Year-End Tax Planning Moves for Individuals
Year-end tax planning is especially challenging this year because of uncertainty over whether Congress will enact sweeping tax reform that could have a major impact in 2012 and beyond. Even if there's no major tax legislation in the immediate future, Congress next year still will have to grapple with a host of thorny issues, such as whether to once again “patch” the alternative minimum tax; what to do about the post-2012 expiration of the Bush-era income tax cuts; and the expiration of favorable estate and gift rules for estates of decedents dying, gifts made, or generation-skipping transfers made after December 31, 2012.
Regardless of what Congress does late this year or early the next, there are solid tax savings to be realized by taking advantage of tax breaks that are on the books for 2011 but may be gone next year unless they are extended by Congress. We have compiled a checklist of 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 will likely benefit from many of them. 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.
- 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. Don't forget that you can no longer set aside amounts to get tax-free reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin and antacids.
- Postpone income until 2012 and accelerate deductions into 2011 to lower your 2011 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2011 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher education tax credits, the above-the-line deduction for higher-education expenses, 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 2011. 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.
- If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, and want to remain in the market for the long term, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your AGI for 2011.
- If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, the assets in the Roth IRA account may have declined in value, and if you leave things as-is, you will wind up paying a higher tax than is necessary. You can back out of the transaction by recharacterizing the rollover or 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 reconvert to a Roth IRA.
- Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2011, 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 (or state sales tax if you elect this deduction option), miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for medical expenses, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. As a result, in some cases, deductions should not be accelerated.
- Accelerate big ticket purchases into 2011 in order to assure a deduction for sales taxes on the purchases if you will elect to claim a state and local general sales tax deduction instead of a state and local income tax deduction. Unless Congress acts, this election won't be available after 2011.
- 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.
- If you are a homeowner, make energy saving improvements to the residence, such as putting in extra insulation or installing energy saving windows and energy efficient heaters or air conditioners. You may qualify for a tax credit if the assets are installed in your home before 2012.
- Unless Congress extends it, the up-to-$4,000 above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses will not be available after 2011. Thus, consider prepaying eligible expenses if doing so will increase your deduction for qualified higher education expenses. Generally, the deduction is allowed for qualified education expenses paid in 2011 in connection with enrollment at an institution of higher education during 2011 or for an academic period beginning in 2011 or in the first 3 months of 2012. The deduction is phased out completely for taxpayers that have over $80,000 adjusted gross income ($160,000 for married taxpayers).
- Purchase qualified small business stock (QSBS) before the end of this year. There is no tax on gain from the sale of such stock if it is (1) purchased after September 27, 2010 and before January 1, 2012 and (2) held for more than five years. In addition, such sales won't cause AMT preference problems. To qualify for these breaks, the stock must be issued by a regular (C) corporation with total gross assets of $50 million or less, and a number of other technical requirements must be met. Our office can fill you in on the details.
- If you are age 70- 1/2 or older, own IRAs, and are thinking of making a charitable gift, consider arranging for the gift to be made directly by the IRA trustee. Such a transfer, if made before year-end, can achieve important tax savings.
- Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. In 2011, you can give $13,000 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 where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.
Give us a call and let our experienced tax professionals guide you toward a year-end tax plan that works best for you.