The 2019 tax year — for which your return is due by April 2020 — is rapidly coming to an end.
If you want to make the most of everything from tax deductions to retirement accounts this year, now is the time to learn the rules that will apply to your next federal income tax return. Once the new year dawns, it will be too late.
Many key dollar figures — from standard deductions to retirement account contribution limits — can change every year due to inflation. Additionally, some aspects of the federal tax reform law of 2017 didn’t take effect until this year.
So, following is a look at some of the biggest ways in which the federal tax return you file by April 2020 will differ from the last one you filed.
1. No individual mandate penalty
Most of the tax code changes stemming from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 took effect in 2018. One exception is the change to the shared responsibility payment, which takes effect this year.
The shared responsibility payment — commonly referred to as the individual mandate penalty — has applied to folks who are required to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act but who didn’t get coverage and didn’t qualify for an exemption.
If you owed the penalty, it was due when you paid your taxes.
Starting with this tax year, however, there is no penalty. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act zeroed it out effective in 2019. So, folks who don’t have health insurance this year will not owe the penalty when they file their taxes in 2020.
2. Higher medical expense deduction threshold
Another way in which the Affordable Care Act impacted taxes was by raising the threshold for deductible medical and dental expenses from 7.5% to 10% of adjusted gross income.
That made it harder to qualify for the deduction. If you itemized your tax deductions, you could deduct eligible out-of-pocket medical expenses if they exceeded 10% of your income, rather than the previous 7.5%.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gave taxpayers a brief reprieve from that change, lowering the threshold back down to 7.5%, but only for the 2017 and 2018 tax years. Starting this year, it returns to 10%.
In other words, as the IRS puts it in Publication 5307, which details how tax reform affects individuals:
“If you plan to itemize for tax year 2019, your unreimbursed medical and dental expenses will have to exceed 10% of your 2019 adjusted gross income in order to be deductible.”
3. No alimony deduction
Elimination of the alimony deduction is another Tax Cuts and Jobs Act change that took effect in tax year 2019 rather than 2018. For divorce and separation agreements made or modified this year or thereafter, alimony payments will not be deductible, says IRS Publication 5307.
So, a spouse who gets divorced this year and pays alimony this year cannot write the payments off on a tax return in 2020. That also means that a spouse who gets divorced this year and receives alimony this year cannot count the payments as income.
4. Higher retirement account contribution limits
This year, you can stash more cash in various types of retirement accounts, as we detail in “Limits for 401(k), IRA and Other Retirement Plans to Rise in 2019.”
Contributions that you make in 2019 to such accounts — including traditional 401(k) plans and traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) — could be deductible on your next tax return.
The 2019 contribution limits include:
- 401(k) base contribution: $19,000 (up from $18,500 last year)
- 401(k) catch-up contribution (for taxpayers age 50 and older): additional $6,000 (unchanged)
- IRA base contribution: $6,000 (up from $5,500)
- IRA catch-up contribution (for taxpayers age 50 and older): additional $1,000 (unchanged)
The increases to IRA contributions limits for 2019 are a particularly big deal, as this is the first year since 2013 that IRA limits have budged.
Some contribution limits will also rise again for tax year 2020 — the one for which your return is due by April 2021 — as we recently reported.
5. Higher HSA contribution limits
Health savings accounts are another type of tax-advantaged account for which the contribution limits generally increase as the years roll along.
HSAs are not strictly for retirement savings, although you can effectively use them as retirement accounts, as we explain in “3 Reasons to Get a Health Savings Account.”
The 2019 contribution limits for people who are eligible for an HSA and have the following types of high-deductible health insurance policies are:
- Self-only coverage: $3,500 (up from $3,450 last year)
- Family coverage: $7,000 (up from $6,900)
HSA limits also will rise again for tax year 2020.
6. Higher standard deductions
Standard deductions are somewhat higher this year on account of inflation. The IRS reports that they are:
- Married filing jointly: $24,400 (up $400 from last year)
- Married filing separately: $12,200 (up $200)
- Head of household: $18,350 (up $350)
- Single: $12,200 (up $200)
The standard deduction reduces the amount of your income that’s subject to federal taxes. So, if a married couple filing a joint tax return is eligible for and chooses to take the standard deduction on their next return, they would not be taxed on the first $24,400 of their taxable income from 2019.
7. Higher income brackets
Income tax brackets are also somewhat higher in 2019 than they were last year on account of inflation.
The IRS reports that the tax rates and corresponding income brackets for 2019 are as follows for folks whose tax filing status is single:
- 37% tax rate: Applies to incomes of more than $510,300
- 35%: More than $204,100 but not more than $510,300
- 32%: More than $160,725 but not more than $204,100
- 24%: More than $84,200 but not more than $160,725
- 22%: More than $39,475 but not more than $84,200
- 12%: More than $9,700 but not more than $39,475
- 10%: $9,700 or less
For complete 2019 tax rate tables for all tax filing statuses, see IRS Revenue Procedure 2018-57. They start on Page 8 of the document. If you want to compare them with the 2018 tables, see Internal Revenue Bulletin 2018-10.
What’s your take on the changes in store for your next federal income tax return? Sound off in a comment below or over on the Money Talks News Facebook page.