Three Year-end Tax Reduction Tips

Even though April 15 now seems a distant deadline for filing your 2015 tax returns, in order to take advantage of some of the biggest tax reduction strategies, you have to act before the end of this year. Without further ado, here are three “go-to” maneuvers that you may want to execute by December 31.

1. Maximize Contributions to Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Contributing to your employer’s retirement plan is one of the smartest tax moves you can make. For 2015 (and 2016) you can save up to $18,000, or $24,000 if you are age 50 or older. Because contributions are typically made on a pretax basis, qualified plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s help to lower your current taxable income. Plus, the money in the account is allowed to grow tax deferred until you begin taking withdrawals, usually in retirement.1

If you are interested in supplementing your contributions to your employer’s plan, you may be eligible to fund a traditional IRA with a deductible or non-deductible contribution. You can contribute up to $5,500 in 2015 and 2016, adding $1,000 to that total if you are 50 or older and catching up on your retirement savings. Like 401(k)s, IRAs offer a “one-two punch” in tax savings: tax deferral on your investment until you start withdrawing money, along with a potential tax deduction on all or part of your annual contribution if you meet the IRS’s eligibility rules.

You could also direct your savings to a Roth IRA or a Roth 401(k), if offered by your employer. Although contributions to Roth retirement vehicles are made with after-tax dollars, withdrawals are tax free provided certain conditions are met. Keep in mind that the annual contributions limits for 2015 — $18,000 per individual or $24,000 for those age 50 or older — apply cumulatively to all employer-sponsored plans, Roth or traditional.

Even though you have until tax day — April 15, 2016 — to fund an IRA for 2015, why wait? Funding it by year-end potentially gives it all the more time to grow in a tax-deferred shelter.

If you’re self-employed or own a small business, you may have just enough time to set up a small business retirement plan before year-end. In some cases, you can wait until next year to fund it, but the plan must be established in 2015 to get the deduction this year.

2. Consider Tax-Loss Harvesting

Simply stated, tax-loss harvesting is the process of balancing portfolio losses against gains to help minimize your exposure to capital gains tax. In a year like 2015, in which the stock market experienced a significant late-summer swoon, such a strategy may be particularly attractive.

Generally, the IRS allows you to offset capital gains with capital losses to the extent of your total gains — and above that, you may be allowed to deduct up to $3,000 against ordinary income each year, thus potentially lowering your tax liability. Losses in excess of that limit can be carried over to the next year.

Yet as simple as this strategy may sound, it is fraught with caveats. For starters, before selling, consider the length of time you have held a security. Securities sold within a year of their purchase can generate short-term capital gains, which are taxed at the investor’s ordinary income tax rate — up to a maximum rate of 39.6% for the highest earning individuals.

Gains from the sale of securities held for more than one year are considered long-term gains and are taxed at a maximum rate of 15% for most Americans, but that rises to 20% for those with taxable incomes of over $400,000 ($450,000 for joint filers). In addition, the Medicare surtax on net investment income, which includes capital gains, results in an overall top long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8% for high-income taxpayers.

Also keep in mind that the IRS prohibits you from claiming a loss on the sale of a security in a “wash sale.” The rule defines a wash sale as one in which an individual sells or trades securities at a loss and then goes on to buy additional shares in the same or substantially identical security within the 30 days before or after the date of sale.

The bottom line on tax-loss harvesting? If you are considering employing this strategy, evaluate carefully the investments you may select for sale, then discuss your plan with a trusted financial advisor. You certainly don’t want to wag the investment “dog” with the tax “tail”.

3. Timing Is Everything

Another popular year-end tax management strategy — particularly if you expect your taxable income to be higher than normal for the 2015 tax year — is to accelerate tax deductions and, where possible, to defer income. For instance, you could increase your charitable deductions or make advance payments for state and local taxes, insurance premiums, interest payments, medical procedures, or other deductible expenses for which you may be able to control the timing. Similarly, you may be able to delay some forms of discretionary income or hold on to stocks that have performed exceptionally well at least until early 2016, being mindful of what you expect your tax/income situation to be next year. Before prepaying any state income or local property taxes, be sure that the alternative minimum tax does not apply to you.

These are just some of the many steps you can take to help keep your taxes in check. Work with your financial and tax advisor(s) to make tax planning an integral part of your overall financial plan.

This communication is not intended to be tax advice and should not be treated as such. Each individual’s tax situation is different. If you would like to review your current tax situation or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.

Disclaimer:

1Withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed at then-current income tax rates. Withdrawals prior to age 59½ may be subject to an additional federal tax.

2015 Year-End Tax Planning Tips

As the end of the year approaches, it’s a good time to think of planning moves that will help lower your tax bill for this year and possibly the next. Factors that compound the challenge include turbulence in the stock market, overall economic uncertainty, and Congress’s failure to act on a number of important tax breaks that expired at the end of 2014. Some of these tax breaks ultimately may be retroactively reinstated and extended, as they were last year, but Congress may not decide the fate of these tax breaks until the very end of 2015 (or later).

