by Kelly Phillips Erb
June 14, 2018
by Kelly Phillips Erb
June 14, 2018
As the warmer weather finally makes an appearance, many of us are dreaming about summer: lazy days spent by the pool, at the shore or just sprawling in the grass (although, honestly, those of us with kids know that this never actually happens). With a more relaxed schedule, summer can be a great time to catch up on your to-do list, including tax moves to save before year-end. Here are 10 tax moves to make now:
1. Take a good look at retirement accounts. If the thought of lounging around this summer has you thinking about early retirement, now is the time to do a check on your retirement savings. Contributions to a traditional IRA are immediately tax-deductible, while contributions to a Roth IRA are tax-favored at retirement. Additionally, the more money that you can sock away into your 401(k) or other retirement savings plan, the better, since most contributions are made with pre-tax money. That goes for self-employed persons, too: SEP IRAs and solo 401(k) plans allow for long-term savings and immediate tax benefits.
2. Shore up health care accounts. With healthcare costs on the rise, now is an excellent time to do a quick check on your health care accounts, including your healthcare flexible spending account (FSA) and your health savings account (HSA). FSAs are set up by an employer as a benefit plan, often in connection with a high deductible or high co-pay health insurance plan. They can be funded by you, your employer, or both; the most common arrangement involves voluntary contributions to a plan taken out of your paycheck with additional contributions made by your employer on your behalf. With an HSA, you can contribute pre-tax dollars directly from your paycheck – even without an employer contribution. And unlike the FSA, the HSA is not a use it or lose it account, so the funds roll over at the end of the year (there's no penalty or guesswork involved).
3. Double-check your withholding. Mid-year is a great time for a withholding checkup. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was signed into law in 2017, ushered in many changes with most taking effect for individual taxpayers in the 2018 tax year. In addition to the loss of personal exemptions and the doubling of the standard deduction, significant changes to itemized deductions could affect your tax bill. It's best to make sure you're on track now so that you don't end up with a nasty surprise at tax time.
4. Prepare for your side hustle. If you're not the toes in the sand type, summer can be a great time to pick up a little bit of extra cash with a side gig. But more cash can also mean more tax consequences. Before you get started with your side hustle this summer, make sure that you're on track to be successful. Keep good records of both income and expenses, including pro-rating costs when applicable, so that you don't pay more in tax than you have to. Also, be ready to pay estimated taxes if necessary (see below) so that you don't get hit with a big tax bill next year.
5. Pay your estimated tax. Depending on your finances, you may need to make estimated payments. Estimated tax is generally payable by self-employed and freelance taxpayers, as well as other taxpayers not subject to withholding like landlords, S corporation shareholders, partners in a partnership or taxpayers with significant investments. If you don't have withholding on those payments and you expect to owe more than $1,000 at tax time, you'll want to make estimated payments. To make estimated payments, you'll use federal form 1040ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals (downloads as a pdf). Estimated taxes are due each quarter: if you skip a payment or pay late, you may be subject to a penalty.
6. Consider bundling your charitable gifts. As you're putting out the patio furniture this summer, don't forget about charitable donations, and don't overlook non-cash gifts like household goods and furnishings. You can typically take a deduction for the fair market value of non-cash gifts: fair market value is generally the price that a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller (depending on the amount, appraisals might be necessary). With the doubling of the standard deduction in 2018, fewer taxpayers will have an incentive to itemize and claim the charitable deduction. That $1,000 that you donate each year might not make as much of an impact on your taxes now. However, instead of giving $1,000 for each of five years, consider giving $5,000 now. Also, by combining your cash gifts with your non-cash gifts, you're driving those values up even more and maximizing the chances that you'll benefit on the tax side.
7. Pay tuition bills now. I know: School is just getting out, and you don't even want to think about next semester. But, it will be here before you know it and if you start paying now, you'll be on track to have your bills before the end of the year. That means that you'll be able to take advantage of educational tax breaks, like the American Opportunity Credit (AOC) and Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), in 2018. Currently, an eligible student may qualify for the AOC, which provides a credit of up to $2,500 per year (40% of which is refundable) for qualified tuition and related expenses for each of the first four years of college (or certain other degree programs), while an eligible taxpayer may qualify for the LLC, which provides a credit of up to $2,000 per return.
8. Go to the doctor. A trip to the doctor might not sound like a fun way to start your summer break, but it might be a good idea for tax purposes. The good news is that medical and dental expenses survived tax reform and for 2018, the floor is back in play at 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). So, let's say your AGI is $40,000 and your medical expenses were $5,000. You can claim $2,000 as a deduction: $5,000 in expenses less the floor (7.5% x $40,000 = $3,000). Sounds good, right? The bad news is that, as with charitable giving, the doubling of the standard deduction in 2018, means that fewer taxpayers will have an incentive to itemize. But by bundling – meaning grouping your deductions together – you can take advantage of them in the year that it makes the best tax sense. So if you know that you have a big medical expense coming in 2018, why not get those visits to the dentist, eye doctor and general practitioner in now? That way, when you're adding up those medical visits – you already know that you'll be stopping by for sunburns, poison ivy and occasional summer cold this season – you can maximize your tax benefit.
(For more on what Schedule A might look like in 2018, click here.)
9. Consider dumping your house. It's been a long, cold winter for many taxpayers. In some areas of the country – like my corner of Pennsylvania – residents worried that we might never see the sun. If you spent the past winter swearing that you were going to move somewhere different after the thaw, why not do it? New caps on home mortgage interest and property taxes under tax reform may make it more appealing than ever to take the plunge and move to your favorite vacation spot or permanent retirement home. Under the new law, the amount that you may claim on Schedule A for all state and local sales, income, and property taxes together may not exceed $10,000 ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Downsizing never looked so good.
10. Consult with your tax professional – or hire one. Your tax professional isn't exactly sitting around the office twiddling his or her thumbs about now. There are still returns to be done, accounting to be filed, and petitions to prepare. Trust me: There is plenty to do. But thankfully, this time of year isn't quite as busy as it was a few months ago, which makes it a great time to touch base with your tax professional. Setting up a meeting to discuss how things look now and whether you should engage in any additional planning is a good idea. Just don't wait too long to make an appointment, since the busy season will be here soon enough. Remember, your tax pro cannot turn back time any more than Cher can.