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The Hot Debate: Can You Deduct Prepaid Property Taxes?

With just two weeks to go before the April 17 deadline, prominent tax advisers still don’t agree on whether all those people who prepaid 2018 property taxes can deduct them in full.

The debate on such deductions arose after Congress passed the largest tax overhaul in three decades late last year. In a landmark change, lawmakers capped write-offs for state and local taxes at $10,000 per return for both single filers and married couples. The provision takes effect for 2018 and will lower these write-offs for millions of Americans.

The overhaul barred deductions for many prepayments of 2018 state and local income taxes, but it was silent on deductions of prepaid property taxes. After Christmas, long lines of people rushing to prepay their 2018 property taxes before year-end gathered at local government office.

Then on Dec. 27, the Internal Revenue Service warned that not all prepayments of 2018 property taxes would be deductible on 2017 returns. The agency said that to qualify for a write-off, the tax liability actually had to have been known at the time.

Right away, some tax specialists strongly agreed with the IRS but others strongly disagreed. The IRS and its supporters argued that those who prepaid all their 2018 property taxes can only deduct the portion that was known or determined at the time. In many cases, that means only for a few months of the year or not at all.

The IRS’s opponents argued for higher deductions of reasonable estimates. They based this argument on prior tax rulings and regulations that they think apply to this issue.

Now, three months later, little progress has been made.

Leading the opposition against the IRS’s position is Lawrence Axelrod, an attorney at Ivins, Phillips & Barker.

“The IRS position is misguided because it doesn’t take into account Treasury’s own regulations,” he said.

These regulations allow taxpayers to deduct amounts paid that will be due within 12 months. The IRS and its supporters disagree. They cite court decisions which say that to be deductible, taxes must have been imposed and the amount must be known.

Stephen Baxley, who heads tax planning for Bessemer Trust, a prominent multifamily office, agrees with Mr. Axelrod.

“If the amount is a reasonable estimate made in good faith, it’s deductible,” he says. The firm is responsible for preparing nearly 1,000 individual returns.

Other tax preparers agree with the IRS.

Brian Lovett, a certified public accountant with WithumSmith+Brown in New Jersey, where property taxes tend to be high, says his firm is following the IRS’s guidance: “We think the amount due must be determined for a prepayment to be deductible.”

The correct answer matters.

More than 80% of property-tax revenue is collected by local governments with a fiscal year other than Dec. 31, according to the latest data compiled by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Frequently, the fiscal year ends on June 30.

As a result, total property tax bills for 2018 weren’t determined by year-end in many areas of the country. Many could reasonably be estimated, however.

For example, say John lives in a county with a fiscal year ending June 30. By the end of 2017, he knew he would owe $6,500 in property tax due by June 30, 2018. He could likely assume that his bill for the second half of 2018 would be about the same. So in late December, he prepaid $13,000 for 2018 to his county.

According to the IRS’s position, John can only deduct a prepayment of $6,500—because the amount due for the second half of the year hadn’t been set.

But if Jane lives elsewhere and knew she would actually owe $13,000 in property tax for 2018, she can deduct a prepayment of that amount on her 2017 return.

Some advisers allow both approaches. David Lifson, a CPA with Crowe Horwath who has many high-earning clients, says he recommends that clients deduct prepayments of known amounts. But he will allow a deduction of an estimate, “if I feel the client understands the risk that the IRS will disagree.”

The debate is ongoing. In March, Democrats on the Ways & Means Committee wrote acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter to protest the IRS’s interpretation of the law.

The good news for taxpayers who want to deduct prepayments of estimates is that neither Mr. Lifson nor Mr. Baxley thinks these write-offs need to be disclosed on IRS Form 8275. On it, taxpayers are supposed to disclose risky positions to avoid certain penalties. Supporters of the IRS’s position think the form should be filed, however.

Some taxpayers are also pushing preparers to take the deduction because the audit risk is low, given constraints on IRS resources.

Emily Matthews, a CPA with Edelstein & Co. in Boston, says she explains the IRS’s position to clients. But she says, “I think we’ll see a lot of people who prepaid estimated taxes opt to deduct them.”

By  | Apr 4, 2018

Posted by Sigrid Cottrell
Sigrid's Butte Blog

Fed rate hike: What it means for consumers
January 1, 2017

Financial markets have sent a forceful message that the era of super-low interest rates is coming to a close.

The Federal Reserve’s decision Wednesday to raise its benchmark short-term interest rate will slowly push up rates on everything from mortgages and credit cards to savings accounts. 

