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Meet some victims of the Trump tax plan

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Keith Parsons expects to have some unhappy clients in 2018.

Parsons is a tax preparer in Covina, Calif., outside Los Angeles, who looked over some of his clients’ recent tax returns to see how they’re likely to fare under sweeping changes Republicans are poised to pass. For some, taxes will drop. But others will end up paying more to Uncle Sam. “I’ve talked to several of them,” Parsons says. “They’re stunned. They’re all under the impression that they’re going to receive a tax cut.”

The Republican tax bill, which President Trump is likely to sign into law before Christmas, includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts during the next 10 years. The majority of those cuts will accrue to businesses. About 80% of individuals taxpayers will end up paying less, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. But 5% of taxpayers will end up paying more, largely because of lost deductions that will raise taxable income.

Lower tax rates are meant to offset the loss of deductions, leaving most people better off. But some taxpayers will get caught in the seams of the new tax structure, by falling into a higher tax bracket, in some instances, or losing so much in deductions that lower rates don’t close the gap. Here’s a sampling of taxpayers who expect to end up worse off under the GOP tax plan:

The California tax preparer. Keith Parsons’ own tax bill will go up under the GOP plan, as it will for many of his clients. Parsons, 61, who’s married with two kids in college, claimed about $30,000 in itemized deductions in 2016. Under the GOP rule changes, his state and local tax deduction will now be capped at $10,000, and he’ll lose the personal exemption for all four family members, or $16,200 worth of deductions.

Keith Parsons, a licensed tax preparer in Covina, Calif. Photo courtesy of Keith Parsons

The GOP plan is supposed to make up for eliminating personal exemptions by doubling the amount of the standard deduction, to $24,000 for a married couple. But that won’t save Parsons money. With fewer itemized deductions, it will make more sense for him to claim the standard deduction. Overall, that would reduce his deductions from $30,000 to $24,000, or push his taxable income up by about $6,000. He’ll still fall into the same tax bracket, and his overall tax would increase by $1,035, he estimates.

[Meet some beneficiaries of the Trump tax plan.]

As for his clients, they’re likely to be stung by two changes: the new cap of $10,000 on all state and local tax deductions, and the elimination of all personal exemptions. “You keep hearing the Republicans touting the doubling of the standard deduction,” Parsons says. “But you don’t hear anybody on the Republican side talking about the removal of the personal exemptions. The more children you have on your tax return, the more it’s going to affect you.”

The freelance writer in Boise, Idaho. Susan, who asked us not to use her last name, ran the numbers and estimates her tax bill will rise by a modest $200 or so under the GOP plan. “Trump is calling this a giant tax cut for the middle class, a Christmas present for the middle class,” Susan says. “I don’t see that. It’s certainly not a tax break for me.”

Susan, who’s 57 and divorced with two adult kids, bought a house this year and counted on being able to deduct interest on her mortgage to lower her tax bill. That won’t change. But like many others, Susan will now see a diminished benefit from itemizing because of the new cap on state and local deductions. She worries that could dent demand for homes and lower property values. “It’s a new wrinkle I’m worried about,” she says. “It’s possible my house won’t appreciate because people could lose the incentive, from a tax perspective, to buy a house.”

The retired purchasing manager in New Jersey.  Donald Barnett of Fair Lawn, NJ, expects his tax bill to rise by about $3,400 under the new law. The retired purchasing manager, who’s 76, will lose two personal exemptions, for his wife and himself, and thousands more in state and local taxes he’ll no longer be able to deduct. Overall, that will raise his taxable income by about $20,000. He’ll drop from the 25% bracket under the current law to the lower 22% bracket under the new law. But his overall tax bill will still go up, simply because he’ll be paying tax on so much more income.

It won’t be catastrophic. “I’m a person of decent means, so this will impact me mentally more than financially, Barnett says. “But I don’t think it was done fairly, and I think it will hurt a lot of people.”

“I have a continuing problem with the inequitability of this,” adds his wife Jeannie, 69. “There is no middle class in this country any more. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.”

The Pennsylvania surgeon. Brian, who also asked that we don’t use his last name, talked with his accountant about how the new rules will affect him. “I’ll end up paying more in taxes because my taxable income will go up considerably,” the 51-year-old surgeon says.

Brian’s practice is a pass-through business, which means he pays most of his income at individual tax rates. But since it’s a service business, he won’t get the maximum benefit of a new tax-cut for pass-throughs. In 2016, he deducted about $32,000 in state and local taxes. That will now be capped at $10,000. His marginal tax rate could decline, but not enough to offset the loss in deductions.

Brian also worries that the new, lower limit on mortgage-interest deductibility could make it harder to sell his home, should he want to do that. The new law will limit the deductibility of interest to mortgages of no more than $750,000, which could affect the sale of his home in the future. Brian worries that potential buyers might exert pressure to lower the price from what it might otherwise be, in order to get the full benefit of the interest deduction.

“I voted for Trump,” Brian says. “Clearly this law benefits him and all his friends in corporate America. But I’ll end up paying more in taxes. This has not left a pleasant taste in my mouth.”

The aircraft engineer in Louisville. Jacob Zettwoch manages his taxes carefully every year, making sure to claim enough deductions, including charitable ones, to remain in the 15% tax bracket. But the loss of personal exemptions for 4—himself, his wife and two school-age kids—plus the new cap on state and local deductions will raise his taxable income and bump him into the next bracket, which will be 22% under the new law.

That matters because the income on dividends is tax-free if you’re in one of the two lowest brackets. Above that, however, filers have to pay capital-gains taxes on dividend income. Zettwoch, 41, receives shares from his employer as part of his compensation, and he’ll now have to pay taxes on that income.

His overall tax bill may stay more or less the same, but he objects to the way backers of the bill characterize its effect on families. “They’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes when they talk about doubling the standard deduction,” he says. “For a family of 4, you’re actually worse off, between losing the exemptions and doubling the standard deduction. In my case, I’m going to lose deductions. It will drive us into the next tax bracket.”

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Encrypted communication available.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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