How to reduce taxable income

January 12, 2024

The best way to minimize your tax liability is to reduce your taxable income. Here are 12 ways to do that.

Minimizing your tax liability is an important step in growing your wealth and meeting your financial goals. That’s why it’s critical to reduce the portion of your income that’s subject to tax—especially if you’re in a higher tax bracket.

Claiming as many deductions as you can on your annual return is important, but shrinking your tax bill requires year-round planning.

Here are some of the most effective ways to keep your taxable income to a minimum, so you can hang onto more of what you earn.  

12 ways to reduce your taxable income include boosting your retirement account contributions, avoiding early withdrawals from retirement accounts, adding to your child's or grandchild's 529 account, holding onto investments for at least a year, employing tax loss harvesting, considering a Roth IRA conversion, using tax efficient mutual funds, bunching charitable contributions, donating part of your required minimum distributions, taking advantage of the gift tax exemption, maximizing your HSA and FSA contributions, and claiming a write-off for business expenses (for business owners).

Reduce taxable income tip 1: Boost your retirement account contributions

Making pre-tax contributions to a traditional 401(k) or 403(b), up to the annual limit, is one of the easiest ways to reduce your taxable income while building your nest egg. In 2024, the contribution maximum is $23,000, or $30,500 if you’re 50 or older.

If you already maxed out the employer match on your workplace plan (or are planning to), diverting some of your money to an individual retirement account (IRA) may allow you to benefit from a wider range of investment choices. Depending on your income level and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan at work, you may be able to deduct some or all of that investment on your tax return.

A convenient way to open an IRA is with a robo-advisor. You’ll get a portfolio mix based on your goals, timeline and risk tolerance. If your asset mix changes based on market activity, the automated investing platform will automatically rebalance your investments to get you back to your target allocation.

Reduce taxable income tip 2: Avoid early withdrawals from retirement accounts

You should think twice before making withdrawals before age 59½ from an IRA, or age 55 if you have a 401(k). You’ll ordinarily have to pay income tax on the money you pull out. And except for certain situations, like a hardship distribution from your employer plan, you’ll face a 10% penalty as well.

To avoid that outcome, make sure you have an emergency fund that can provide for three to six months’ worth of expenses—and avoid using your long-term assets for discretionary expenses.

Reduce taxable income tip 3: Build up your child’s or grandchild’s 529 account

A 529 education savings plan allows you to make tax-free withdrawals for eligible college or K–12 expenses. But it may also bring you a nice tax break now, depending on where you live. More than half of states provide a credit or deduction on your state return when you put money into a 529, although most require you to make the contribution to the plan they sponsor.

Reduce taxable income tip 4: Hold onto your investments for at least a year

Any capital gains you acquire when you sell a stock or other asset within a year is taxed at your ordinary income rate. But if you keep the stock or asset for longer than that, you pay a much lower rate: 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your income. Holding onto those assets bit long can translate into significant tax savings.

Reduce taxable income tip 5: Use investment losses to your advantage

Selling your investments for a loss isn’t typically your goal. But if they’ve decreased in value toward the end of the year, you can use those losses to offset the capital gains you incurred. This tactic, called tax-loss harvesting, can help increase your income tax refund or lower the amount of tax you owe when filing a return.

Just be aware of the wash-sale rule, which prohibits you from replacing the asset right away. If you still like the investment, you can purchase something similar or buy back the original security after 30 days.

Reduce taxable income tip 6: Consider a Roth IRA conversion

Moving some of your pre-tax retirement money into a Roth IRA can be a smart move, especially if you expect your income to increase by the time you make withdrawals. However, any amount you roll over is taxable in the year of the conversion, so you have to be careful not to withdraw an amount that will put you into a higher tax bracket.

To avoid any surprises regarding your income, a Roth conversion is a strategy you typically want to consider toward the end of the year. Working with a tax professional can help ensure that you minimize the short-term tax hit that you’ll experience.

Reduce taxable income tip 7: Use tax-efficient mutual funds

Any returns you generate from a 401(k) or IRA are tax-deferred, so you won’t owe the IRS until you take distributions after age 59½. But if you have a standard brokerage account, any capital gains, interest and dividends are taxable in the year they’re realized.

Buying tax-efficient funds such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which trade less frequently and limit dividend-paying assets, can help limit your tax liability and boost your net return.

Reduce taxable income tip 8: Bunch your charitable contributions

If you’re making substantial charitable gifts, you might consider bunching two years’ worth of contributions into a single year to shrink your tax bill. For example, you could contribute the combined amount in December of Year 1 or January of Year 2, depending on your tax situation. If the total gift is large enough, you may find that your itemized deductions for that year exceed your standard deduction.

Reduce taxable income tip 9: Donate part of your RMDs

Some retirement accounts, including traditional 401(k)s and IRAs, are subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs). These are IRS-mandated withdrawals that kick in when you reach age 72 (or age 73, if you turn 72 after Dec. 31, 2022).

You may get a nice tax break by contributing part of that distribution directly to a nonprofit through a qualified charitable donation, or QCD.

If the money goes straight from your IRA to the charity, you don’t add it to your earned income. Therefore, you get a tax break on the donation, even if you don’t itemize deductions on your return.

Reduce taxable income tip 10: Take advantage of the gift tax exemption

If you have a substantial amount of assets, minimizing the federal estate tax will allow your heirs to receive a larger share of your wealth. Gifting some of those assets during your lifetime can help reduce the amount that’s subject to this tax.

