Tax planning isn’t a once-a-year-activity. In fact, thoughtful planning year-round can help you reduce your tax liabilities come April.
Being proactive can help you maximize your benefits and minimize any surprises. Following are six ways to plan for tax season throughout the year – so you’ll be in good shape when you file.
1. Do an income tax projection to prevent surprises at tax time
One of the most important steps to take is figuring out where your taxes stand before it’s too late to make changes.
Having a projection of your potential income tax ahead of time gives you more breathing room. It can help you plan more effectively for the upcoming tax season and find ways to reduce your tax burden. Ask your wealth management professional to do the projection and go over the results with you.
2. Find ways to reduce income tax
One of the easiest ways to reduce your income tax liability is to reduce your taxable income. You can defer your tax liability — or eliminate it entirely — when you make qualifying contributions to specific financial vehicles, such as:
- Retirement accounts and plans: You can make tax-deductible contributions to a 401(k) plan, 403(b) plan or traditional IRA.
- HSAs: Health savings accounts (HSAs) give you the triple tax benefit of tax-deductible contributions, tax-free earnings and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses.
- FSAs and DCFSAs: Flexible spending accounts (FSA) and Dependent Care FSAs (DCFSA) let you bypass taxes to save for healthcare costs and dependent care, respectively.
- 529 plans: A 529 plan allows you to make contributions while enjoying tax-free earnings and withdrawals for approved educational expenses.
All 401(k) contributions must be made by December 31. You can make contributions to IRAs and HSAs up to the tax deadline each year.
3. Minimize capital gains tax on investments
A capital gain refers to selling something for more than you spent on it, such as stocks. The federal government charges you for this profit with what are called “capital gain taxes.” There are several techniques you can use to reduce your tax burden on your investments, including:
- Spread your sale over two years. If it’s practical for you, sell only a portion of your appreciated assets this year and the remainder the following year.
- Transfer appreciated assets to a child. If your child is not a dependent and is in a lower tax bracket, they might see significantly less tax for the capital gains.
- Transfer appreciated assets to a charity. You’ll avoid the capital gains tax entirely and, in most cases, be able to claim a deduction for the fair market value of those assets. Read what to consider when gifting stock.
- Take advantage of tax loss harvesting. Defer taxes by using your market losses to offset some of the gains your assets see over the course of the year.
- Invest your gains in Opportunity Zone funds. By shifting your money to qualified funds for disadvantaged communities, you get to defer and even reduce the tax you owe.
4. Take advantage of current gift and estate tax rates
Make the most of the annual gift tax exclusion, which is the amount of money you can gift to an individual per year, tax free. You can transfer $15,000 to an individual each year without any gift tax implication, and you don’t have to be related. A couple can also collectively gift up to $30,000 to an individual each year, and you’re free to make gifts year after year to multiple people.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) more than doubled the gift tax lifetime exemption, which is the total amount of money you’re allowed to gift over your lifetime, tax-free. The exemption is currently $11.7 million per individual and $23.4 million for a couple.
Congress and the White House are currently debating proposals covering a wide range of tax laws, and significant changes to gift and estate taxes could be on the horizon. Read more about potential tax law changes and how they could affect you.
5. Re-examine your charitable giving
Tax deductible donations can reduce your taxable income, which is one tangible benefit of charitable giving. To claim these donations, you’ll need to itemize your deductions at tax time. However, the current standard deduction may cause you to think twice about donating to your favorite causes.
To make the most of your donations and increase your tax savings, you may want to use a “bunching” strategy. With bunching, you replace several years of smaller donations with a large donation in a single tax year. This allows you to benefit from itemizing your deductions and claiming the tax benefit of your contribution.
The best thing to do prior to year-end is an income tax projection. Through that process, potential surprises might show up.
Another option to consider is setting up a donor-advised fund. You can make a single, “bunched” donation while instructing the fund to spread your contribution to a charity of your choice over a period of several years. Note that you only get a tax deduction for the year in which you make the gift.
If you’re taking required minimum distributions on retirement funds, you have an option available to you in the form of qualified charitable contributions (QCDs). Instead of taking those distributions as cash, funnel some or all of that distribution directly to a charitable organization. You’ll get to enjoy both the high standard deduction and have your donated distribution taken directly off the top of your taxable income. Read more about QCDs.
6. Work closely with a financial professional
A financial professional can help you see how different aspects of your finances, e.g., taxes, investments, and charitable giving, can work together to help you work toward your goals.
Share your vision and take full advantage of their expertise. With a little preparation, you can be more strategic about your taxes year-round.
Browse our tax planning resources page for insights and information that can help you prepare and adapt to an evolving tax environment.