clockIt is important to review and discuss tax planning for the year in which a divorce was completed, especially for high earning individuals who receive incentive compensation and plan to be divorced by December 31, 2018. As part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, many tax law changes became effective in 2018. One change was to the flat tax rate that is withheld by companies on incentive income such as bonus income, commission income, exercised stock options, and vested restricted stock. As of January 2018, the federal rate changed from 25% to 22%. The Minnesota state rate remains the same at 6.25%. Most highly compensated individuals have marginal tax rates above 22%, so tax on the above income types is under-withheld. To avoid an unpleasant tax surprise come April 15th, be sure to address this potential additional tax liability and come up with a plan to handle it. Some options to consider are:
  • Estimate the tax liability now and include and allocate it as part of the property division.
  • Include language to share in the tax liability when return(s) are filed next year.
  • Consider whether it makes sense to load-up itemized deductions from the year to the higher earning spouse to help offset liability (i.e. real estate taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions).
house for sale When divorcing, whether one spouse stays in the family home is often a pivotal decision.  For most, there are several considerations that go into deciding whether to sell or stay.  The tax impact of selling the marital home is unlikely to be at the top of that list, but with home values on the rise, it is worth understanding. The current tax rules are quite favorable to people realizing a gain on the sale of their home.  The IRS allows each taxpayer to avoid paying capital gains tax on the first $250,000 of capital gain on the sale of one’s residence. That means that a taxpayer filing “single” could exempt the first $250,000. A couple filing “married filing jointly” can avoid paying taxes on $500,000 in gains.  The capital gains tax on a $250,000 gain can range from $0 to about $75,000 so it is worth it for divorcing couple to make sure they cover this in their divorce arrangements. To qualify for the exemption, the IRS requires that the home meet the principal residence test, which is based on ownership, use and timing. For ownership, you need to have lived in the home for at least 2 years, (24 full months) in the 5 years before the sale.  These 24 months do not need to be continuous.  The use criteria require that the home be your principal residence for those 24 months.  This can be an issue if one spouse was employed in another city, where they kept a second residence. One spouse meets the use test, but the other does not.  Finally, the timing criteria requires that you have not excluded the gain on the sale of another home in the past 2 years. Tax law gives divorcing couples some leeway in these criteria. Transfer of home ownership between divorcing spouses is not considered to be a taxable event by the IRS. If ownership is not transferred during the divorce, detailing the home ownership arrangement in the divorce decree is key to minimizing taxes when selling the home later.  An ex-spouse that continues to be an owner of the home but does not live there, can still use the exclusion if there is written documentation in the decree that lays out this arrangement. Dealing with home decisions during the divorce can be a complex.  Be sure that in your home decision analysis, you are clear on your tax implications! And keep in mind that cabins, vacation homes and investment real estate generally will not meet the principal residence test, so they may have tax consequences when sold. For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.
clockGetting unmarried and taxes can become a consideration in terms of whether to have a divorce final by year-end or final after January 1. I have worked on a number of divorce cases where this very topic deserved a thorough analysis to determine which tax filing year to have the divorce final. Here are a couple of important points to remember. If you are married for the entire year, the choices you have for tax filing are joint or married filing separately. If the courts deem the divorce final no later than December 31, you are considered divorced for the entire year and are not able to file jointly or married filing separately. An entry of divorce on December 31 requires filing as single or if qualified as head of household for the year ended December 31. How do you determine which year is best? Usually this requires completion of the various tax return scenarios by a qualified tax advisor normally a CPA or Enrolled Agent. They will run the numbers for a joint return as if the couple was married the entire year. Next, they will run the numbers as if they were divorced for the year with either a single or Head of Household filing status if qualified. Whatever method results in the lowest combined tax for the couple preserves more of the family assets and resources. Sometimes this can amount to thousands of dollars. I recently concluded a collaborative divorce case as a financial neutral for a couple where this very issue came up. My initial analysis revealed the couple could in-fact save thousands of dollars by having the divorce final by year-end vs. filing a joint return for 2014 and the divorce final in 2015. A thorough and complete analysis by a CPA confirmed the couple would save approximately $20,000 in income taxes by having the divorce final no later than December 31. Needless to say, this couple would much rather have the $20,000 in their pockets vs. having to forfeit that amount to the I.R.S. Although divorce documents are e-filed with the courts, there is no guarantee the divorce will be final by December 31. Once the documents are received by the courts, the file is assigned to a judicial officer for review. Files submitted in late November and December are not automatically reviewed and approved by year-end. Attorneys working on the case will often make requests to have the review and entry of divorce completed by December 31. I hope that in this most recent case it will be. It is always worth a try especially when you have $20,000 on the table. Do not overlook the tax strategies and any potential savings when divorcing near year-end. It could potentially save you and your family a bundle.