Recent tax acts don’t change trader tax status (TTS), Section 475 MTM accounting, wash-sale losses on securities, or the tax treatment on financial products, including futures (Section 1256 contracts) and cryptocurrencies (intangible property).
It’s helpful to consider IRS inflation adjustments in income and capital gains tax brackets, various income thresholds and caps, retirement plan contribution limits, standard deductions, and more. See the article, IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax-year 2023. The IRS increase for 2023 is about 7%.
EXCESS BUSINESS LOSSES AND NET OPERATING LOSSES
TTS traders with a Section 475 election might incur ordinary business losses for 2023. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) started in 2018, a TTS/475 trader could carry back a net operating loss (NOL) for two years, generating a tax refund. TCJA introduced an “excess business loss” (EBL) limitation, with the excess being an NOL carryforward. The TCJA repealed NOL carrybacks (except for farmers) and limited NOL carryforwards to 80% of the subsequent year’s taxable income. CARES suspended TCJA’s EBL and NOL changes for 2018, 2019, and 2020 and allowed five-year NOL carrybacks (i.e., a 2020 NOL carryback to 2015). TCJA’s EBL and NOL carryforward rules apply for tax years 2021 through 2028.
DEFER INCOME AND ACCELERATE TAX DEDUCTIONS
Consider deferring income and accelerating tax deductions if you don’t expect your taxable income to decline in 2024.
Traders eligible for TTS in 2023 should consider accelerating trading business expenses, such as purchasing business equipment with first-year expensing using Section 179 or bonus depreciation.
Consider delaying sales of investments to defer capital gains. Defer bonuses at work.
ACCELERATE INCOME AND DEFER CERTAIN DEDUCTIONS
A TTS trader with substantial Section 475 ordinary losses should consider accelerating income to soak up the EBL. Try to advance enough income to use the standard deduction and take advantage of lower tax brackets. Stay below the threshold to unlock various AGI-dependent deductions and credits. A higher income can lead to an income-related monthly adjustment amount (IRMAA) adjustment, raising Medicare premiums.
ROTH IRA CONVERSION
Consider changing a traditional IRA or 401(k) into a Roth IRA. Distributions from a standard retirement plan are taxed as ordinary income (not capital gains), whereas with a Roth IRA, distributions are tax-free.
On the conversion date, the market value of the traditional retirement account is income taxed at ordinary rates. Futures growth and capital in the Roth IRA account are tax-free. If your retirement portfolio is depressed, you might enjoy the recovery of values inside a Roth IRA.
Generally, there’s a 10% excise tax on early withdrawals from retirement plans before age 59½. With a Roth IRA conversion, you can avoid excise tax by paying conversion taxes outside the Roth plan. TCJA repealed the recharacterization option, so you can no longer reverse the conversion if the plan assets decline. Roth IRA conversions have no income limit, unlike regular Roth IRA contributions.
As an illustration, a taxpayer filing single has a $405,000 TTS/475 ordinary business loss. However, the excess business loss limitation for a single filing status in 2023 is $289,000 ($578,000 for married), so $116,000 is an NOL carryover. The taxpayer should consider a Roth conversion to soak up most of the $289,000 allowed business loss and leave enough income to use the standard deduction and lower tax brackets.
ZERO TAX RATE ON LONG-TERM CAPITAL GAINS IN THE LOWEST TAX BRACKET
If you have a low income, consider realizing long-term capital gains by selling open positions for over 12 months. The 2023 long-term capital gains rates are 0% for taxable income in the 10% and 12% ordinary tax brackets. The 15% capital gains rate applies to the regular middle brackets, and the top 20% capital gains rate of 20% applies to the top 37% ordinary income bracket. Remember, if you go $1 over the zero-rate bracket, all the long-term gains are subject to the 15% capital gains rate; it doesn’t work like progressive marginal ordinary tax brackets.
NET INVESTMENT INCOME TAX
Investment fees and expenses are not deductible for calculating net investment income (NII) for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) 3.8% net investment tax (NIT). NIT only applies to individuals with NII and modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $200,000 single, $250,000 married filing jointly, or $125,000 married filing separately. The IRS does not index these ACA thresholds for inflation. NII includes portfolio income, capital gains, and Section 475 ordinary income and losses.
BUSINESS EXPENSES AND ITEMIZED DEDUCTION VS. STANDARD DEDUCTION
Business expenses: TTS traders are entitled to business expenses and home-office deductions. The home office deduction requires income, except for the mortgage interest and real property tax portions. The SALT cap on state and local taxes does not apply to the home office deduction.
TCJA expanded first-year business property expensing; traders can deduct 100% of these costs in the year of acquisition, provided they place the item into service before year-end. Traders with TTS in 2023 may consider going on a shopping spree before Jan. 1. There is no sense in deferring TTS expenses because you cannot be sure you will qualify for TTS in 2024.
Employee business expenses: Ask your employer if they have an accountable plan for reimbursing employee business costs. You must “use it or lose it” before the end of the year. TCJA suspended unreimbursed employee business expenses. TTS S-Corps should use an accountable plan to reimburse employee business expenses since the trader or owner is its employee.
