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The Republican Tax Plan: 30 Things You Need to Know

It took more than nine months since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, but House Republicans finally unveiled their long-awaited tax plan, known officially as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, on Nov. 2, 2017. Expected to inspire contentious rounds of debate among Democrats, and perhaps within the Republican Party, the main thesis of the GOP tax plan is to simplify the tax code and lower tax rates for corporations, middle-income individuals, and families.

But like most tax plans it's wordy – 429 pages long to be exact. That's a novel most Americans aren't going to want to pick up. With this in mind, let's simplify things and get straight to the point. Here are the 30 things about the GOP tax plan that you need to know.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. It'll create new, simplified individual tax brackets

One of the more front-and-center changes is a simplification of the individual tax schedule from seven brackets, ranging from a low marginal tax rate of 10% to a peak of 39.6%, to four brackets. These four brackets range from a low ordinary income-tax rate of 12% to a peak of 39.6%:

Marginal Tax Rate Individuals  Married Couples
12% $0 to $44,999 $0 to $89,999
25% $45,000 to $199,999 $90,000 to $259,999
35% $200,000 to $499,999 $260,000 to $999,999
39.6% $500,000+ $1,000,000+

Data source: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

2. The standard deduction nearly doubles

Simplification means removing a lot of deductions and credits, which you'll see as you read on. In return, individuals and married couples can expect a significant boost in their standard deduction. In 2017, the standard deduction is $6,350 for a single filer and $12,700 for a married couple filing jointly. Under the GOP tax plan, these figures would jump to $12,000 for a single filer and $24,000 for a married couple filing jointly.

3. 401(k) tax treatment remains unchanged

There had been rumblings before the unveiling of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that the annual contribution to employer-sponsored 401(k)s would be dramatically cut to as low as $2,400 from $18,000 for a person under age 50, the reason being that the GOP's tax cuts require that revenue be made up elsewhere, and lowering the amount of income that can be deducted pre-tax through 401(k) contributions would expose more income to federal taxation. To the delight of workers everywhere, there is no change in treatment to 401(k)s in the bill.

Image source: Getty Images.

4. Corporate tax rates would be lowered to 20%

Another core component of the GOP tax plan is the reduction of the peak corporate income-tax rate to 20% from the current 35%. The idea here is that reducing corporate income-tax rates will allow businesses to hire, expand, and boost wages, which is critical to reaching a sustainable (and touted) 3% GDP growth rate.

5. Pass-through profit income-tax rate is capped at 25%

Folks who earn their money from pass-through businesses, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, S-corporations, and limited-liability companies, are probably going to like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Whereas these owners currently pay personal income-tax rates on income earned through pass-through businesses, the GOP tax bill will cap profit income that's distributed to pass-through business owners at 25%. Take note that salary income will still be subject to personal income-tax rates. 

6. The alternative minimum tax would be repealed

The alternative minimum tax, or AMT, is a supplemental income tax that ensures well-to-do individuals who are able to use tax loopholes and deductions to dramatically lower their tax bill still pay a minimum tax. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the AMT would be repealed, which would generally be to the benefit of the wealthy.

Image source: Getty Images.

7. Personal exemptions get the boot

Large families could be in for a bit of a surprise, considering that the Republican tax plan is proposing the elimination of the $4,050-per-household-member personal exemption. Yes, individuals and married couples filing jointly will see a major boost to their standard deduction, but eliminating the personal exemption could result in a net negative for larger families. 

8. SALT deductions will be axed

Arguably one of the hottest talking points of the GOP bill is the proposed elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which encompasses taxes people pay throughout the year to their state and local government. According to the Government Finance Officers Association, nearly 30% of all taxpayers claim the SALT deduction on their federal income-tax filing. Under the new plan, SALT deductions would be axed, although a loophole in the bill, as reported by CNN Money, would allow pass-through business owners to continue to claim this lucrative deduction. 

9. The estate tax will be phased out

Under current rules, a single taxpayer can pass $5.49 million to his or her heirs tax-free ($10.98 million for couples). Anything beyond this point bears a 40% federal income-tax rate. If the GOP tax bill were to pass in its current form, the estate tax would be phased out over the next six years and disappear entirely by 2024. Repealing the estate tax would be a clear benefit to the wealthiest individuals in the U.S. 

Image source: Getty Images.