These not yet extended breaks include for individuals: the option to deduct state and local sales and use taxes instead of state and local income taxes; the above-the-line-deduction for qualified higher education expenses; tax-free IRA distributions for charitable purposes by those age 70-1/2 or older; and the exclusion for up-to-$2 million of mortgage debt forgiveness on a principal residence. For businesses: tax breaks that expired at the end of last year and may be retroactively reinstated and extended including 50% bonus first-year depreciation for most new machinery, equipment and software; the $500,000 annual expensing limitation; the research tax credit; and the 15-year write-off for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, as well as qualified retail improvements.

Year-end tax planning is included on a complimentary basis for financial planning clients of our firm. Accordingly, clients will be receiving a separate e-mail from us requesting certain 2015 tax information so we can review and assess tax planning opportunities available to them.

Higher Income Earners

Higher-income earners have unique concerns to address when mapping out year-end plans. They must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income, and the additional 0.9% Medicare (hospital insurance, or HI) tax. The latter tax applies to individuals for whom the sum of their wages received with respect to employment and their self-employment income is in excess of an unindexed threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for married couples filing separately, and $200,000 in any other case).

The surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of: (1) net investment income (NII), or (2) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over an unindexed threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers or surviving spouses, $125,000 for a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case). As year-end nears, a taxpayer’s approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on his estimated MAGI and NII for the year. Some taxpayers should consider ways to minimize (e.g., through deferral) additional NII for the balance of the year; others should try to see if they can reduce MAGI other than NII; and other individuals will need to consider ways to minimize both NII and other types of MAGI.

The 0.9% additional Medicare tax also may require year-end actions. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax from wages in excess of $200,000 regardless of filing status or other income. Self-employed persons must take it into account in figuring estimated tax. There could be situations where an employee may need to have more withheld toward the end of the year to cover the tax. For example, if an individual earns $200,000 from one employer during the first half of the year and a like amount from another employer during the balance of the year, he would owe the additional Medicare tax, but there would be no withholding by either employer for the additional Medicare tax since wages from each employer don’t exceed $200,000. Also, in determining whether they may need to make adjustments to avoid a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax, individuals also should be mindful that the additional Medicare tax may be over-withheld. This could occur, for example, where only one of two married spouses works and reaches the threshold for the employer to withhold, but the couple’s combined income won’t be high enough to actually cause the tax to be owed.

We have compiled a checklist of additional actions based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. Not all actions will apply in your particular situation, but you (or a family member or your business) will likely benefit from many of them. We can narrow down the specific actions that you can take once we discuss with you a particular plan. In the meantime, please review the following list and contact us at your earliest convenience so that we can advise you on which tax-saving moves to make.

Year-End Tax Planning Moves for Individuals

  • Recognize capital losses on stocks or funds while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. For example, you can sell the original holding, then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later, or buy a similar security. It may be advisable for us to meet to discuss year-end trades you should consider making.
  • Postpone income until 2016, and accelerate deductions into 2015 to lower your 2015 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2015 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher education tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2015. For example, this may be the case where a person’s marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year, or where lower income in 2016 will result in a higher tax credit for an individual who plans to purchase health insurance on a health exchange and is eligible for a premium assistance credit. Being subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) may also change this recommendation, so it’s best to “run the numbers”.
  • If you believe that a tax-free Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual/exchange traded funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your adjusted gross income for 2015.
  • If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, and the assets in the Roth IRA account have declined in value, you could wind up paying a higher tax than is necessary if you leave things as is. You can back out of the transaction by re-characterizing the conversion—that is, by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later re-convert to a Roth IRA.
  • It may be advantageous to try to arrange with your employer to defer, until 2016, a bonus that may be coming your way.
  • Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase your 2015 deductions even if you don’t pay your credit card bill until after the end of the year. Again, if the AMT applies to you, this strategy may not work.
  • If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2015 if you won’t be subject to the AMT in 2015.
  • Consider taking an eligible rollover distribution from a qualified retirement plan before the end of 2015 if you are facing a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax, and having your employer increase your withholding is unavailable or won’t sufficiently address the problem. Income tax will be withheld from the distribution and will be applied toward the taxes owed for 2015. You can then timely roll over the gross amount of the distribution, i.e., the net amount you received plus the amount of withheld tax, to a traditional IRA. No part of the distribution will be includible in income for 2015, but the withheld tax will be applied pro rata over the full 2015 tax year to reduce previous quarterly underpayments of estimated tax.
  • Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2015, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemptions. Other deductions, such as for medical expenses of a taxpayer who is at least age 65, or whose spouse is at least 65 as of the close of the tax year, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. If you are subject to the AMT for 2015, or suspect you might be, these types of deductions should not be accelerated.
  • You may be able to save taxes this year and next by applying a bunching strategy to “miscellaneous” itemized deductions, medical expenses and other itemized deductions. Check to see if deferring the payment of 2015 deductions until 2016 provides more benefit.
  • You may want to pay contested taxes to be able to deduct them this year while continuing to contest them next year. Check with your tax accountant before doing this.
  • You may want to settle an insurance or damage claim in order to maximize your casualty loss deduction this year.
  • Be sure to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retirement plan). RMDs from IRAs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70- 1/2. That start date also applies to company plans, but non-5% company owners who continue working may defer RMDs until April 1 following the year they retire. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. If you turned age 70- 1/2 in 2015, you can delay the first required distribution to 2016, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2016—the amount required for 2015 plus the amount required for 2016. Think twice before delaying 2015 distributions to 2016, as bunching income into 2016 might push you into a higher tax bracket or have a detrimental impact on various income tax deductions that are reduced at higher income levels. However, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2016 if you will be in a substantially lower bracket in that year.
  • Increase the amount you set aside for next year in your employer’s health flexible spending account (FSA) if you set aside too little for this year. Estimate your expenses carefully since this is a “use it or lose it” type of deduction.
  • If you are, or can make yourself eligible to make health savings account (HSA) contributions by Dec. 1, 2015, you can make a full year’s worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2015.
  • Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. The exclusion applies to gifts of up to $14,000 made in 2015 to each of an unlimited number of individuals. Your spouse can give the same person up to $14,000 as well. Consider gifting appreciated stock or mutual/exchange traded funds to individuals with a lower tax bracket than you. You can’t carry over unused annual gift tax exclusions from one year to the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets (who are not subject to the kiddie tax.)

