The 12 Days of Taxmas: Days 5 Through 8

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It's almost impossible to get through the holiday season without hearing -- several times -- that all Alvin the Chipmunk wants for Christmas is a hula hoop. Well, all that the Republicans in Congress wanted was a tax overhaul bill -- and that's just what they gave America. It may or may not fit you perfectly, but Washington isn't accepting returns.

So in this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are providing you some tips on how to use it. The second set of four covers changes to Affordable Care Act individual mandates, 529 accounts, alimony, and stock sales.

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A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Dec. 26, 2017.

Alison Southwick: On the fifth day of Taxmas, Bro wants you to know that the Affordable Care Act individual mandates will be repealed in 2019.

Robert Brokamp: Right. This is part of the bill in that, according to current law, you have to buy insurance, and if you don't, you pay a penalty. That's being repealed. One thing I want to make clear to everyone, though, is that it's not repealed for 2018. For 2018, the individual mandate is still in force. It's 2019 when that goes away.

Southwick: And on the sixth day of Taxmas, Bro wants you to know that 529 accounts will be expanded.

Brokamp: According to current law, 529 accounts are tax-free savings vehicles for college. You put the money in, and it grows tax-free as long as you take the money out for qualified higher-education expenses. According to the new law, you can actually use up to $10,000 a year per individual for any qualified primary or secondary cost, for kids going to a private elementary school, or there's some other expense that's required for them to go to a certain high school. You can use your 529 account for those expenses.

Southwick: What about day care?

Brokamp: Not day care.

Southwick: Womp, womp.

Brokamp: Sorry about that. And I will add one thing that changed relatively recently. In the final bill, you were also allowed to use the 529s for homeschooling expenses, but then that put them over the $1.5 trillion limit, so they had to take that out. That demonstrates that with the changes in this bill, every day it feels like something changes, so before you make any tax moves, make sure you're looking at a recent article about it and not something from even, like, two weeks ago.

Southwick: Oh, yes, you have to read something updated four hours ago. That's probably your best bet. And it is crazy. We talk about how complex the tax law is. When I was doing my research, one of the tax benefits being revoked is if you commute on a bicycle, previously you were able to deduct $20 of your income every month. But that one's going away. Like, how crazy is that? Does someone on Trump's team hate bicyclists? Someone had to dig deep to say, "You know what? This is going away. My wife left me for a courier. Good-bye, bicyclist tax break."

Brokamp: One of the goals originally was to make the tax code simpler. The House version of this that was passed whenever, at this point about a month ago, only had four tax brackets. They're really trying to make it simple. Now that they've had to combine it with the Senate bill and work out a few details, it's not as simple as some people would have wanted, but I'm sure that's an example of someone saying, "Let's just make it simpler and get rid of that."

Southwick: Right. Let's just get rid of that. There's five people that claim this every year. Let's just get rid of it.

On the seventh day of Taxmas, Bro wants us to know that the tax treatment of alimony has been reversed. What is going on here?

Brokamp: The old way, at least the current as of 2017, when you pay alimony, you get to take it as a deduction, but the people who receive alimony must report it as taxable income. The new way is that you don't get a deduction for paying alimony, and if you receive it you don't have to pay taxes on it. But all this only applies to divorces that take place after Dec. 31 of 2018.

Southwick: Oh! That hurts. Not me, of course, but oh, man.

On the eighth day of Taxmas, Bro wants us to know that Congress said no to the -- how should I pronounce this? Fee-fo? Fee-fah? Fie-foh?

Brokamp: Fie-foh.

Southwick: Fie-foh.

Brokamp: Fie-foh. I think it's Fie-foh.

Southwick: Noted as Fie-foh.

Brokamp: Right. So FIFO stands for "first in, first out." If you are selling stock -- really, most types of investments, but let's say stock -- outside of a retirement account -- it's not in your IRA, not in your 401(k), just a taxable brokerage account -- and you have, let's say, 200 shares of something that you bought over multiple periods, but you just want to sell 50 shares. You can identify which shares you want to sell. That way you can choose shares with a higher cost basis to lower your tax bill, or maybe you want to bite the tax bill today, so you sell at a lower cost basis.

In the Senate version of their bill, they got rid of this and they said you have to sell on a first-in, first-out basis. A lot of people disagree with that. The Motley Fool actually made a statement about how we don't think that's good for investors. Congress listened -- I don't think specifically to us -- but they listened to the people who complained about it, so that is not going to happen. It's something that we've written about previously that could be in the final tax bill, but it turns out they took that out. You don't have to worry about that and you can still identify the shares that you sell of your investments.

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