Unreimbursed partnership expenses: Partners in LLCs taxed as partnerships can deduct unreimbursed partnership expenses (UPE). That is how they usually deduct home office expenses. UPE is more convenient than an S-Corp accountable plan because the partner can arrange the UPE after year-end. The IRS doesn’t want S-Corps to use UPE.
SALT cap: TCJA capped state and local income, sales, and property taxes (SALT) at $10,000 per year ($5,000 for married filing separately) and did not index it for inflation. About 29 states enacted SALT cap workaround laws. Search “(Your state) SALT cap workaround” to learn the details for your state. Most states follow a blueprint approved by the IRS.
Generally, elect to make a “pass-through entity” (PTE) payment on a partnership or S-Corp tax return filed by your business. It doesn’t work with a sole proprietorship filing a Schedule C. PTE is a business expense deduction shown on the state K-1 like a withholding credit. Most states credit the individual’s state income tax liability with the PTE amount. Essentially, you convert a non-deductible SALT itemized deduction (over the cap) into a business expense deduction from gross income. Act well before year-end; otherwise, you might delay the benefit until next year.
Investment fees and expenses: TCJA suspended all miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor, which includes investment fees and costs. TCJA left an itemized deduction for investment-interest expenses limited to investment income, with the excess as a carryover.
Standard deduction: TCJA roughly doubled the 2018 standard deduction and suspended and curtailed several itemized deductions. The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly for the tax year 2023 rises to $27,700, up $1,800 (about 7%) from $25,900 in 2022. For single and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $13,850 for 2023, up $900 from $12,950 in 2022, and for heads of households, the standard deduction will be $20,800 for the tax year 2023, up $1,400 from $19,400 in 2022. (The IRS should publish the 2024 standard deduction amounts later in 2023.)
Many taxpayers use the standard deduction, simplifying their tax compliance work. For convenience, some taxpayers may feel inclined to stop tracking itemized deductions because they figure they will use the standard deduction. Don’t overlook the impact of these deductions on state tax filings, where you might get some tax relief.
ESTIMATED INCOME Taxes
Those who have reached the SALT cap don’t need to prepay 2023 state-estimated income taxes by December 31, 2023 (a strategy before TCJA). Taxpayers should pay federal and state estimated taxes owed by January 15, 2024, and the balance by April 15, 2024.
Many traders skip making quarterly estimated tax payments during the year, figuring they might incur trading losses later in the year. They can catch up with the Q4 estimate due by Jan. 15, 2024, but might still owe an underpayment penalty for Q1 through Q3 quarters. Some rely on the safe harbor exception to cover their prior year’s taxes. (See Traders Should Focus On Q4 Estimated Taxes Due Jan. 18.)
ADJUST WITHHOLDING ON YEAR-END PAYCHECKS
Employees should consider withholding additional taxes on year-end paychecks, which helps avoid underpayment penalties since the IRS treats wage withholding as being made throughout the year. This loophole applies to officers and owners of TTS S-Corps.
AVOID YEAR-END WASH SALE LOSS ADJUSTMENT
Taxpayers should report wash sale (WS) loss adjustments on securities based on “substantially identical” positions across all accounts, including IRAs. Substantially identical means equity, an option on that equity (equity option), and those options at different exercise dates.
Conversely, brokers assess WS only on identical positions per account and report on the 1099-B for that account. Active securities traders should use a trade accounting program (i.e., TradeLog) to identify potential WS loss problems across all their accounts, especially going into year-end.
In taxable accounts, a trader can “break the chain” by selling the position before year-end and not repurchasing a substantially identical position 30 days before or after in any taxable or IRA accounts. Avoid WS between taxable and IRA accounts throughout the year, as that is a permanent WS loss.
Starting a new entity effective January 1, 2024, can break the chain on individual account WS at year-end 2023, provided you don’t purposely avoid WS with the related party entity. The new entity can also elect Section 475 MTM.
WS losses might be preferable to capital loss carryovers at year-end 2023 for TTS traders. A Section 475 election in 2024 converts year-end 2023 WS losses on TTS positions (not investment positions) into ordinary losses in 2024. That’s better than a capital loss carryover into 2024, which might give you pause when making a 2024 Section 475 election. You want a clean slate with no remaining capital losses before electing Section 475 ordinary income and loss. (Learn how to read a broker 1099-B concerning wash sale loss adjustments in Green’s 2023 Trader Tax Guide Chapter 4.)
TRADER TAX STATUS AND SECTION 475
Traders who qualified for TTS in 2023 may accelerate trading expenses into that qualification period as sole proprietors or entities. Those who don’t qualify until 2024 should try to defer trading expenses until then. Traders may also capitalize and amortize (expense) Section 195 startup costs and Section 248 organization costs in the new TTS business, going back six months before commencement. TTS is a prerequisite for electing and using Section 475 MTM.