Year-End Tax-Planning Moves for Businesses & Business Owners

  • Businesses should buy machinery and equipment before year end and, under the generally applicable “half-year convention,” thereby secure a half-year’s worth of depreciation deductions in 2015. Be careful: a “mid-quarter convention” applies when the total depreciable basis of property that was placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40% of the total depreciable basis of all property that was placed in service throughout the entire year.
  • Although the business property expensing option is greatly reduced in 2015 (unless retroactively changed by legislation), making expenditures that qualify for this option can still get you thousands of dollars of current deductions that you wouldn’t otherwise get. For tax years beginning in 2015, the expensing limit is $25,000, and the investment-based reduction in the dollar limitation starts to take effect when property placed in service in the tax year exceeds $200,000.
  • Businesses may be able to take advantage of the “de-minimis safe harbor election” (also known as the book-tax conformity election) to expense the costs of inexpensive assets, materials and supplies, assuming the costs don’t have to be capitalized under the Code Sec. 263A uniform capitalization (UNICAP) rules. To qualify for the election, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $5,000 if the taxpayer has an applicable financial statement (AFS; e.g., a certified audited financial statement along with an independent CPA’s report). If there’s no AFS, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $500. Where the UNICAP rules aren’t an issue, purchase such qualifying items before the end of 2015.
  • A corporation should consider accelerating income from 2016 to 2015 if it will be in a higher bracket next year. Conversely, it should consider deferring income until 2016 if it will be in a higher bracket this year.
  • A corporation should consider deferring income until next year if doing so will preserve the corporation’s qualification for the small corporation AMT exemption for 2015. Note that there is never a reason to accelerate income for purposes of the small corporation AMT exemption because if a corporation doesn’t qualify for the exemption for any given tax year, it will not qualify for the exemption for any later tax year.
  • A corporation (other than a “large” corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss (NOL) for 2015 (and substantial net income in 2016) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2016 income (or to defer just enough of its 2015 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2015. This will permit the corporation to base its 2016 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2015 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2016 taxable income.
  • If your business qualifies for the domestic production activities deduction (DPAD) for its 2015 tax year, consider whether the 50%-of-W-2 wages limitation on that deduction applies. If it does, consider ways to increase 2015 W-2 income, e.g., by bonuses to owner-shareholders whose compensation is allocable to domestic production gross receipts. Note that the limitation applies to amounts paid with respect to employment in calendar year 2015, even if the business has a fiscal year.
  • To reduce 2015 taxable income, if you are a debtor, consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2016.
  • To reduce 2015 taxable income, consider disposing of a passive activity in 2015 if doing so will allow you to deduct suspended passive activity losses.
  • If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation, consider whether you need to increase your cost basis in the entity so you can deduct a loss from it for this year.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. Again, by contacting us, we can tailor a particular plan that will work best for you. We also will need to stay in close touch in the event that Congress revives expired tax breaks to assure that you don’t miss out on any resuscitated tax-saving opportunities.

If you’d like to know more about tax planning or want to discuss other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.

%d bloggers like this: