The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was enacted by congress last year was the biggest change to the tax code our country has seen in 30 years. We have talked about how the changes would impact you, our clients in past correspondence; so we thought it might be helpful to share our perspective now that the first tax season under the new laws is behind us.
Comparing our client’s 2017 and 2018 tax returns, here are our main observations on how Monotelo clients’ returns changed from 2017 to 2018:
Average income increased 4% from 2017 to 2018
Total taxes paid decreased by an average $564 per return filed
The average effective tax rate decreased from 11.09% to 10.42%
Federal refunds on average decreased $1,729
What’s most notable about the data we just shared is the fact that the lion’s share of our clients paid less income tax in 2018 than they paid in 2017 (and that includes the fact that you made more money in 2018), yet you received a smaller refund around tax time.
People often assume that a smaller refund means the government is keeping more of your money, but that assumption would be wrong. Your tax refund is simply the difference between what you paid to the government throughout the year and what you should have paid. A tax refund is a good metric for how accurate your tax payments were, but not a good metric for how much you actually paid in taxes.
Despite lower refunds, our clients actually paid $564 less in taxes than they did in 2017, while they made more money. With the average effective tax rate (actual taxes paid as a percentage of total income received) dropping from 11.09% to 10.42%, the biggest factor was the new tax brackets. Many taxpayers who were previously in the 15% or 25% brackets moved into the 12% or 22% brackets after the tax reform.
If our clients payed a lower percentage of their income in taxes, and payed a lower dollar amount in taxes, then why was there such a significant drop in the average refund amount from the prior year? The primary factor that contributed to the lower refunds is the changes that were made to the withholding tables that calculate the federal tax to withhold from your paychecks. The main reason people were receiving larger tax refunds in prior years was due to the fact that the withholding tables were skewed to put more money in the hands of the government over the course of the year.
The prior withholding tables did not properly account for the various deductions that taxpayers could take on their returns, and simply assumed that the taxpayer would be taking the standard deduction. With the standard deduction increasing significantly in 2018, a larger percentage of taxpayers utilized the standard deduction, and did not itemize. This single change caused the withholding tables to more accurately calculate the correct amount of federal withholding, and put more money into the pockets of taxpayers throughout the year.
Lower withholding means more money in each paycheck. On average our clients had $2,300 fewer dollars taken out of their checks in 2018 than they did in 2017. The bad news is that some people were relying on the larger refunds, and didn’t realize that their raise came in each check they collected throughout the year.
Overall, our clients faired pretty well under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The majority of our clients paid a lower percentage of their income in taxes. For those who paid significantly more tax in 2018 than they paid in 2017, it was usually due to a large increase in income. While most taxpayers received lower refunds than prior years, this was largely due to decreases in their federal withholdings, not because they had a larger tax bill to pay.
As we approach the midpoint of 2019, now is a great time to review the tax withholdings from your paycheck to ensure you do not owe at the end of the year. If you are concerned about owing on your 2019 tax return or would like an idea of what refund you can expect next year, give us a call and we can provide you with some guidance.
of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
Failing to order your affairs to minimize your tax burden could cost you significant money - so don't wait to take action. If you have additional questions or need some planning help, please reach out to us.