How should investors respond to the U.S. tax picture? Let’s first assess the impact of recent changes on the American taxpayer.
For many investors, the only tax increase they are feeling so far is the elimination of the payroll tax reduction. (In that case, the maximum impact for higher income individuals is approximately $2,200. Given that the average tax refund for taxpayers is about $3,000, one way to avoid the paycheck pain is simply to lower tax withholdings to better match what people owe.)
As an investor’s income grows, the number of changes in the tax code do, too. Above $200,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI), for example, there are additional investment income taxes imposed by Affordable Care Act. Then for married couples who earn above $450,000, taxes have increased on wages and investment income.
These taxpayers may want to talk with a tax advisor about some income planning, if they are close to these threshold amounts, as a way of avoiding additional hits. For example, taxpayers at this level might be more inclined to consider installment sales of investments or real estate as a way to manage the timing of their gains to keep them below the AGI limit.
Affluent taxpayers should also talk to an investment advisor about the composition of their investment portfolios. They should consider replacing some dividend holdings with growth funds, or moving from corporate bonds to municipals. Roth conversions, which have been a hot strategy for many for the past few years, are going to be a lot less popular among these higher-income taxpayers.
Now let’s answer the original question. In my opinion, all taxpayers — high and low income — should welcome tax reform if it goes a long way to simplifying the process of calculating and collecting taxes. When you consider that it is not unusual to spend tens of hours preparing one’s tax returns (even with the help of a registered tax preparer), this is a massive use of time for no productive economic purpose. We all have more important and productive things to do than reconstructing our financial histories from the prior year in order to comply with our Byzantine tax laws.