Tax Planning for 2021

As 2020 draws to a close and a new year dawns, we need to think of…tax planning! Some years Congress tweaks the laws more than other years. While 2020 held plenty of surprises with coronavirus and an election, it was a relatively quiet year for legislative changes. Still, even in a quiet year, some things change due to inflation increases, etc.

Estate Tax Planning

Applicable Exclusion rises from $11.58 million in 2020 to $11.7 million in 2021.

GST Exemption rises from $11.58 million in 2020 to $11.7 million in 2021.

Annual Exclusion for present interest gifts remains at $15,000.

Annual Exclusion for gifts to a Noncitizen Spouse rises to $159,000 in 2021.

In a few years, at the end of 2025, the Applicable Exclusion and the GST Exemption will revert to one-half of their current levels, in other words to $5 million, adjusted for inflation from the 2011 base year. This isn’t relevant for most Americans. However, if you have well over these amounts, you may want to consider removing these amounts from your estate while you still have the Exclusion and Exemption to cover the transfers. You still have a few years before the law is set to change, unless Congress changes things dramatically before then.

Income Tax Planning

Standard deduction amount:

Married, filing jointly, increases from $24,800 in 2020 to $25,100 in 2021

Single, increases from $12,400 in 2020 to $12,550 in 2021

Head of household, increases from $18,650 in 2020 to $18,800 in 2021

State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap remains at $10,000 in 2021

The income tax brackets also creep slightly higher, as well.

As you plan for 2021, remember to keep your receipts for expenses and charitable contributions. With the high standard deduction amount and the cap on State and Local Tax deductions remaining at $10,000, fewer taxpayers are itemizing. In fact, the percentage of taxpayers itemizing is less than half what it was before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Now, less than 14% of taxpayers are expected to itemize. Before then, over 31% of taxpayers itemized. If you give to charity, you may want to group your charitable contributions into one year and itemize them in that one year. You can do this by giving to a donor-advised fund in one year. Then you can make grant recommendations from your donor-advised fund each year. This way, your tax planning won’t impact your favorite charities.

Let’s look at an example. John and Mary make $14,000 of charitable contributions to their church or alma mater each year. They have state and local tax deductions above the $10,000 limit. They have a total of $24,000 of deductions and they’d be better off taking the standard deduction ($25,100 in 2021). Rather than giving $14,000 for each of three years to charity, they could give 3 x $14,000 ($42,000) in one year and they’d get a much better tax result. If they gave $42,000 in year 1 to a donor-advised fund, combined with their SALT deduction of $10,000, they’d have $52,000 of deductions instead of the standard deduction of $25,100. In years 2 and 3, they’d just have the SALT deduction of $10,000 and no charitable deduction but could still take the standard deduction ($25,100 in 2021). The charities would get their funds each year just as usual. John and Mary would get a much better tax result. In year 1, they’d have $52,000 of deductions instead of $25,100, an increase of $26,900. Their deductions in years 2 and 3 would not change. If John and Mary are in the highest income tax bracket, this increased deduction could save them nearly $10,000 in taxes.

A little planning can produce a much better tax result. Have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2021!