All about AMT: What it is and how it Might Apply to you

Contributed by: Matt Trujillo, CFP® Matt Trujillo

AMT.  It is one of those IRS acronyms that have a very bad reputation. Most people definitely seem to want to avoid it at all costs – but should they? Let’s find out what is really behind AMT—what it is, if it applies to you, and if it is really as bad as people think it is (or if there are some planning opportunities that might not be so bad).

What is AMT?

It’s a parallel tax code that is calculated alongside the “normal” marginal federal tax code to make sure tax payers are paying their “fair share.”

How does it work?

AMT excludes a lot of deductions that are common to a lot of Americans such as the mortgage interest deduction and state/local tax deduction. Essentially, you are given a flat exemption figure and once you exceed that exemption figure each dollar becomes taxable. For joint filers the AMT exemption is $83,800, each dollar after this is taxed at 26%.

Who does it apply to?

It can apply to anyone who files a federal tax return, but we typically find clients between $159,000 & $494,000 of taxable income most often subject to AMT.

What can you do about it?

If you find yourself in AMT you should really sit down and look at current vs. future income projections. If your income is projected to continue to increase, then AMT could actually present a planning opportunity.  If you think about it logically the alternative minimum tax is 26% and many of our clients find themselves in the 33%-39.6% marginal rates at some point in their working careers. So a 26% tax rate, when you expect to pay much higher, could potentially be a good deal.

In order to take advantage of the AMT rate you will actually need to reduce deductions and accelerate income. Having your financial planner coordinate with your CPA is a critical aspect to do this well in order to find a balance in how much to reduce deductions and how much additional income to accelerate.

Here are some ways to accelerate income:

  • Receivables: If you're self-employed, bear in mind that your income isn't taxable until you receive it, if you're using the cash method of accounting. Therefore, you should collect accounts receivable in the current year.
  • Year-end bonus: If you're employed and are eligible for a year-end bonus, make sure you receive it before the New Year arrives.
  • Restricted stock: If your employer compensates you with restricted stock, it usually isn't taxable until there is no possibility that you'll have to forfeit the stock. However, you may file a statement with the IRS within 30 days of receiving the stock, allowing you to treat the stock as vested so that you can include the value of the stock in your income now.
  • ROTH Conversions: Moving some money out your traditional IRA into a ROTH IRA can be a great way to accelerate income and convert some money at a 26% tax rate and withdraw it when you are potentially in a higher tax rate down the road.
  • IRA or retirement plan distributions: You may be able to increase your income in the current year by taking any planned distributions from your traditional IRA or retirement plan this year instead of next year. (If you aren't yet 59½, however, you may be assessed at a 10% premature distribution tax unless you meet an exception.)
  • Installment notes: If you sold property and are receiving installment payments for it, you may cause the remaining installment payments to be included in income during the current year in one of three ways: (1) have the debtor pay off the note this year, (2) use the installment note as collateral for a loan, or (3) sell the note to a third party.
  • Dividends: If possible, arrange to receive dividends before the year's end. 
  • Lawsuits, insurance claims, etc.: If you're embroiled in a dispute that could result in the receipt of taxable income, you can accelerate the income by settling the dispute before next year. 
  • Capital gains: If you have assets that would result in a capital gain if sold, consider selling them this year in order to accelerate income.
  • EE bonds: If you have U.S. government Series EE savings bonds (may also be called Patriot bonds) and you've elected to defer taxes until the bonds are redeemed, cash them in this year.

Here are several ways to postpone deductions:

  • Bunching deductions in the following year: Try to time your expenses to create deductions in the following year. For instance:
    • Schedule nonemergency visits to your dentist and doctor for the following year
    • Avoid prepaying property taxes and interest that is due the following year
    • Postpone charitable gifts until next year
    • Hold off on paying miscellaneous expenses (e.g., professional dues) until next year
  • Minimizing depreciation deductions: Minimize your depreciation deductions by electing a straight-line depreciation method and forgoing the Section 179 expense election.

AMT can be very tricky to understand and navigate effectively. Be sure to work with a team of qualified professionals, including your financial planner, if you plan on delving into this complex area of financial planning. Like always, if you have questions regarding AMT and your options, give us a call!

Matthew Trujillo, CFP®, is a Certified Financial Planner™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Matt currently assists Center planners and clients, and is a contributor to Money Centered.

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