The 12 Days of Taxmas: Days 9 Through 12

The humorous Spike Jones holiday tune "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" doesn't get as much radio play as it used to -- possibly because our senses of humor have changed a bit since 1946. The tax code, on the other hand has only had a few big overhauls since then. But since all that the GOP wanted this year was to pass a tax bill, it should come as little surprise that it happened. However, there was little time for America to see the details before it was voted on, so Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp thought you might like a bit of help in simplifying how it will impact you directly.

In this segment of Motley Fool Answers, they discuss prepaying taxes and moving around donations, deferring income, paying down debt, and Republicans' big plans to cut Social Security and Medicare.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Dec. 26, 2017.

Alison Southwick: On the ninth day of Taxmas, Bro wants us to gather our deductions while we may.

Robert Brokamp: That's right. We're moving into the portion of what you can do to make the most of this tax bill. When you think of next year's tax rates being lower and many deductions going away, the strategy for the remainder of 2017 is, if possible, move any deductions that you would normally have in 2018 to 2017.

I'm going to give you an example. Let's say you give a certain amount of money to a charity every year. It might be better for you to double up in 2017 and move your 2018 contribution to 2017. Take that deduction this year.

A lot of people are trying to do other things. For example, the people who will not be able to deduct as much property taxes, or state income or sales taxes, are trying to find ways to pay those for this year so that it counts this year and you can deduct it. It's a little tricky, so definitely do your research beforehand. I don't want you to prepay some taxes this year thinking you can deduct it, but it does seem possible in some circumstances, so if you want to do that make sure you do some research or maybe consult your accountant.

Southwick: On the 10th day of Taxmas, Bro wants us to defer income.

Brokamp: If at all possible, if you are among the majority of people who are going to be paying lower taxes next year, defer any income you receive this year to next year. Now, not all of us can do that, of course, but there are some ways to do it.

Let's say, for example, you're going to get a bonus. Ask your employer if it can be moved to next year. If you are a business owner, do your billing next year rather than this year. If you are a landlord, make sure that you receive the January rent next year and not this year.

Another possibility is if you're not maxing out your pre-tax 401(k), do everything you can to max it out this year to get that deduction, even if that means you have to save a little less next year, but max it out this year to get the most of that pre-tax contribution.

Southwick: On the 11th day of Taxmas, Bro wants us to pay down debt.

Brokamp: This is something I've talked about before. It's a great strategy to be as debt-free as possible before you retire, especially for money you don't want to put in the stock market. It doesn't make sense, necessarily, to be paying 4% on your mortgage, 6% on your student loans, 15% on your credit cards if you have cash sitting in the bank earning you just 1%.

A lot of people, though, especially when it comes to the mortgage, say, "I don't want to pay off my mortgage because I like the tax benefits." But as we've discussed previously, a lot fewer people are going to get any tax benefits from their mortgage because they no longer will be itemizing. Also, the ability to deduct interest on a home equity loan -- used for paying for college, or paying off credit cards -- you will no longer be able to deduct that interest.

The after-tax cost on a mortgage or home equity loan is actually going to go up, so if you've been keeping your mortgage and those loans because you like the tax benefits, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Southwick: And on the 12th day of Taxmas, Bro wants you to -- big breath -- invest your tax cut to offset potential benefit reductions in Social Security or Medicare.

Brokamp: Right. So, obviously, one of the biggest debates about this whole new tax bill is what the long-term cost is. Most analyses point out that it will increase the deficit. Even if you incorporate things like the growth in the economy that comes from cutting taxes, it's still going to end up costing a lot of money. We're still going to end up having to borrow money to pay for these tax cuts.

There are some analyses that say no, the tax cuts will pay for themselves, but to my knowledge, I have not seen any analysis that says that these tax cuts will pay for themselves and offset the problems that are in Social Security and Medicare. These are basically programs that many retirees rely on, and they're not fully funded. They're not going to be able to pay for all future benefits for all recipients.

What's going to happen? Well, in the future at some point we're going to have raise taxes again to pay for those, or you're going to have to cut benefits, and you've already seen a little bit of discussion about that being something that will be considered in 2018.

I think the smart thing for anyone to do is with this money that you're getting from these tax savings, invest them. Max out your 401(k), max out your IRA, max out your college savings accounts. Invest that money, because you might need it down the road to offset any cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

The good news for 401(k), 403(b), 457 savers in 2018 is that the contribution limit is actually going up $500, so take advantage of lower taxes, take advantage of the higher contribution limit, and save more for retirement.

Southwick: You're saying don't go on a spending spree.

Brokamp: Don't go on a spending spree.

Southwick: Oh! No fun.

Rick Engdahl: You would say that.

Southwick: You would. Well, Bro, thank you for walking us through what is obviously, like you said, not even law yet, at this point of taping, but it is very close, so should anything change, we can come back and do another riveting episode about tax law.

Brokamp: We'll have the 12 days of Tax -- nah, forget it.

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