAs. The higher standard deduction poses a hurdle for donors who want a tax break. One way around it is to bunch charitable gifts by combining several years’ donations into one larger amount every few years that—together with other write-offs on Schedule A—is larger than the standard-deduction amount.

Such givers should also consider donor-advised funds. These popular accounts enable charitably minded taxpayers to make one or more gifts and take a deduction. The donor can then designate charitable recipients later, and meanwhile the assets can be invested and grow tax-free.

Do think twice before writing a check to a charity. A better move is often to give appreciated investments held in taxable accounts, such as stock shares. The donor gets an immediate deduction for the full market value, within certain limits, while not owing capital-gains tax on the growth.

Donors with traditional IRAs who are 70½ or older have another good option: They can donate up to $100,000 of IRA assets directly to one or more charities and have the gifts count toward their required payouts. This move can help lower Medicare premiums.

> Evaluate capital gains and losses. Check up on your positions in taxable accounts.
Investors can use realized capital losses to offset realized capital gains plus $3,000 of ordinary income such as wages, every year. Unused losses can carry forward for future use.

Sometimes it makes sense to sell an underwater investment at a loss before the end of the year, or to take gains if you have realized losses.

Also beware of increases in investment income that could trigger a 3.8% surtax. This levy takes effect at $250,000 of adjusted gross income for most married couples filing jointly and at $200,000 for most single filers.

> Take care with cryptocurrency. The IRS is cracking down on cryptocurrency tax compliance, and tax preparers will follow suit on 2019 returns. Now is the time to get ready by taking gains to use up losses and losses to offset gains. This may mean getting records in order, but crypto investors only have until Dec. 31 to make moves for 2019.

> Make 529 college-savings contributions. There’s no federal deduction for contributions to 529 college-savings plans, although some states allow a deduction on their returns. Contributions to these accounts can grow tax-free, and withdrawals used to pay eligible college expenses are also tax-free. Contributions for 2019 must be often made by Dec. 31, although a few states allow them by the following April 15, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com.

> Review eligibility for the 199A pass-through deduction. The tax overhaul added a 20% deduction for the net income of many businesses that pass through profits and losses to their owners’ tax returns, including rental real estate. This benefit is often curtailed for owners whose incomes exceed certain limits.

In 2019, the limits are taxable income of $160,725 for single filers and $321,400 for married couples filing jointly.

Business owners whose incomes will exceed these limits can sometimes get below the threshold by making tax-deductible donations to charity or contributing more to tax-deductible retirement plans.

> Be aware of the so-called Kiddie Tax. It’s a levy on the “unearned” income of young people as old as 23, above an annual exemption currently set at $2,200.

The 2017 overhaul changed the Kiddie Tax rates and brackets so that children of lower- and middle-income families often owe more now than under the prior law, so plan accordingly.

Grandparents, for example, might want to give stock shares that will help pay college tuition to the parents of a grandchild, not to the grandchild.

> Remember extenders. Congress hasn’t extended dozens of provisions that expired in 2017, 2018 and 2019 but it may. Among them are breaks for tuition, medical expenses, taxes on mortgage-debt forgiveness, and energy efficiency investments.

Stay tuned for coverage if Congress manages to move forward on these provisions.

Credit Given to: Laura Saunders.  You can write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com.

Corrections & Amplifications

Contributions for 2019 to 529 college-savings plans must often be made by Dec. 31, although a few states allow them as late as the following April 15. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the deadline was Dec. 31 for all states. (Nov. 1, 2019)

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.