US Tax Reform – the basics for US individuals in Hong Kong and the wider APAC region.

On 20 December 2017, the US House of Representatives voted for the final version of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act 2017, which is expected to be signed by President Trump soon. Take a look at our top tips of how to best curtail the changes and minimise the impact on your tax bill.


Most of the changes seen from the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act 2017 will be effective 1 January 2018, although please note that there are some transitional rules that you may want to consider. We examine how the changes could affect you.

Modification of the tax rates

For taxable years 2018 – 2025, tax rates for individuals have changed, with a new top rate of 37%. There has also been a modification to the lower tier tax rates introducing a 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32% and 35% rate and replacing the current rates of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%. The top rate of 37% applies to individuals with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) in excess of:

Filing status 2017 (39.6%) 2018 (37%)
Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) $470,700 $600,000
Head of Household (HOH) $444,550 $500,000
Single $418,400 $500,000
Married Filing Separately (MFS) $235,350 $300,000

There are no changes to the long term capital gains tax rates or the qualified dividend tax rates, which remain at 0%, 15% or 20%.

Buzzacott tip
This is welcome news for US taxpayers living in Hong Kong and other surrounding jurisdictions with relatively low income tax rates, as their global exposure to tax is likely to decrease as a result of this bill. However, there will be cases where other measures included in the bill, such as the changes to itemised deductions and personal exemptions, outweigh the reduction in tax rates. In such cases, the taxpayer may not benefit in net terms from the reduced income tax rates. You may want to discuss with your tax adviser if you are not sure how this measure will affect you.

Increase in standard deduction

For those who do not benefit from claiming itemised deductions to lower their taxable income, the increase in the standard deduction will be welcome news. Single and Married Filing Separate taxpayers will benefit from a $12,000 deduction (up from $6,350), Married Filing Joint taxpayers benefit from a $24,000 deduction (up from $12,700) and Head of Household benefit from a $18,000 deduction (up from $9,350).
Buzzacott tip
For many clients, the standard deduction is more beneficial than the itemised deduction. From 2018, the changes to itemised deductions could mean more taxpayers claim the standard deduction.  This could be welcome news from some taxpayers as there would be less record keeping required for clients, which could simplify their affairs.

Suspension of deduction for personal exemptions

For taxable years 2018 - 2025, the personal exemption amount will be zero. Currently there is a $4,050 personal exemption per person in each household, potentially including spouse and dependents, although these are phased out for higher income taxpayers.
Buzzacott tip
The scrapping of this exemption could mean that taxable income increases for some taxpayers with spouse and dependents where the exemptions are not phased out. You may want to consult with your advisor if you think you could be worse off, and potentially you may benefit from other provisions such as the increase in child tax credits.

Limitation on deduction for state and local, etc. taxes

For taxable year 2018 onwards, the deduction for state and local taxes will be capped at $10,000 for Married Filing Joint or $5,000 for Married Filing Separate / Single filers. This includes state and local income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes.
Buzzacott tip
For those that have large state income tax liabilities this is not welcome news. We would recommend that any state tax due in relation to years prior to 2018 should be paid before the 31 December 2017 to ensure the deduction is included in your 2017 US tax return. Unfortunately, paying 2018 estimated tax before 31 December 2017 will not increase your 2017 deduction as the legislation will deem the payment to have been made in 2018.

Limitation on deduction for qualified residence interest

The mortgage interest deduction is reduced to $750k (or $375k) from the current cap of $1m (or $500k), on the amount of mortgage on which interest deduction can be claimed. The limit applies to new purchases. There are transitional rules if there has been a purchase where there is a binding contract before 15 December 2017, but completion happens early in 2018. Debt incurred before 15 December would not be affected by the reduction, as would debt incurred before 15 December where there was a refinance up to the same amount of debt.
Buzzacott tip
For most of our clients, there will be grandfathered debt of up to $1m, which continues to attract mortgage interest relief. However, with the increase in the standard deduction some people may find that the mortgage interest relief may not be as beneficial going forward.

Suspension of miscellaneous itemised deductions

There will be no deduction from 2018 for miscellaneous itemised deductions subject to the 2% floor.  This means expenses such as investment fees, tax preparation fees, unreimbursed employee expenses and safe deposit box fees will no longer be deductible from 2018.
Buzzacott tip
Accelerating the payment of such expenses before 31 December 2017 will mean the deduction can be given for the final time in the 2017 US tax year. Please note that these expenses will not be deductible, unless in aggregate they exceed 2% of a taxpayers Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).

Suspension of exclusion for qualified moving reimbursements and deduction for moving expenses

Except for certain members of the Armed Forces in the US, the deduction for moving expenses for employment or self-employment reasons will no longer apply for 2018. In addition, the reimbursed moving expenses from an employer will now be taxable.
Buzzacott tip
This may be a concern to some of our employer clients as it adds an extra cost to relocating employees and could mean revisiting budgets going forward.
Repeal of deduction for alimony paymentsCertain US taxpayers who pay or receive alimony will no longer receive an alimony deduction or income inclusion. It applies to any divorce or separation instrument enacted after 31 December 2018, or modified after such date where the modification expressly provides that this rule applies.

Buzzacott tip
Americans in the Asia Pacific region that are going through a divorce should seek US and local tax advice as well as legal advice from a family lawyer before finalising the divorce agreement.

Increase in the Estate and Gift tax exemption

The basic exclusion amount has been doubled from 2018 to $11.2m per individual. The Estate and Gift Tax rate remains at 40%.

Buzzacott tip
This is very good news for those Americans with assets valued above the $5,490,000 exclusion available in 2017 and who are not exposed to Estate Taxes in other jurisdictions (for example in Hong Kong).  Their overall estate tax exposure will be significantly reduced by this measure.  Those who are exposed to Estate Tax in other jurisdictions (for example where they are resident or domiciled or where they own assets), may need to consider how the higher US Estate Tax exclusion interacts with the local regime.  Planning may be required to take full advantage of the new threshold.

Repeal of Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

Unfortunately, the repeal of AMT applies to corporations only from 2018. Individuals will continue to be subject to AMT although there are increased exemptions.

Re-characterisation of certain carried interest gains

Private equity and hedge fund managers who received carried interest on their share of the partnership profits are currently taxable at the long-term capital gains tax rate of 20%. This bill introduces a three-year holding period in order to receive a long-term capital gains tax rate. This rule will apply notwithstanding section 83 or any election in effect under section 83(b).

Corporate Tax Rate

There are a great deal of tax changes from the corporate and business perspective, which will not be covered in this article. However, it is worth mentioning the significant reduction in the US Corporate Tax rate, which was one of the highest Corporate Tax rates in the world among the major economies. The magnitude of this reduction shows that from a corporate and business perspective, this Tax Bill is one of the biggest piece of legislation, in terms of impact, that has been seen in years.

The US Corporate Tax rate has been reduced to a maximum of 21% on taxable income from 2018.  Currently C corporations pay tax at graduated rates with a maximum rate of 35% on taxable income.

Modification of exclusion of gain on the sale of a principal residence.

Previous versions of the bill included changes to the $500k (or $250k) exclusion of gain from the sale of a principal residence. The final bill removed these modifications, and the current 2 out of 5-year test for ownership and occupation prevails.

We would expect the new Tax Cuts & Jobs Act 2017 to be signed by President Trump soon. Until it has been signed, there may be changes to the details above, although significant changes are deemed unlikely.

If you would like our team to discuss with you the changes seen in the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act 2017 and how we can help, please do not hesitate to get in touch and we’d be glad to assist you.

You might also be interested in… US tax. | 美國稅務

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