For every change in tax law, there are scores of people who want to outrun it and beat the system. Especially when it happens with less than three weeks left in the year.
Since the final federal tax bill appeared on Friday, many people have had questions about prepaying taxes, a wide-ranging strategy that encompasses various efforts to save money by paying some taxes early. It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes, if you pay taxes in one year instead of another, you can come out ahead financially. This will depend on your income, the amount of your overall deductions and any changes in tax law.
This year, there’s a twist: The authors of the tax bill cut off one prepayment move that many people had hoped to make while leaving at least two other options open.
For people who have money available to prepay their personal taxes, here is a breakdown of the options, according to both the bill itself and staff members from the relevant House and Senate committees.
Starting next year, you won’t be able to deduct more than $10,000 of the combined total of your state and local income taxes and your local property taxes on your personal federal income tax return (or sales plus property taxes in states where there is no income tax). Is your total more than that? If so, you might have been tempted to prepay some of your 2018 income taxes at the end of this year, so as to beat the new $10,000 cap by deducting that much more this year.
Republican tax bill writers read your mind, however, and in the final bill they prohibited taking a deduction this year if you prepay next year’s income taxes.
While the writers of the final bill had the opportunity to prohibit prepayment of local property taxes, they did not do so. So if you can save money on your taxes overall by paying your property taxes this year, when the $10,000 cap is not yet in effect, you should seriously consider it.
But before you start lining the money up, check with your local taxing authority about whether it allows prepayment — and how much you can actually pay in advance. There are different rules in different jurisdictions.
If you are not a salaried employee or if you have freelance income, you probably make quarterly income tax payments. If so, your next one is due Jan. 16.
Because that payment is for the fourth quarter of this year (even though you don’t have to pay it until 16 days into next year), it’s not technically a prepayment if you pay it this year.
So the new bill’s prohibition on prepayment of next year’s state income taxes does not keep you from making that fourth-quarter state income tax payment on Dec. 31 or before. If you do that and your overall tax situation allows it, you can deduct the payment on your 2017 tax return.