I’m not sure about you, but we haven’t met many people that wouldn’t love to lower their tax payments.
As we move in to the heart of tax season, do you find yourself wondering every year around this time, what other opportunities you may be missing?
Millions of people who file their tax return themselves overlook tax opportunities each year that could save them extra money in April but they hesitate to pay to have a professional prepare them. The hidden secret is that tax planning should be done year round. So we put together a list of a few things we see most often missed on tax returns.
Maxing Tax-Deferred Savings
One of the easier ways of avoiding tax now, is to save the maximum amount in all your tax-deferred accounts (401k/403b). Many have a tough time reaching the maximum savings limit ($18k per person in 2016). This often brings the focus back to your cash flow as overspending keeps many from hitting the maximum amount. Those over age 50 have an extra benefit where they can save $6,000 more each year until they stop working.
Not Funding HSA accounts
This is an excellent retirement account that offers a triple tax saving opportunity. Problem is many aren’t taking advantage of it. If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you have an opportunity to sock away savings tax-free, that can grow tax-free and then be withdrawn tax-free.
Non-deductible IRA contributions & Roth conversions
High income earners still have a way to make Roth contributions. It just takes a few extra steps and involves some monitoring to do it successfully. If you already have nondeductible IRA contributions, this is a great opportunity to get these contributions in to a Roth IRA, assuming you don’t have a larger deductible portion already built up (consider the pro rata rule in this case). Don’t forget to fill out form 8606 to keep an accurate record of your nondeductible IRA contributions.
Charitable Deduction Opportunities
If you have large capital gains from appreciated stock, it may benefit you to donate these shares instead of making cash charitable contributions. Another opportunity for those who are over age 70 ½, is to make a Qualified IRA Charitable Distribution which also qualifies as Required Minimum Distribution. This benefits you by not increasing Adjusted Gross Income on your tax return which in turn helps with medical expense deductions, social security taxation and Medicare rates to name a few.
Missing Any Deductions?
Some of the more common we see left off of Schedule A are car taxes, investment fees, and charitable donations. Go through your potential itemized deductions. Look at the prior year return for some guidance. Also, if you made a 2014 estimated payment to the state in January of this year and/or owed when you filed your 2014 state tax return then you can add those payments as a federal tax deduction on this year’s return.
If in a low bracket, you may want to delay deductions and accelerate income instead. When your AGI ends up in the 15% tax bracket, capital gains are taxed at 0%. So realizing gains could be beneficial here.
High tax bracket earners have an opposite focus as they are looking to reduce income. Word of warning: watch the Medicare Surcharge (3.8%) on income over $200k for individuals and $250k for joint filers. If you find yourself in this area, you may want to look for ways to delay income depending on the control you have in your income.
AGI thresholds You Don’t Want to Miss
- Child tax credit (begins phasing out at $110k). Can you make a deductible traditional IRA contribution? This could actually reduce your tax bracket from a boosted higher rate as you are not only reducing the ordinary income tax but getting an extra benefit due to the credit.
- Itemized deduction limitations over $309k (single $258,250) – especially if restricted stock or stock options are vesting and you are selling in that tax year.
- American Opportunity Tax Credit phases out at $160k AGI ($80k single). If you pay for the first $4k of college expenses, you can use this credit (mentioned below).
ACA subsidy tax bubble
Many retirees who no longer have an employer continued health plan and haven’t yet reached 65 now have a new option – buying medical insurance through the health insurance marketplace. Depending on the tax diversification in your investment accounts, some early retirees are receiving premium tax credits. But be careful, if receiving the credit and your income rises above 400% of the Federal Poverty Level for the number of people in your household, you could lose all the credit.
In this situation, managing tax brackets become vital. But to do so, you need to have saved in accounts with tax flexibility. Tara Signal Benard summarized a breakdown of this strategy in a New York Times article titled, “Devising a Tax Strategy After the Paycheck Is No More.”
Don’t Forget About Other Credits
- Pay for first $4k of tuition first to get AOTC – 3 million people missed this credit in 2014.
- Residential energy credit for any HVAC replacement or energy efficient upgrade to house
- Foreign Tax Credit – you lose this credit with foreign stock in IRA accounts. This is why asset location is important. Vanguard found this can add up to 0.75% per year in performance. $7,500 for a $1 million portfolio.
- Dependent care credit – If both spouses are working, don’t forget to include summer camp costs as this is very likely a deduction.
Feeling Like you Missed Something?
If you feel a bit lost after reading these examples then look to hire a professional. Tax return for families can range from $300 to $500 depending on your situation. Could be money well spent if they find tax savings you overlooked.
When digging in to the numbers CNBC found the more you make the more interesting IRS auditors find you. The IRS begins to get more interested in those earning more than $200k. According to turbotax – only 1 percent earning less than that are audited. If you are over the $200k threshold, then 4% of your group will be audited. It’s not until you begin earning more than a million, to where 12.5% get an audit notification letter.
If you feel like you would like a second look, we’d encourage you to find a fee-only financial planner who has knowledge in the tax planning area. It’s very likely it could be worth it.
Other Links Mentioned During the Show
- Mike’s NerdWallet Article: Are Advisors Worth the Fee?
- Article: The Best Ways to Pay for College
- NY Times Article: Devising a Tax Strategy After the Paycheck Is No More
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