10. The mortgage interest deduction will be kept, but limited

Though you'll continue to be able to deduct interest paid on your mortgage, the GOP tax plan makes a pretty notable tweak to how much of a deduction you'll be able to claim. Currently, homeowners can deduct the interest paid on up to $1 million in mortgage debt. If the Republican proposal were to pass, this would be reduced to just $500,000 in mortgage debt. According to the Tax Policy Center, this move would affect about 0.8% of the tax filers in the U.S., adding an average of $3,100 to their tax bill. 

11. Property-tax deductibility has a ceiling put in place

In addition to the capping of the mortgage interest deduction, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act puts a ceiling on the amount of property taxes a homeowner can deduct. According to the proposal, up to $10,000 in local property taxes can be deducted annually, and not a penny more. Prime real estate markets along with well-to-do folks appear most likely to take it on the chin with this change.

12. Charitable contribution deductions remain untouched

A tidbit of good news is that the House GOP left the charitable-contribution deduction unchanged. There had been some light discussion about eliminating or reducing it, since it's a deduction that greatly benefits the rich. Of course, reducing or removing this deduction could have hurt philanthropic ventures, so it's probably a good thing it stuck around unscathed.

Image source: Getty Images.

13. Medical and dental expense deductions are eliminated

Currently, if medical and dental expenses for you, your spouse, and your dependents, exceeds 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), the amount beyond 10% of AGI becomes deductible. In 2015, 8.7 million taxpayers claimed a medical and/or dental exemption that was above the AGI limitation, equating to nearly $47 billion in deductions per the IRS. Under the GOP tax proposal, you can kiss the medical and dental expense deduction goodbye. 

14. The alimony deduction would be gone

As reported by CNBC, the House GOP tax bill would also remove the deductibility of alimony. Alimony is currently deductible by the spouse paying it, with nearly 599,000 taxpayers claiming this above-the-line deduction in 2015, and saving an estimated $12.3 billion.

15. Tax preparation expenses are no longer deductible

Did you spend a fortune preparing your taxes last year? If the GOP has its way, you'll no longer be able to deduct what you fork over for tax-preparation software or to a tax professional to prepare your taxes. Under the current rules, tax preparation fees are potentially deductible if they wind up exceeding 2% of a taxpayers' AGI. In 2015, 20.6 million people qualified for this miscellaneous deduction.

Image source: Getty Images.

16. The moving-expenses deduction would be boxed up and tossed out

Assuming you meet certain IRS stipulations and are moving due to a change in job or business location, then your moving expenses may be deductible... for now. Some 1.1 million taxpayers in 2015 took advantage of this above-the-line deduction, saving about $3.7 billion. However, the Republican tax plan would eliminate the moving-expense deduction from the equation.

17. The adoption-tax credit would disappear

Call it a bit of a head-scratcher, but the adoption-tax credit would also be going away. Current IRS rules allow families to claim up to $13,570 per child to cover qualified adoption expenses, and while this benefit phases out for higher-income families, it can be carried forward for up to five years to help lower their tax liability. Nearly 64,000 taxpayers took advantage of the adoption credit in 2015, according to IRS data.

18. The casualty, theft, and disaster loss deduction would vanish

Though not a popular deduction (roughly 72,300 taxpayers took advantage of it in 2015), taxpayers who itemize can take deductions for the damage, destruction, and loss of property tied to natural disasters, theft, and casualty losses to their homes, vehicles, or possessions, under currents IRS rules. It's worth pointing out that you can't deduct what your insurance company covers. Under the GOP proposal, this deduction would be eliminated, with the lone exception being that if the federal government passes disaster-relief legislation for a particular area or event, taxpayers could still claim the deduction.

Image source: Getty Images.

19. There's a hidden bubble tax on the rich

Not all tax breaks in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will work in favor of the rich. As reported by Politico, taxpayers who earn more than $1 million (or couples earning more than $1.2 million) would face a brief 6% tax surcharge, or bubble tax, that's largely going unadvertised. This tax, which would be added to the peak 39.6% rate, seeks to claw back the benefits wealthy folks receive from the lower tax brackets. According to Politico, once $12,420 in tax has been collected by the surcharge, it would go away, returning the ordinary income-tax rate to its peak at 39.6%. 

20. The Child Tax Credit gets a boost

Though the personal exemption is going away, families may be pleased to find out that the Child Tax Credit is getting a 60% lift. Currently, the Child Tax Credit is $1,000 per child, but it would increase to $1,600 under the GOP tax plan. There would also be an additional $300 credit for any parent or non-child dependent. In other words, this may somewhat or completely offset the loss of the personal exemption. 

