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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Eight Year-End Tax Planning Tips (Part 2)


Part 2 of the Intuit article on year-end tax planning....

5. Contribute the maximum to retirement accounts
There may be no better investment than tax-deferred retirement accounts. They can grow to a substantial sum because they compound over time free of taxes. Company-sponsored 401(k) plans may be the best deal because employers often match contributions. Try to increase your 401(k) contribution so that you are putting in the maximum amount of money allowed. If you can’t afford that much, try to contribute at least the amount that will be matched by employer contributions.

Also consider contributing to an IRA. You have until April 15, 2016 to make IRA contributions for 2015, but the sooner you get your money into the account, the sooner it has the potential to start to grow tax-deferred. Making deductible contributions also reduces your taxable income for the year.

If you are self-employed, the retirement plan of choice is a Keogh plan. These plans must be established by December 31 but contributions may still be made until the tax filing deadline (including extensions) for your 2015 return. The amount you can contribute depends on the type of Keogh plan you choose.

6. Avoid the kiddie tax

Congress created the "kiddie tax" rules to prevent families from shifting the tax bill on investment income from Mom and Dad's high tax bracket to junior's low bracket. For 2015, the kiddie tax taxes a child's investment income above $2,100 at the parents' rate and applies until a child turns 19. If the child is a full-time student who provides less than half of his or her support, the tax applies until the year the child turns age 24.  So be careful if you plan to give a child stock to sell to pay college expenses. If the gain is too large and the child’s unearned income exceeds $2,100, you’ll end up paying tax at 15 percent on the gain, rather than the zero percent rate that is applicable for most children.

7. Check IRA distributions

You must start making regular minimum distributions from your traditional IRA by the April 1 following the year in which you reach age 70 ½. Failing to take out enough triggers one of the most draconian of all IRS penalties: A 50 percent excise tax on the amount you should have withdrawn based on your age, your life expectancy, and the amount in the account at the beginning of the year. After that, annual withdrawals must be made by December 31 to avoid the penalty.

When you make withdrawals, consider asking your IRA custodian to withhold tax from the payment. Withholding is voluntary, and you set the amount, but opting for withholding lets you avoid the hassle of making quarterly estimated tax payments.

8. Watch your flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts, also called flex plans, are fringe benefits which many companies offer that let employees steer part of their pay into a special account which can then be tapped to pay child care or medical bills. The advantage is that money that goes into the account avoids both income and Social Security taxes. The catch is the notorious "use it or lose it" rule. You have to decide at the beginning of the year how much to contribute to the plan and, if you don't use it all by the end of the year, you forfeit the excess.

With year-end approaching, check to see if your employer has adopted a grace period permitted by the IRS. If not, you can do what employees have always done and make a last-minute trip to the drug store, dentist or optometrist to use up the funds in your account.