Key actions to consider before filing your U.S. tax return
14 moves that may help you optimize your 2021 return and set up for 2022.
While taxes are inevitable, what you may owe might not be. That’s why we suggest you meet with your tax advisors as soon as possible to finalize your 2021 returns—and plan for 2022.
Often, your tax bill depends on a number of fluid factors, including: where you live, how old you are, what (and to whom) you give, and whether you can (and do) benefit from available tax breaks.
Even if Congress passes changes to the tax law in 2022, we suggest you speak with your tax advisors now to explore which of these 14 actions may suit your situation.
What might you do now about your 2021 tax bill?
Here are five actions to consider related to your 2021 tax returns. Which work for you?
1. Contribute to IRAs.
With a traditional IRA, you can contribute up to $6,000, or—if you were 50 years or older in 2021—up to $7,000 of your earned income. Moreover, those contributions are potentially deductible and, if not, may be used for conversions to Roth IRAs and possibly doubled even for non-working spouses. However, check with your tax advisor to determine whether any pending legislation still being actively considered by Congress would negate the benefit of such a conversion.
- With a Roth IRA, subject to certain limitations, you can make non-deductible contributions up to the same limits for 2021 with the benefit that all growth, and future distributions, will be tax-free.1
- If you own a business that offers SEP or SIMPLE IRAs to employees, you have a grace period for making contributions to those accounts, based on the due date of the business’s or employer’s tax return, including extensions.
2. Distribute trust income.
Trustees have until March 6, 2022, to distribute income to beneficiaries and have those distributions treated as if they were made in 2021.
If a trustee has discretion over whether to make a distribution, the decision must be informed, always, by (a) the terms of the trust, (b) the trust’s income and transfer tax characteristics, and (c) the beneficiary’s best interests.
Only after weighing those factors should a trustee determine whether a distribution would make economic sense—as it often does. The marginal U.S. income tax rate of many trust beneficiaries (including even some whose income exceeds $500,000) is well below the top 37% tax rate, which is generally the rate that the trust would pay, as the tax brackets for trusts are very condensed.2
3. Seek a “SALT refund” for your pass-throughs.
The Internal Revenue Service issued a Notice late in 2020 stating that it intends to issue regulations saying pass-through entities (e.g., partnerships and S corporations) are exempt from the $10,000 deductibility cap on state and local taxes (SALT) at the entity level.
Check your state laws to determine whether pass-through entities in that state can elect to use this deduction. (Not all entities can, or would want to.) Many states require elections by March 15 for calendar year partnerships, for example; such elections would apply only to future tax returns.
4. Invest in an Opportunity Zone Fund (QOF) to defer realized gains.
Have you directly (or indirectly, through a pass-through entity such as a partnership) realized short- or long-term gains during the last few months of the year on the sale of an asset? If so, you may have 180 days from the date of that realization (as determined under special QOF rules) to invest those gains in a QOF and defer (perhaps for five or more years) payment of taxes that would otherwise be due.
If you own an interest, or shares, in a pass-through entity that sold an asset early in 2021, the date of realization for that sale may be December 31 or March 15.3 Speak with your tax advisors to determine what the relevant date of realization is, and how to measure the 180-day period in your particular circumstances.
5. Make timely distributions from your private foundation.
The general rule is that, to avoid penalties, private non-operating foundations must distribute at least 5% of their assets at least annually to public charities. But if needed, you may have as much as 12 additional months to make distributions, as there is, in effect, a 12-month grace period. In other words, a private foundation on a December 31 fiscal year that is determined to have $1 million of assets and therefore a minimum distribution requirement of $50,000 as of December 31, 2021, has until December 31, 2022, to distribute that $50,000.
Check with your tax advisor to see what your private foundation’s final deadline for these distributions may be if the foundation’s situation requires more time.
How will you pay your tax bill by April 15?
While tax returns are often filed on extension, tax payments must, in all but the rarest of circumstances, be made by April 15. So you may want, or need, to raise cash to make that payment. If that’s the case, what are your options?
6. Evaluate whether you want to borrow to pay taxes or sell selected holdings.
Borrowing against your portfolio of marketable securities is a handy solution. Of course, borrowing has a cost. However, with interest rates still relatively low (even though they are expected to rise this year), that cost may be relatively small and be far outweighed by other considerations (such as not having to sell securities or other assets you’d prefer to keep).
You can’t deduct the interest on funds you borrow to pay taxes—but you can deduct the interest if you’re borrowing to invest, to the extent of investment income. So you might want to borrow to invest, and deduct the interest paid on those borrowings, meanwhile using cash from other sources to pay your taxes.
If you don’t want to borrow, review your holdings: If your portfolio had both gains and losses, consider selling those holdings that produced no net capital gains, and using the proceeds to pay the taxes due.
What might you do to improve your 2022 tax returns?
