According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), about 75% of taxpayers take the standard deduction but could be missing out on valuable tax deductions if they can itemize. If you are like the thousands of Americans who will owe taxes or will have difficulty finalizing your returns next year, understanding some basic deductions accepted by the IRS in advance could have a significant impact on your bottom line. To maximize your returns, consider the advantages of year-end tax planning to set up your best possible tax scenario in the New Year.
The tax laws are pretty straightforward, but beware of the alternative minimum tax and always consult a tax professional to best determine how the law affects your unique situation (John Kasperek Co., Inc. is offering a $25 credit for individuals and $50 for businesses who begin planning before the year-end). Here are some tips to consider as you explore your year-end options:
Accelerate Your Deductions
Before the year’s over, make those charitable donations or expense purchases that will be considered deductible. You control the timing, so contact your favorite charity to make donations, purchase tickets or donate in-kind contributions in advance. Other expenses you can accelerate include an estimated state income tax bill due January 15, a property tax bill due early next year, or a doctor’s bill. Remember, you must have a receipt to back up any contribution, regardless of the amount.
Income is taxed in the year it is received, but you may be able to defer a year-end bonus into next year if your employer has done so before. If you are self-employed, delaying billings until late December can ensure that you won't receive payment until the next year. Whether you are employed or self-employed, you can also defer income by taking capital gains in 2018 instead of in 2017 if you think you will be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year. (You don't want to be hit with a bigger tax bill next year if additional income could push you into a higher tax bracket.)
Selling investments such as stocks and mutual funds to realize losses can offset any taxable gains you have realized during the year. Losses offset gains dollar for dollar, and if your losses are more than your gains, you can use up to $3,000 of excess loss to wipe out other income, and if you have more than $3,000 in excess loss, it can be carried over to the next year.
Contribute to Retirement Accounts
Tax-deferred retirement accounts can grow to a substantial sum because they compound over time free of taxes. You may want to increase your 401(k) contributions so that you are putting in the maximum amount of money allowed ($18,000 for 2017, $24,000 if you are age 50 or over). At a minimum, try to contribute the amount that will be matched by employer contributions.
Understanding Your Situation
If your qualifying expenses exceed the standard deduction, which in 2017 is $6,350 if you are single, or $12,700 if you’re married filing jointly, then you likely should maximize your deductions and itemize. However, sometimes accelerating deductions can cost you money if you're already in the alternative minimum tax (AMT) or if you trigger it. The AMT is figured separately from your regular tax liability and with different rules—you must pay whichever tax bill is higher. This is a year-end issue because certain expenses that are deductible under the regular rules—and therefore candidates for accelerated payments—are not deductible under the AMT. State and local income taxes and property taxes, for example, are not deductible under the AMT. So, if you expect to be subject to the AMT in 2017, consider paying the installments when they are due in January 2018 as opposed to paying them in December 2017.