Here are 10 things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves between now and the end of the year.
1. Set aside time to plan
Effective planning requires that you have a good understanding of your current tax situation, as well as a reasonable estimate of how your circumstances might change next year. There’s a real opportunity for tax savings if you’ll be paying taxes at a lower rate in one year than in the other. However, the window for most tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so don’t procrastinate.
2. Defer income to next year
Consider opportunities to defer income to 2018, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.
3. Accelerate deductions
You might also look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year, instead of paying them in early 2018, could make a difference on your 2017 return.
4. Be smart about your charitable giving
If you’re already inclined to donate to charity, then consider donating appreciated securities rather than cash to your favorite charity or to a donor advised fund. Donors who can afford to put away more than $100,000 may want to consider starting a charitable lead trust (CLT). Charitable lead trusts are designed to provide income payments to at least one qualified charitable organization for a period measured by a fixed term of years, the lives of one or more individuals, or a combination of the two; after that, trust assets are paid to either the grantor or to one or more noncharitable beneficiaries named in the trust instrument.
5. Bump up withholding to cover a tax shortfall
If it looks as though you’re going to owe federal income tax for the year, especially if you think you may be subject to an estimated tax penalty, consider asking your employer (via Form W-4) to increase your withholding for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly through the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck. This strategy can also be used to make up for low or missing quarterly estimated tax payments.
6. Maximize retirement savings
Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can reduce your 2017 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so by year-end. If you’re a business owner, you have until December 29 to open a traditional 401(k) profit sharing plan. Better yet, pair it with a defined benefit or cash balance plan and you may be able to save over $100,000, tax-free.
7. Take any required distributions
Once you reach age 70½, you generally must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you’re still working for the employer sponsoring the plan). Take any distributions by the date required, which is the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required. If you’re fortunate enough not to need the money, consider making a qualified charitable distribution so your RMD is not added to your taxable income.
8. Weigh year-end investment moves
You shouldn’t let tax considerations drive your investment decisions. However, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves that you make. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.
9. Beware the net investment income tax
Don’t forget to account for the 3.8% net investment income tax. This additional tax may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified AGI exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately, $200,000 if head of household).
10. Get help if you need it
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to tax planning. That’s why it often makes sense to talk to a tax professional who can evaluate your situation and help you determine if any year-end moves make sense for you. Your Azzad financial advisor is also available to help, so feel free to contact us.