For 2024, you’re allowed to gift each child or other beneficiary up to $18,000—or $36,000 if you file a joint return. Any amounts above that threshold count against the gift and estate tax exemption that applies to assets you leave to your heirs.

Reduce taxable income tip 11: Maximize your HSA and FSA contributions

As long as you have a high-deductible health plan, you can put up to $4,150 of pre-tax money (or up to $8,300 if you have family coverage) into a health savings account in 2024. One of the perks of an HSA is that whatever funds you don’t use during the year stay in your account. You can even save them until you retire, when your medical expenses will likely increase.

If your employer offers a flexible spending account for medical or childcare expenses, you can also reduce your taxable income by making contributions there. Unlike health savings accounts, FSAs don’t require you to have a specific type of health plan. But you forfeit any amount you have left over at the end of the year, so you have to be careful before making your annual election.

Reduce taxable income tip 12: Claim a write-off for your business expenses

Whether you run your business full-time or on the side, keeping track of your expenses can mean considerable savings at tax time. As long as the costs are “ordinary and necessary” to running the business, you can use them offset your income.

Potentially, you can claim a deduction for any number of expenses, from salaries and interest payments to depreciation and advertising costs. If you own a pass-through entity like a sole proprietorship, partnership or S-Corporation, you can deduct expenses on your personal return even if you claim the standard deduction.

Learn how our approach to financial planning can help you see a full view of your financial picture.

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Spring cleaning checklist for your home: 5 budget-boosting tasks

Overcoming high interest rates: Getting your homeownership goals back on track

Is it cheaper to build or buy a house

Starting your homebuying journey

Home improvements with the best ROI

Money Moments: How to finance a home addition

PCS moving checklist for military spouses and families

Webinar: Buying a home in 2022: what to expect

Home buying myths: Realities of owning a home

Webinar: 11 insider tips for student debt

House Hacks: How buying an investment property worked as my first home

How we did it: Converted to solar power

How to maximize your credit card rewards

How to use credit cards wisely for a vacation budget

Which debt management technique is right for you?

Should you buy a house that’s still under construction?

Dear Money Mentor: How do I begin paying off credit card debt?

10 uses for a home equity loan

Know your debt-to-income ratio

Best travel credit card perks for family vacations

Your guide to breaking the rental cycle

Understanding your military GI Bill benefits

Webinar: How to pay for college

Is a home equity loan for college the right choice for your student

Travel for less: Smart (not cheap) ways to spend less on your next trip

How to apply for federal student aid through the FAFSA

Things to know about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Should you buy now, pay later?

Steer clear of overdrafts to your checking account

U.S. Bank asks: Do you know what an overdraft is?

Tips and resources to help in the aftermath of a natural disaster

Tips for working in the gig economy

Which is better: Combining bank accounts before marriage — or after?

Tips to overcome three common savings hurdles

Money Moments: 8 dos and don’ts for saving money in your 30s

Save time and money with automatic bill pay

A passion for fashion: How this student works the gig economy

Money Moments: 3 smart financial strategies when caring for aging parents

Helpful tips for safe and smart charitable giving

Growing your savings by going on a ‘money hunt’

Why a mobile banking app is a ‘must have’ for your next vacation

Tips to raise financially healthy kids at every age

How compound interest works

How to avoid being the victim of a digital payments scam

Is it time to get a shared bank account with your partner?

How I kicked my online shopping habit and got my spending under control

How to financially prepare for a military PCS

How to set yourself up for success in your first job

How to stay positive when searching for a job

Friction: How it can help achieve money goals

It's possible: 7 tips for breaking the spending cycle

What to consider before taking out a student loan

Earning in the gig economy: Gladys shares her story

Financial checklist: Preparing for military deployment

Here’s how to create a budget for yourself

Common unexpected expenses and three ways to pay for them

Webinar: Common budget mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Checking and savings smarts: Make your accounts work harder for you

Are savings bonds still a thing?

3 awkward situations Zelle can help avoid

Allowance basics for parents and kids

9 simple ways to save

Do you and your fiancé have compatible financial goals?

3 ways to keep costs down at the grocery store (and make meal planning fun)

What military service taught me about money management

6 pandemic money habits to keep for the long term

Money muling 101: Recognizing and avoiding this increasingly common scam

How to avoid student loan scams

From LLC to S-corp: Choosing a small business entity

Is online banking safe?

How-to guide: What to do if your identity is stolen

8 tips and tricks for creating and remembering your PIN

Recognize. React. Report. Don't fall victim to financial exploitation

Recognize. React. Report. Caregivers can help protect against financial exploitation

5 tips for seniors to stay a step ahead of schemers

Webinar: U.S. Bank asks: Are you safe from fraud?

Learn to spot and protect yourself from common student scams

College budgeting: When to save and splurge

How I did it: Paid off student loans

The A to Z’s of college loan terms

How to save money in college: easy ways to spend less

The password: Enhancing security and usability

Rent payments: What’s changing for commercial real estate

Government agency credit card programs and PCI compliance

BEC: Recognize a scam

Fraud prevention checklist

Risk management strategies for foreign exchange hedging

Government billing survey: The digital transformation of the payment experience

4 tips for protecting your business against Coronavirus-related scams

5 Ways to protect your government agency from payment fraud

Unexpected cost savings may be hiding in your payment strategy

3 reasons governments and educational institutions should implement service fees

Benefits of billing foreign customers in their own currency

Top 3 ways digital payments can transform the patient experience