Year-end tax tips to boost your refund
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Now, an individual will need total itemized deductions to exceed $12,000, the new standard deduction for individual taxpayers, up from $6,350. Married couples would need deductions exceeding $24,000, up from $12,700.
Here are some of the best ways to lower your tax bill for 2018:
After the recent market downturn chances are you have some investments that lost value this year.
You can use those losses to zero out capital gains, and then deduct up to $3,000 a year against ordinary income. Losses in excess of that can be carried forward to future tax years until the balance is used up.
For example, if you have $10,000 of losses and $5,000 of gains, you have an overall loss of $5,000 — and up to $3,000 of that loss can be used to offset your ordinary income. The additional $2,000 in losses can be shifted to next year's return.
For just that reason, tax-loss harvesting is a popular tool for maximizing after-tax returns, most commonly in the fourth quarter of the year, when investors aim to lower their tax liability. (But this strategy only works on taxable accounts, not your 401(k) or IRA.)
Maximize retirement savings
Reduce your taxable income dollar-for-dollar by contributing as much as you can to your 401(k) or employer's retirement plan by Dec. 31.
If you are 18 or older, you can save up to $18,500 to your 401(k), and if you are over 50 you can kick in an extra $6,000. With IRAs you can contribute $5,500, and if you are over 50, an additional $1,000. (You have until the April deadline to make those IRA contributions.)
Additionally, if you are self-employed and contribute to SEP IRAs, you can deduct up to 25 percent of compensation or $55,000 for 2018.
(If you contribute to a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA, you won't get a tax break, but your money can grow tax-free and generally be withdrawn tax-free in retirement.)
Deduct health-care expenses
If your health-care costs exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income in 2018, you may be able to deduct those expenses.
Tally up how much you spent on health insurance, Medicare premiums, long-term health insurance premiums, nursing home costs, orthodontics and other out-of-pocket expenses to see if the total exceeds the medical expense threshold.
You can deduct everything you spend over that amount (but you can't double dip and count expenses paid for with tax-advantaged flexible spending or health savings account dollars).
You also can't take this tax break if you opt for the standard deduction – it only applies if you itemize all of your deductions.
Bundle charitable donations
Even though the deduction for donations is unchanged, you still need to itemize to claim it, and that's a much higher bar this year.
One way to surpass the new, higher standard deduction is to save money over time and donate every two or three years instead of every year — a strategy called "bunching."
For example, instead of giving $5,000 to charity annually, accelerate the gift by giving $10,000 every two years. This way, you may get your itemized deductions over the limit one year and take the standard deduction the next.
If you go this route, make your 2019 donations before Dec. 31 so you can count them on your 2018 return.
Defer your bonus
If you get a year-end bonus at work, it could bump you up to another tax bracket and increase the taxes you owe.
See if your employer will pay you your bonus in January. You will still receive it close to year-end, but you won't have to pay taxes on it when you file your 2018 tax return.
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