TTS traders choose Section 475 on securities to be exempt from wash-sale loss rules and the $3,000 capital loss limitation and be eligible for the 20% QBI deduction. To make a 2023 Section 475 election, individual taxpayers had to file an election statement with the IRS by April 18, 2023 (March 15, 2023, for existing S-Corps and partnerships). If they filed that election statement on time, they must complete the election process by submitting a 2023 Form 3115 with their 2023 tax return. Those who missed the 2023 election deadline may want to consider the election for 2024. Capital loss carryovers are a concern; they can be used against capital gains but not Section 475 ordinary income. The 475 election remains in effect each year until it is revoked in the same manner as the election was made.
A Section 475 election made by April 18, 2024, takes effect on Jan. 1, 2024. When converting from the realization (cash) method to the mark-to-market (MTM) method, a Section 481(a) adjustment needs to be made on Jan. 1, 2024. The adjustment reports in 2024 taxable income the unrealized capital gains and losses on open TTS securities positions held on December 31, 2023. The adjustment should not be made for year-end investment positions, and those who don’t qualify for TTS at year-end 2023 won’t have a Section 481(a) adjustment to report for the 2024 tax year.
A “new taxpayer” entity can elect Section 475 within 75 days of inception—a good option for those who missed the individual sole proprietor deadline (April 18, 2023). Forming a new entity on November 1, 2023, or later is too late for establishing TTS for the 2023 year within the entity; we would like to see all of Q4 for entity TTS eligibility at a minimum. Consider waiting until Jan. 1, 2024, to start a new TTS entity and elect Section 475.
20% DEDUCTION ON QUALIFIED BUSINESS INCOME
In 2018, TCJA introduced a 20% qualified business income deduction (QBI). In a simple scenario, on a QBI of $100,000, the owner might be able to deduct $20,000. That’s a tax deduction without spending any money.
Trading is a “specified service trade or business” (SSTB), which means an income cap applies. If your taxable income is over that cap, there is no QBI deduction. QBI includes Section 475 ordinary income, less TTS expenses, and excludes capital gains, portfolio income, and forex trading income.
Taxpayers can increase the QBI deduction with thoughtful year-end planning. Suppose taxable income falls within the phase-out range for a specified service activity or even above for a non-service business. You might need higher S-Corp wages (including officer compensation) to avoid a W-2 wage limitation on the QBI deduction. Deferring income can also help get under various QBI restrictions and thresholds. (Learn more about QBI in our tax guide, Chapters 2 and 7.)
SUSPENDING TTS AND SECTION 475
Assume a TTS/475 trader stopped trading on June 30, 2023. They must use Section 475 through June 30, 2023, but may only use it for part of the year. TTS and 475 are “suspended” until and unless the trader is eligible again for TTS in a subsequent year. The trader can also revoke the 475 election for 2024 by April 15, 2024. Without $475 going into year-end, the trader should try to avoid wash sale loss adjustments at year-end.
If you have an investment or trading portfolio, you can reduce capital gains taxes via “tax-loss harvesting” before the year’s end. If you realized significant capital gains year-to-date in 2023 and have open positions with substantial unrealized capital losses, consider selling some losing positions to reduce 2023 taxes on capital gains.
Be sure to wait 30 days to repurchase those securities to avoid wash sale loss adjustments, which would postpone the 2023 year-end tax loss to 2024, thereby defeating the concept of tax loss selling.
You don’t have to wait if you buy a similar security, provided it’s not “substantially identical.” For example, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) like SPY is substantially identical to options on SPY (the derivative) but not to other ETFs that track the S&P 500. The symbol SPX is a stock index future, a Section 1256 contract, which is not a security, so that’s okay to use to avoid wash sales.
TAX EFFICIENT SALE
If you want to sell some of your portfolios, consider taking long-term capital gains subject to lower tax rates (0%, 15%, and 20%) vs. short-term capital gains taxed at ordinary rates. That might require using the “specific identification accounting method” vs. first-in-first-out. (See FIFO vs. Specific Identification Accounting Methods.)
STRADDLES AND THE CONSTRUCTIVE SALE RULESThe IRS has rules to prevent the deferral of income and acceleration of losses in offsetting positions that lack sufficient economic risk. These rules include straddles, the constructive sale rule, and shorting against the box. Also, be aware of the “constructive receipt of income”—you cannot receive payment for services, turn your back on that income, and defer it to the next tax year.
Selling the losing legs on a complex options trade with offsetting positions can trigger the straddle loss deferral rules.
Consider a charitable remainder trust to bunch philanthropic contributions for itemizing deductions.
You can also donate appreciated securities to charity if you don’t mind. You get a charitable deduction at the fair market value and avoid capital gains taxes. (This is a strategy billionaires use, which you can use.)
Consider directing your traditional retirement plan to make “qualified charitable distributions.” That satisfies the RMD rule, and it’s not taxable income. It’s the equivalent of an offsetting charitable deduction, allowing you to take the standard deduction rather than itemize charitable contributions.
In 2020 and 2021, the limit on charitable contributions increased to 100% of AGI. The limit reverts to the 50% limit for 2022 and subsequent years. (See the IRS site for Charitable Contribution Deductions.)
TAX RELIEF: PRESIDENTIALLY DECLARED DISASTER AREAS
There have been several climate disasters in 2023, including hurricanes, wildfires, winter storms, and floods. Check the IRS site for Tax Relief in Disaster Situations.