Personal Finance

House panel releases last-minute tax breaks, amid uncertainty over passage

Key Points
  • The House Ways and Means Committee proposed new tax legislation on Monday.
  • This bill addresses a package of tax breaks that must be renewed each year, known as the “tax extenders.”
  • Certain retirement-related provisions from so-called Tax Reform 2.0 have also resurfaced in the bill.
Republican Congressman Kevin Brady just released year-end tax bill
Republican Congressman Kevin Brady just released year-end tax bill

If you were planning on nabbing a deduction for your mortgage insurance or your college expenses, prepare to sit tight.

That's because these and other breaks that are known as the "tax extenders" are bundled into newly proposed legislation that's likely going nowhere fast, according to policy experts.

The House Ways and Means Committee proposed a package of tax provisions on Monday, known as the Retirement, Savings and Other Tax Relief Act of 2018 and the Taxpayer First Act of 2018.

In addition to renewing the "tax extenders" for the 2018 tax year, Ways and Means proposed providing victims of this year's natural disasters with some tax relief if they must tap their retirement accounts.

Further, legislators brought back a number of retirement-related provisions, including one that will exempt required minimum distributions for savers with less than $50,000 in retirement plans.

Whether the proposals will find enough bipartisan support in this lame duck session remains to be seen.

"The House will pass it, but I don't think they'll get 60 votes in the Senate," said Howard Gleckman, senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "I think it's very uncertain."

Here are a few notable provisions you should watch.

Tax extenders

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Nearly every year, a bundle of tax breaks heads to Congress, which must decide whether to renew them or not.

Lawmakers don't always wrap up their discussions prior to the end of the year.

"The 2017 extenders weren't passed until almost this February," said Nicole Kaeding, director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation . "That's something individuals need to watch if it isn't handled."

These breaks range from the esoteric — the classification of certain race horses as 3-year property — to the mundane — a credit of $4,000 for electric cars.

Keep an eye on the extenders below, as they may apply to your 2018 taxes:

Discharge of indebtedness on your principal residence: You may exclude from your gross income up to $2 million (if married) the amount of debt discharged on your home.

This might apply if your mortgage lender allowed you to get rid of your dwelling in a so-called short sale and eliminates some or all of the balance on your loan. Normally, that debt forgiveness is taxable, but this tax extender offers some relief.

Treatment of your mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest: If you own your home and itemize, you can deduct the interest on your mortgage and your home equity loan or line of credit — up to $750,000 in combined debt — as long as you use the money to improve or build your dwelling.

This tax extender allows you to take a deduction for your mortgage insurance premiums. This is the additional cost you pay if your original down payment was less than 20 percent of the sales price.

Deduction of qualified tuition and related expenses: This provision allows a deduction for college tuition and other related costs of up to $4,000 per year. You do not have to itemize to take advantage of this break.

Retirement savings

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It's no coincidence if a few of the retirement provisions sound familiar to you. That's because legislators had proposed them under Tax Reform 2.0 and the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act.

Here are a handful of retirement-related provisions that are up for debate in Ways and Means' new proposal.

Repeal of required minimum distributions for small retirement accounts: Reaching age 70½ means that the clock has started ticking on your required minimum distribution — a mandatory withdrawal you must take from your retirement accounts each year.

Lawmakers are now proposing a repeal of the so-called RMD for individuals with $50,000 or less saved in their retirement accounts.

"It would get a lot of people out of dealing with those rules," said Jeffrey Levine, CPA and CEO of BluePrint Wealth Alliance in Garden City, New York.

It wouldn't necessarily save those individuals a lot of money, though.

"Frankly, it's not all that meaningful when you talk about people with small balances," Levine said. "They might need to use that money more than anything else."

Elimination of age limits for contributing to traditional IRAs: Account holders are barred from making additional contributions to their IRAs as of the year they turn 70½. Age limits don't apply to Roth IRA contributions, but you must be working.

Encourage small employers to pool together and offer 401(k) access: President Donald Trump signed an executive order in August that asked regulators to examine how small businesses can more easily join together to offer retirement plans to their workers.

Under current law, companies are allowed to band together to offer retirement plans if their businesses are related. This is known as a "multiple employer plan."

The legislation aims to make these multiple employer plans more accessible.

Permitting families to tap their retirement accounts for birth and adoption costs: It's back.

Earlier this fall, Tax Reform 2.0 included a measure that would allow families to take penalty-free withdrawals from their retirement plans in the event of the birth or adoption of a new child.

Those withdrawals cannot exceed $7,500, according to the proposal.

Taking that money might do some damage to your finances: It's $7,500 that's been cashed out and is no longer invested in the market.

"We're already short, as a country, on retirement savings," said Levine. "Any time you have one of those penalty exceptions, it's a tacit endorsement that it's okay to use retirement money for this."

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