While the 2020 U.S. presidential race remains front-page news, the outcome of the Nov. 3 election could significantly impact your income, tax bracket, and tax burden, as any changes in government officials could potentially alter the federal tax code in 2021. While neither presidential candidate has released a detailed tax plan, the information provided during recent campaigning has offered some clues as to how each candidate might approach tax policy. The composition of the U.S. House and Senate after the election will also determine the future of US tax policy, as bills altering the tax code must pass through Congress.
Here’s what we know about where the U.S. presidential candidates stand on issues of taxation:
Capital gains and dividends—Currently, the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends is 20% for individuals with incomes over $441,450 and for married couples filing jointly who make more than $496,600. President Donald Trump has indicated that he would reduce the capital gains tax rate from 20% to 15%, while Democratic candidate Joe Biden would remove exemptions for capital gains and dividends for incomes that exceed $1 million.
Estate tax exemption—For 2020, the estate tax exemption is approximately $11.6 million, and it’s scheduled to revert to $5.8 million in 2025. Trump supports an extension of the exemption, while Biden would keep the planned 2025 reversion.
Individual tax rates—For individual with incomes of more than $518,400 and married couples filing jointly with incomes of over $622,050, the top marginal rate is 37%. Trump would retain this rate and add a 10% rate cut for middle-class taxpayers. The current rate of 22% applies to individuals with incomes of over $40,125 and married people filing jointly who have incomes of over $80,250. Biden has indicated that his policy would restore the pre-2017 rate of 39.6% for taxable income of more than $400,000.
With this information in mind, financial planners are offering advice on how to manage your finances in order to maximize your wealth throughout the upcoming months.
Pre-Election Financial Strategies to Consider
Roth IRA—In order to reduce the tax burden on your individual retirement savings, financial planners recommend converting traditional IRA accounts to Roth IRAs. The reason? When you withdraw money from a traditional IRA, it’s taxed, and right now the income tax rates are relatively low. If a Democratic majority takes office in 2021, income tax rates could increase, and traditional IRA withdrawals would be taxed at the higher rate. While deposits into a Roth account are taxed, the balance will grow tax-free.
While switching to a Roth account will trigger a tax bill for making a withdrawal, you will likely will be financially better off in the long term with a Roth IRA. Additionally, don’t forget to claim losses this year on deductible items, such as depreciation on an eligible rental property that you own. The savings may be enough to offset any fees charged in a Roth IRA conversion.
Estate planning—One tax strategy to consider is to give to your heirs a financial gift before the end of 2020, as it’s unclear what will happen to the estate tax exemption. Currently, due to tax revisions passed in 2017, the estate tax exemption was doubled to more than $23 million per couple. While this benefit is set to expire in 2025, a change in the governing majority could move up the expiration date and reduce the exemption amount to pre-2017 levels. Financial advisors recommend taking advantage of tax-free gifts to heirs now and giving up to the annual exemption level.
Americans have enjoyed a relatively low tax rate on profits from the sale of investments that they have owned for more than a year. However, Democrats have discussed the possibility of increasing tax rates on long-term capital gains above the rates set during the 2017 tax overhaul. For high earners, this could mean as much as a two-fold increase in the top capital gains tax rate.
If the possibility of an increase in the long-term capital gains rates looks likely in 2021, a good strategy could be selling off profitable stocks now in order to take advantage of a lower tax rate.
Wait Before Making Any Major Decisions about Your Finances
Since it’s impossible to predict exactly how the election results will affect your taxes, financial advisors recommend that you wait before making any big decisions about your investment strategies. Some point to the lessons learned from 2012, when people sold more than they could afford based on speculation.
Some advisors recommend thinking through a 10-15 year investment plan and making decisions within that framework—even with the uncertainty that lies ahead. If you are compelled to rethink your investments now, consider compromising. For example, you could convert part of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA now and then decide about whether to convert the remaining balance after the election.
“The election will happen, and we’ll know the results. But we won’t know what the tax plan will be this year,” said Bryan D. Kirk, Fiduciary Trust International director of estate and financial planning, in a New York Times article.