Word to the Wise – December 2018

6 Last-Second Money-Saving Tax Moves

As 2018 winds down, there is still time to reduce your potential tax obligation. Here are some ideas to make your 2018 tax return less of a burden on your wallet:

  1. Accelerate expenses. Individual taxpayers are on the cash basis for income tax purposes. This means your income is taxable when you receive it and expenses count when you pay them. Depending on your situation, shifting deductions between years can make a big difference on your tax bill. With this knowledge, making additional deductible payments prior to the end of the year may be a good idea. Examples include property tax payments, mortgage interest payments and charitable donations.
  2. Make effective use of capital losses. Up to $3,000 in capital losses can be claimed each year to reduce your ordinary income. This loss limitation is calculated after netting all your capital losses against any capital gains. When you have more losses than gains, up to $3,000 can be used to reduce your other income. With careful planning you can take advantage of this loss amount each year.
  3. Fund tax-deferred retirement accounts. An easy way to reduce your taxable income is to fully fund retirement accounts that have tax-deferred status. The most common accounts are 401(k)s, 403(b)s and various IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE).
  4. Take advantage of the annual gift exclusion. For 2018, you may provide gifts up to $15,000 to as many individuals as you wish without tax consequences. This could include gifts of cash or property, including investments. Taking advantage of the annual exclusion is a great way to lower your taxable estate.
  5. Give to charities. Consider making end-of-year donations to eligible charities. Donations of property in good or better condition and your charitable mileage are also deductible. Receiving proper documentation that acknowledges your contributions is important to ensure you obtain the full deduction. Have a plan by knowing your total deductions for the year to help you decide how much to donate. Pulling some donations planned for 2019 into 2018 may be a good strategy.
  6. Donate appreciated stock. By donating appreciated stock owned one year or longer to a favorite charity, you receive two benefits. First, you will not have to claim the capital gain on the appreciation of your investment. Second, you can claim the higher market value of the stock as your contribution amount. The procedure you need to follow to qualify your donation of appreciated stock is fairly strict. Ask for help from your broker and the charitable organization to ensure it is done correctly.

This is a short list of some of the ideas you can use to lower your tax obligation in 2018. If interested, please call for help with reviewing your situation.

Early Warning Signs of a Tax Problem

There are many factors that can cause an unfavorable tax swing leaving you with a surprising tax bill in the spring. Here are six warning signs that you might have some unexpected taxes waiting for you.

1. You didn’t update your W-4
You may have noticed a change in your tax withholdings earlier this year. These changes are based on withholding tables rolled out by the IRS to employers in early February. Now, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as many as 30 million taxpayers may not have adequate withholdings for 2018. If you have not already done so, review your withholdings in light of the new tax laws.

2. You withdraw funds from an IRA before you’re 59½
Situations arise where you need to dip into your retirement savings to address an immediate need. When this happens, it might have major tax implications. This includes:

  • The withdrawal may be subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
  • The funds withdrawn will be taxed at your highest (marginal) tax rate.
  • The additional income may push you to a higher tax bracket or bump you over tax-benefit phaseout thresholds.

3. You receive a large raise early in the year
While the raise means more income for you, it also means more taxes due to the IRS. Depending on how much more income, it might be taxed at a higher rate than your income in previous years. The tax brackets are built-in to the IRS withholding tables, but they don’t take your entire situation into account.

4. You have a second job
Making some money on the side is a great thing, but can be a major tax problem if you don’t plan properly. In addition to being taxed as ordinary income, it might be subject to self-employment tax of 15.3 percent! Plus, withholding rules start over for each job and do not account for any other income you receive.

5. Your child turns 17
One of the biggest tax benefits that come by having dependent children is the Child Tax Credit. In the year your child turns 17, they are no longer eligible for this potential $2,000 credit. What’s more, personal exemptions are suspended for the next few years. So you may not only lose an exemption for this child, you now will not receive a Child Tax Credit.

6. Your standard or itemized deduction is lower
While the standard deduction is nearly double to $12,000 ($24,000 for married filing jointly) for 2018, personal exemptions are suspended. In addition, many itemized deductions are either limited or eliminated! This can create a vastly different amount of taxable income versus last year. While tax rates are generally lower, there will be more than one surprised taxpayer that sees an expected tax refund turn into a tax bill.

So what can you do? If any of these situations apply to you, now is the time forecast your income and deductions for the year and estimate your tax liability. If your withholdings are falling short, there is still a little time to update your paycheck allowances for a pay period or two or make an estimated tax payment.

Please contact us if you would like to review your year-end planning.

Retirement Contributions Get a Boost in 2019

For the first time since 2013, the IRS is raising the contributions limits for IRAs. The maximum contribution for 401(k) accounts and IRAs is increasing by $500 for 2019. If you have not already done so, now is the time to plan for contributions into your retirement accounts in 2019. Check out the tables below for the new contribution limits and Social Security increases:

Retirement Contribution Limits

Retirement Program 2019 2018 Change Age 50 or older
catch up
401(k), 403(b), 457 plans $19,000 $18,500 +$500 add: $6,000
IRA: Roth $6,000 $5,500 +$500 add: $1,000
IRA: SIMPLE $13,000 $12,500 +$500 add: $3,000
IRA: Traditional $6,000 $5,500 +$500 add: $1,000

Social Security

Item 2019 2018 Change
Wages subject to Social Security $132,900 $128,400 +$4,500 Annual Social Security
employee tax:
Average estimated monthly
retirement benefit
$1,461 $1,422 +$39

Don’t forget to account for any matching programs offered by your employer as you determine your various funding levels for next year.