The “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” was signed into law on December 22, 2017. While this act made extensive changes to some portions of the tax law, the topics tested in the securities licensing exams were affected at relatively few points. The changes to the tax laws go into effect immediately, but tax rule changes are not likely to appear in the securities exams for several months. The usual procedure is for questions affected by the new act to be removed immediately from the exams, and later in the year, new questions based on some points of the new rules will be added.
The new Act made changes in income tax, gift tax, and estate tax laws, but most of these rules will not be tested. Here are the changes that may affect questions in the securities exams:
1) The kiddie tax will continue to be imposed on the unearned income of a child under 19 years of age or up to age 24 if a student. The tax was previously calculated using the parents’ income tax bracket, but the Act changed the calculation to use new estate and trust income tax brackets.
2) Under the Act, most income tax rates have been reduced a small amount. For example, the top rate was previously 39.6%, and under the new law the top rate is 37%. Long term capital gains and qualified dividends are still taxed at the preferential rates of 0%, 15%, and 20%. In the past the rates at which capital gains and dividends were taxed lined up with the income tax rates, so for example, the 20% rate was applied to taxpayers in the top bracket. Under the new law, the income tax brackets and capital gains breakpoints no longer are aligned, so the 20% capital gains rate applies to the top income bracket and to part of the income bracket below it.
3) 529 plans have been used in the past to pay for qualified education expenses at institutions of higher learning. The Tax Act has changed the definition of “qualified higher education expenses,” so the money in a 529 plan can be used to pay for up to $10,000 of tuition per student at elementary and secondary public, private, and religious schools. Parents can still “front load” a 529 plan by contributing in the first year of the plan up to 5 times the annual gift tax limit of $15,000 ($30,000 for both parents).
4) The new Act doubled the standard deduction, but this improvement was offset by elimination of the personal exemption and by imposition of some new limits on itemized deductions. Taxpayers in some states were particularly affected by the $10,000 limit placed on the combined total amount of state and local income taxes and property taxes that can be deducted. These changes as well as the increase to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemption will also mean a reduced number of taxpayers who will be paying AMT next year.
5) Under prior law, investment advisory fees were tax deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to a 2% of AGI floor. The new law has suspended these deductions.
6) Although there was some discussion of eliminating the estate tax, Congress instead doubled the estate and gift tax exemption from $5.6 million to $11.2 million in 2018. The annual exclusion will increase to $15,000 for 2018 due to indexing, but the Act did not make this change.
Congress discussed a new rule that would require stockholders to sell their shares of stock in the order in which they bought them, but this change was not adopted. A proposal to reduce the maximum contributions to retirement plans was also not in the final act.