The Fed increased its federal funds rate by 0.25 percentage points. It was only the second increase in more than a decade. Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen said at a press conference that the economy had shown enough improvement in the last year to warrant higher increases and projected three more rate hikes in 2017.

Here’s how the rate hikes will affect your pocketbook.

Mortgage rates

Mortgage rates are already historically low and the Fed’s short-term rate bump — which indirectly affects mortgage rates — is not likely to make a big difference in the next few months. But, subsequent hikes by the Fed in 2017 could start to really add to the cost of a home. 

Zillow and other industry watchers say mortgage rate increases have more of an impact in costly home markets, like San Diego County. 

Rates have already gone up since president-elect Donald Trump’s victory.

Since the day before the election, the cost of a typical San Diego County home increased by $50,400 over the course of a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with 20 percent down. 

The median home price in the county, $507,500, hit its highest point in a decade in October. Mortgage rates were 3.59 percent the day before president-elect Donald Trump’s victory, rising to 4.19 percent Wednesday, said Mortgage Daily News.

Mortgage rates typically track the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury. That yield has risen sharply since the election as investors take money out of bonds and put it in the stock market. However, the bond market could still change course as investors become less bullish on stocks. 

Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages for Zillow, said coastal California will feel the impact more than, for instance, much of the Midwest. 

“Those higher price markets are where even moderate increases in rates can be felt more significantly,” she said. 

Lantz said higher interest rates could slow home price increases, but it is not likely prices will go down. She stressed interest rates were still at historic lows and there does not seem to be any drop in purchase loan requests on Zillow.

However, subsequent rate increases could make more of a dent. 

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, predicted Wednesday after the Fed announcements that the mortgage rate would be in the 4.5 to 5 percent range for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at this time next year.

Randy Goodman, CEO of Accretive Investments, said at a real estate conference last week at the University of San Diego that even though interest rates have an effect on San Diegans, there are non-local buyers who can prop up the market.

He identified foreign buyers and so-called "baby chasers," parents who move across the nation to be with adult children who recently had kids of their own, as people ready to pay higher rates. 

Auto loans

Current car owners paying off a fixed-rate loan will not be affected by any rate increase, but new shoppers looking to buy could pay more — but not much.

The average interest rate for a new car was around 4.26 percent in early December and 4.79 percent for a used car, said Bankrate, a financial website that tracks loan rates.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, said people looking to purchase a car shouldn’t lose sleep over interest rate changes. 

“The difference of a 0.25 percentage point for somebody looking to borrow $25,000 is $3 a month,” he said in a Facebook video. “So, nobody is going to have to downsize from the SUV to a compact.”

More Fed increases next year, though, would make these loans more costly. While auto loans are not a huge part of the economic puzzle, Lantz said increases in various parts of the economy mean less disposable income for basic items, and people could put off big purchases.

Savings accounts and CDs

If you like to save money, you’re happy to see any rise in interest rates. But don’t get too excited because Wednesday’s move will have a marginal impact on your nest egg.

Rates on many savings products are still in the basement — down nearly 6 percent since 1990. Consumers are still lucky to find a savings account with 1 percent rates.

Savings accounts and certificates of deposit, or CDs, benefit from high yields and could become more of a factor if the Fed continues to raise rates. 

“If this signals the beginning of more rate hikes to come, then I think you will begin to see meaningful increases in the yields people are earning,” said Claes Bell, Bankrate researcher. 

Money market accounts, a subset of savings accounts, have historically performed much better. The yearly yield was 5.98 percent in 1990, said Bankrate. By 2000, it was down to 2.07. Today,  the average rate on a money market account is 0.11 percent, with the best rates usually coming from credit unions. Rates in San Diego County range from 0.01 to 0.05 percent, according to Bankrate. 

Credit cards

If you have a credit card with a variable rate or a home equity line of credit, you’ll feel Wednesday’s Fed move pretty quickly.

Average credit card interest rates are about 16.28 percent, while home equity lines are about 4.78 percent, says Bankrate. And banks will pass along that quarter-point increase in the fed funds rate to consumers in a few weeks. So, it will make sense to pay this type of debt off before rates get too high or get into some sort of fixed-rate repayment.

“The cost of carrying that debt every month is going to get heavier and heavier,” Bell said. 

The average San Diego County resident was $26,266 in debt in October, according to credit monitoring company Experian. That can include mortgages, student loans and credit cards.

Article by: 
phillip.molnar@sduniontribune.comtime since ‘06

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