There are some issues and opportunities particular to this year that you may want to consider as soon as possible:
7. Maximize contributions to all kinds of tax-deferred accounts.
The amounts you can contribute to your 401(k) account increased by $1,000 in 2022 (up to $20,500 if you are under age 50, or $27,000 if you are over 50). Also: The amount your employer and you can contribute has risen by $3,000 (to $61,000 or $67,500, respectively, depending on your age).
Be sure that the withholdings from your pay are properly calibrated to account for those changes. Those figures also apply to self-employed defined contribution accounts.
In addition, if you’ll have a bonus (or other performance-based compensation) to set aside in a deferred compensation account, you may have only until June 30 to do so. Check with your employer to confirm the deadlines to make elections and to identify the maximum that might be deferred under its deferred compensation plan and then based on your cash flow needs now and in the future, you can decide what might be the appropriate amount for you to defer.
8. Think about required minimum distributions (RMDs) and qualified charitable distributions (QCDs).
RMDs don’t have to be taken until December 31 (unless you turned 72 in 2021 and did not take them by December 31, in which case they must be taken by April 1, 2022).
Before you take your RMDs this year, decide whether you’d want instead to make a QCD of up to $100,000 to a public charity, in place of all or part of your RMDs. Unlike an RMD, the QCD amount is excluded from your gross taxable income.
However, note: You can’t claim this QCD as an income tax charitable deduction. Also, the QCD cannot be made to a donor-advised fund (DAF) or a private foundation (operating or non-operating).
9. Fund charitable gifts with appreciated stock.
Many equities appreciated significantly over the last year. That could make it extremely tax-wise to donate those public equities, in kind, to a public charity (or to a DAF, private operating foundation or private non-operating foundation). In addition to receiving a deduction based on the fair market value of the stock you donate, you could also avoid tax on the unrealized gain on those equities.
That said, beware: Make sure you’ve held the donated stock, unhedged, for more than one year. Also be sure the financial firm holding your shares donates the correct lot, and if that lot has ever been transferred from another firm, that the basis and holding period information is reported correctly from one firm to the other.
10. Review your quarterly estimated payments.
Review your actual 2021 and anticipated 2022 tax bills to determine your minimum necessary quarterly estimated payments for this year.
If you are expecting outsized income in 2022, you may want to rely on the actual payments you made in 2021 to determine the estimated payments you make in 2022. You may be allowed to do so under the so-called “110% prior year safe harbor rule.” This way, you can keep more of your income until April 15, 2023—without worrying that the IRS will charge interest and in certain instances possibly impose penalties.
The safe harbor is based on the prior year taxes paid or the current year tax due, not the income earned. So, for example, if you had a relatively large amount of capital gain income in 2021 and expect a relatively large amount of ordinary income in 2022, you might find your estimated taxes due lower based on the 110% formula than the 90% formula, even if your “income” is the same for both years.
11. Decide which state to call home for income tax purposes in 2022.
Many taxpayers moved during the pandemic, but were not able to get themselves officially declared residents of a lower-tax state, or to minimize the taxes they owed to multiple states. But you have time in 2022 to establish domicile in the state to which you want to pay taxes this year. Ask your J.P. Morgan team for a copy of our Changing Domicile Checklist.
Also: It may be easier to switch where trusts that you’ve created are sited, so don’t forget to review those as well.
12. Stay up-to-date on potential federal income tax rate increases.
It appears increasingly unlikely Congress will pass legislation in 2022 that would raise tax rates on high-income taxpayers. But even if it did pass such a bill, while the increases would likely be effective starting January 1, 2022 (or, in the case of “qualified small business stock,” perhaps September 14, 2021), most individuals with incomes less than $10 million a year or non-grantor trusts that accumulate less than $200,000 a year are likely to be unaffected.
13. Optimize annual exclusion gifts.
Consider making annual exclusion (up to $16,000 per donor, per donee) gifts earlier in the year so that any growth on these assets over the course of the year occurs off your balance sheet.
14. Harvest capital losses.
Consider implementing a systematic program harvesting capital losses for your securities portfolios. Doing so might help you to take advantage of any market downturns while avoiding the wash sale rules so adverse to taxpayers—and to bank those losses to offset already realized (or future) capital gains.
And while you’re reviewing your portfolio with an eye to harvesting losses, be sure to evaluate the tax efficiency of your holdings across all of your family’s accounts.
A key contributor to growing family wealth over time is making sure the proper accounts own the proper assets. For instance, where possible, have tax-deferred accounts own tax-inefficient assets, and taxable accounts own tax-efficient assets. Asset location can be as important as asset allocation to wealth growth and preservation.
We can help
There are many options you may consider for your 2021 taxes and to prepare for 2022. Your J.P. Morgan team can assist in working with your tax advisors to help decide which options are the best suited for you.