Friday, November 18, 2011
Year-End Tax Planning Moves for Individuals
Employer Flexible Spending Accounts – If you contributed too little to cover expenses this year, you may wish to increase the amount you set aside for next year. Keep in mind, however, that you can no longer set aside amounts to get tax-free reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs.
Capital Gains and Losses – We can employ a number of strategies to suit your specific tax circumstances. For example, some taxpayers may be in the zero percent capital gains bracket and should be looking for gains that benefit from no tax. Others may be affected by the wash sale rules when they are trying to achieve deductible losses while maintaining their investment position. Generally, portfolios should be reviewed near year’s end with an eye to minimizing gains and maximizing deductible losses. It may be appropriate for you to call for a year-end strategy appointment to discuss trades and actions that can produce tax benefits for you.
Roth IRA Conversions – If your income is unusually low this year, you may wish to consider converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. Even if your income is at your normal level, with the recent decline in the stock markets, the current value of your Traditional IRA may be low, which provides you an opportunity to convert it into a Roth IRA at a lower tax amount. Thereafter, future increases in value would be tax-free when you retire.
Recharacterizing a Roth Conversion – If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, you may have seen the assets decline in value due to the recent market decline, and you will end up paying higher than necessary taxes on that higher valuation. However, you may undo that rollover by recharacterizing the conversion 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 (generally after 30 days) reconvert to a Roth IRA.
IRA to Charity Transfer – This year may well be the last chance for taxpayers ages 70-1/2 or older to take advantage of an up-to-$100,000 annual exclusion from gross income for otherwise taxable individual retirement account (IRA) distributions that are qualified charitable distributions. Such distributions aren't subject to the charitable contribution percentage limits and can't be included in gross income. However, the contribution isn’t deductible.
Advance Charitable Deductions – If you regularly tithe at a house of worship, you might consider pre-paying part or all of your 2012 tithing and thus advancing the deduction into 2011. This can be especially helpful to individuals who marginally itemize their deductions, allowing them to itemize in one year and then take the standard deduction in the next.
Income Deferral – Depending upon your particular tax circumstances, it may be appropriate to defer income into 2012 if possible. For example, if you are receiving an employee bonus, you might ask your employer to defer it until 2012.
Income Acceleration – If your taxable income is unusually low because of lower income or larger deductions, you may be able to absorb additional income with no or minimal additional tax. In that case, you should consider accelerating income when possible without incurring penalties. This would include pension plan and IRA distributions and accelerated capital gains.
Prepay Tax Deductible Expenses – Consider prepaying tax-deductible expenses to increase your 2011 itemized deductions. For example, if you have outstanding dental bills, paying the balance before year-end may be beneficial, but only if you already meet the 7.5% of AGI floor for deducting medical expenses, or if adding the dental payments would put you over the 7.5% threshold. You can even use a credit card to prepay the expenses, but you would only want to do so if the interest expense you’d incur is less than the tax savings.
Home Energy Credits – If you are a homeowner, making energy-saving improvements to your residence such as putting in extra insulation or installing energy saving windows and energy efficient heaters or air conditioners may qualify you for a tax credit, if the assets are installed in your home before 2012. The credit is 10% of the cost of the improvement with a cap of $500; the credit is reduced by any credit claimed in prior years for the purchase of other energy-saving property.
Education Credits and Deductions – If someone in your family is attending college and qualifies for an education credit, you can pre-pay the first three months of 2012’s tuition to reach the maximum credit for 2011. In addition, unless Congress extends it, the up-to-$4,000 above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses expires after 2011. Thus, prepaying the first three months of 2012’s eligible expenses will increase your deduction for qualified higher education expenses.
Don’t Forget Your Minimum Required Distribution – If you have reached age 70-1/2, you are required to make minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA, 401(k) plan and other employer-sponsored retirement plans. 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 2011, you can delay the first required distribution to the first quarter of 2012, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2012. Consider carefully the tax impact of a double distribution in 2012 versus a distribution in both this year and next.
Take Advantage of the Annual Gift Tax Exemption – You can give $13,000 in 2011 to each of an unlimited number of individuals, but you can't carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes when income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.