One of the key elements of the new tax law is that it nearly doubles the standard deduction from $12,700 to $24,000 for joint filers (for simplicity, I’m not addressing individuals or heads of households, although the same concepts apply).
Historically, about 70 percent of people used the standard deduction and that number is expected to jump to 90 percent under the new law. For the 20 percent that will move from itemizing to using the standard deduction, there may be a technique for the charitably-inclined that may allow you to maximize your deductions.
Consider someone that has three deductions – $8,000 in mortgage interest, $7,000 in property taxes and $6,000 in charitable donations. The total of these expenses, $21,000, was well over the old standard deduction, so it was possible to itemize the deductions.
Under the new tax law, these three items are shy of the $24,000 standard deduction, so itemizing wouldn’t make sense. The new strategy, known as ‘bunching,’ allows you to use the standard deduction in one year and itemize in the next, increasing your total deductions.
While you can’t really control the timing of your mortgage interest or property taxes, you can control the timing of your charitable giving.
The strategy calls for donating two years of donations in a single year. In one year, you skip the charitable donation and use the standard deduction because the total of your mortgage interest and property taxes only total $15,000.
In the other year, you make two-years’ worth of donations, totaling $12,000, which brings your total deductions to $27,000, an increase of $3,000 over the standard deduction.
Over the course of two years, your deductions under the new law would have totaled $48,000, but thanks to the bunching strategy, they total $51,000, saving you the tax on $3,000.
Your favorite charities may not love the strategy because it makes their cash flow even lumpier, but the basic idea isn’t uncommon. I serve on some charitable boards and people often shift their donations between December and January for tax purposes. The strategy was possible in years past, but the change in the deduction allows more people to participate.
While the tax law probably does simplify the code for millions of taxpayers, there are still plenty of games to play for 10-15 percent of the population and we’ll keep posting strategies here for you to consider.