21. No changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is given to tens of millions of hard-working low-and-middle-income individuals and families each year. Under the GOP tax plan, there won't be any changes made to this credit, meaning the maximum EITC payout for a family with three qualifying children in the upcoming year will remain at $6,444, as reported by the IRS. 

Image source: Getty Images.

22. The American Opportunity Credit is extended an extra year

There are a number of major changes to the way education deductions are handled by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but one positive is that it extends the American Opportunity Credit for an additional year. Under current IRS rules, taxpayers can claim this credit for their first four years of higher education, with 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 in expenses being deductible (working out to $2,500 a year). The Republican tax plan allows for this deduction to be extended to a fifth year.

23. The Lifetime Learning Credit would be expelled

On the other side of the coin, the Lifetime Learning Credit would be canned. This credit, which about 2.5 million taxpayers claim in a given year, allows for a 20% tax credit on up to $10,000 in tuition expenses. But unlike the American Opportunity Credit, which is primarily geared at traditional college students, the Lifetime Learning Credit also includes vocational training and isolated courses that weren't part of an individuals' degree. In other words, this is a blow to the nontraditional student. 

24. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts would be removed

As noted by my Foolish colleague Matthew Frankel, the Republican tax plan would prohibit contributions to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) after 2017. Coverdell ESAs and 529 plans are the two tax-advantaged ways Americans can save for college expenses. But 529 plans offer considerably higher annual contribution amounts compared to the $2,000 annual limit for Coverdell ESAs, making it a no-brainer to push everyone toward 529 plans. 

Image source: Getty Images.

25. Student-loan interest wouldn't be deductible

This one's big, considering that aggregate student loan debt in the U.S. is well over $1 trillion. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the student loan interest deduction would be no more. Currently, single filers making $65,000 or less, or joint filers making $130,000 or less, can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest annually. There are some partial deductions as well that extend all the way up to $80,000 and $160,000 in respective income for single and joint filers. But if the bill is passed as is, this deduction claimed by 13.4 million taxpayers would vanish.

26. The tuition and fees deduction would disappear

Building on the previous elimination, the tuition and fees deduction, which allows for the deduction of up to $4,000 for money spent on qualified educational expenses, would also be removed. The current income thresholds for full and partial deductibility are exactly the same as the student loan interest deduction.

27. Employer-provided education assistance would count as income

So much for tax breaks! Currently, employers can provide up to $5,250 in tuition assistance to their workers without those workers having to claim that money as taxable income. It's a dangling carrot that employers can use to help retain talented employees. Under the GOP tax bill, employees would no longer be able to sweep this benefit under the rug. Instead, they'd have to claim this as income, which would be taxable at ordinary rates. That's right... it's a tax hike (of sorts).

Image source: Getty Images.

28. No changes to the treatment of investment income

How about some calming news for you investors out there: There would be no direct changes to the way investment income is taxed. However, this doesn't mean what you owe in capital gains won't change. For example, those of you who have short-term capital gains (assets you've sold in a year or less) would be taxed at the ordinary income-tax rate. With most Americans expected to receive a tax cut, it suggests short-term investors would probably be rewarded with lower tax liability on their capital gains.

29. Republicans propose adopting the Chained CPI

One of the more subtle changes suggested in the Republican tax plan is to move away from the standard measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and instead use the Chained CPI as its primary measure of inflation for tax provisions. Unlike the standard CPI, the Chained CPI takes into account substitution. This is the idea that as the price of a good or service becomes more expensive, consumers will trade down to a less costly good. The GOP argues that substitution takes into account real-world consumer choices, but more importantly it would mean smaller future inflation adjustments, thus saving the program $81 billion over the next decade. 

30. It will cost $1.7 trillion over 10 years

Finally, this plan is going to cost a lot of money. The Republicans initially pegged its cost at roughly $1.5 trillion over the next decade, but a recent analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation and shared by the Congressional Budget Office believes it'll be closer to $1.7 trillion over the next decade. Even taking into account the economic positives, debt as a percentage of GDP is expected to rise from 91.2% under current CBO projections to 97.1% in 2027. In short, the GOP is still looking for ways to raise revenue or make cuts to bridge this mammoth deficit.

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