For the first time in her life, Gina Ednie, 45, has hired an accountant to prepare her taxes. Not only is she concerned about the $18,500 property tax bill on her home in Wantagh, New York, she’s also unsure what it means to lose the exemptions she’s come to depend on for her four children.
“The new tax law has thrown our entire household into disarray,” Ednie told NBC News BETTER via phone, after reaching out to share her concerns in our HerMoney Facebook group, a forum where thousands of women have gathered to support one another and discuss their money stories. “I wish my husband and I had adjusted our withholdings on our W4s, but I just never thought it would be this bad. We’ve survived multiple tax law changes over the years, and none of them ever impacted us like this.”
Ednie is still unsure exactly how much her family may owe this year, and she’s not alone. Less than half of all taxpayers — 48 percent — understand how the new law affects their tax bracket, and only 51 percent of Americans are even aware there is a new tax law, according to a study from NerdWallet. If you’re unclear exactly how you’ll fare this year once you run your numbers past Uncle Sam, don’t freak out. Check out this breakdown on all the changes, and what you can expect.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES THIS YEAR?
- New standard deductions. By far the biggest change is a new, higher standard deduction. It’s $12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for heads of household and $24,000 for people married filing jointly. Taxpayers have always had a choice between taking the standard deduction and itemizing — taking individual write-offs for things like mortgage interest and charitable contributions — but because the standard deduction has gone up, itemizing will make sense for fewer people. According to estimates from TurboTax, nearly 90 percent of taxpayers will now take the standard deduction, up from about 70 percent in previous years. (If you’re unsure which camp you’ll fall into, there’s an interactive calculator here.)
- New limits on State and Local Income Tax (SALT) deductions. Per the new law, deductions are limited to just $10,000. (If you’re keeping up, you’ll note that’s $8,500 shy of where Ednie’s family would like it to be.) While this change won’t be a burden to all homeowners, it will hit folks hardest in states with the highest property taxes, which include New Jersey, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Illinois and California.
- New rules around medical expense deductions. In years past, your medical expenses had to exceed 10 percent of your annual income before you could deduct them, but now if they exceed 7.5 percent you can enjoy that deduction — if you itemize.
- Dependent exemptions have been eliminated, but child tax credits have been increased. The $4,050 exemptions that millions of parents (including Ednie) had grown accustomed to taking for their children are no longer allowed, but the child tax credit was raised from $1,000 to $2,000, for children under 17, and families earning up to $400,000 can take advantage of the credit. The law also introduced a $500 credit for non-child dependents, which could include elderly parents or children over the age of 17, explains Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and TurboTax expert.
- Moving expenses are no longer deductible. Even if you complete a necessary cross-country move for a new job, you’re no longer allowed to deduct those expenses under the new law. This does not include active duty military personnel, or companies that move. (So small business owners can still claim moving expenses on their business taxes.) One bright spot here, though: if your company is reimbursing you for your moving expenses, you no longer get taxed on that reimbursement as if it were income, explains Kathy Pickering, Executive Director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.
- 529 accounts aren’t just for college anymore. In the past, funds from 529 educational savings plans could only be used for college, but under the new law, families can use them for tuition expenses for grades K-12 as well as for university studies. “This can be really beneficial for parents paying for private school or religious schools who have those kinds of expenses,” Pickering says.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO REDUCE MY TAX BURDEN BEFORE APRIL 15?
Yes. You can still get a tax deduction of up to $5,500 (or $6,500 for individuals 50 and over) and lower your 2018 taxable income by making a 2018 IRA contribution up until April 15, Greene-Lewis explains.
WILL THE NEW TAX LAW AFFECT MY REFUND?
Whether you see a bigger refund this year really comes down to your personal tax situation and whether or not you adjusted your W-4 withholdings, Greene-Lewis says. To know for sure, you’ll need to look at your total tax picture, not just your refund. “The majority of taxpayers who usually take the standard deduction may see more money in their pocket this year, but this does not necessarily mean it will show up in their refund; it can show up in their refund, paycheck or as a lower tax balance due.”
If you’re worried about getting your refund in a timely manner — the government shutdown didn’t do any of us any favors — Pickering says the most important thing tax filers can do is to make sure they file electronically, and ask for their refund to be direct deposited right into their bank account. “You really maximize the opportunity for things sailing through smoothly when you file electronically. Anytime people have to open mail and sort mail, that’s going to add lag time to the process,” she says.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I END UP OWING MORE MONEY THAN I WAS EXPECTING?
Talk to your employer about adjusting your withholdings on your W4 form, Pickering says. “If you didn’t get the outcome you wanted in 2018, with this year, you can start over, and the sooner the better. Now’s a good time to update because you have all of the information in front of you.” If you’re unsure exactly how much you’ll need to have withheld, the IRS has a handy withholding calculator you can use to see where you stack up, and ensure that next year is smooth sailing.