2018 Year End Tax Planning Tips

As we wind out 2018 there is still time to make some changes to your finances that can improve your taxes for this year and possibly years to come.  Here are some things to possibly act on before we ring in the new year…

1)      Should you roll over an old 401K before 2018?  You probably heard by now that a new tax plan was rolled out this year.  It slightly lowered the tax brackets for most and almost doubled the standard deduction for all.  For many of us this this will result in lower taxes this year as compared to last.  However due to the doubling of the standard deduction many of us will not be able to itemize our taxes for 2018 and beyond.  This means that several deductions that were available in 2017 are no longer available;  most notably the ability to deduct charitable contributions.  One way around this is to donate all or part of your required minimum distribution (RMD) (Up to $100,000 per year) directly to a 501(c)(3) charity.  It’s called a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).   RMD is an amount that one must withdraw and pay taxes on from retirement accounts (except for Roth’s) once they reach 70 and ½.  By doing a QCD, this allows the charity to benefit from the donation and you to not pay taxes on the donation.  In order to take advantage of this you must make the donation directly from your IRA custodian to the charity.  Meaning you can’t take receipt of the money first then donate it to the charity.  It’s a relatively easy process, usually just filling out a form from your custodian and they’ll send the check.  The thing to keep in mind is that you can only do this from an IRA, not a 401k.  So, if you’re turning 70 and ½ next year and want to continue donating to charities consider rolling over your old 401K to an IRA before 2019.  If you don’t do this by the end of this year, next year you’ll need to take an RMD from each 401K and the full amount of the RMD will be reported on your 2019 taxes.  Not to mention there are many reasons for someone approaching 70 not to leave an old 401K behind, such as lower fees, better investment options, simplifying things and better estate planning options.  For younger people there are a few reasons to possibly not rollover an old 401K which I’ll cover in another article.   


2)      What should you do about investment losses?  No one likes to lose money in their investments but it’s part of investing.  This year there has been a lot of volatility and many investments are down on the year.  However, when you do have loses you may be able to use them to reduce your tax bill.  First, let’s define what an investment loss is.  It means that an investment is worth less than what you bought it for.  If you have investment loses in a non-retirement brokerage account, then you can capitalize on them by selling the investment.  This now creates a loss and if you wait 30 days before buying the investment back you can write up to $3,000 of the loss off on your taxes.  If the loss is greater than $3,000 then you can carry the loss forward until it is written off in future years ($3,000 per year).  If you have gains in the future, then any loses you’re carrying forward from previous years will offset those gains.  Technically short-term losses are first deducted against short-term gains, then long-term loses are deducted against long-term gains.  Net losses of either type can then be deducted against the other kind of gain.  So, dump those loses before the year ends.  


3)      Should you sell some of your winners?  Another thing this year’s tax change did is keep alive those that pay 0% long-term capital gains taxes.  In 2018 married couples with taxable income up to $77,200 (single filers up to $38,600) pay 0% long-term capital gains taxes.  That means if this year your income is low, and you have some gains (again in non-retirement accounts) you may want to sell some of those to fill out the bracket up to 0% capital gains.  Keep in mind the capital gains get added to your other income to determine your total income for the year.  So first add up your other income to determine how much room there is to realize gains at a 0% rate.  Also, if you expect your income to be higher in future years you might want realize gains at the 15% rate.  The reason being if you have gains and your income is over $250,000 for married couples ($200,000 single filers) there is an additional 3.8% tax on the less of net investment income or excess MAGI (Modified Adjusted Gross Income) over $250,000 for married couples ($200,000 single filers).   


 4)      Do you need additional deductions for this year? There a few options if you need additional deductions.  If you have a 401K through work and haven’t maxed out the contributions, increase your contribution rate so you get in a much as possible before the year ends.  If you or your spouse are self-employed then there is still time this year to set up a Solo 401K and contribute up to the maximum of $18,500 or $24,500 if you’re over 50.  You could also add on a profit share contribution of up to 20% of your income on the business too.  You better act fast though because the deadline is the businesses fiscal year end which is usually Dec 31st.

Another option is to contribute money to an HSA (Health Savings Account) $3,450 for single medical plans and $6,750 for family medical plans.  These are great plans because the money goes in as a tax deduction, grows tax free, and comes out tax free if it’s used for medical expenses.  Some accounts also allow you to invest the money in stock or bonds.  A final option is making a deductible contribution to a Traditional IRA.  Depending on your income and whether you or your spouse are covered by a retirement plan at work determines if you can make this contribution.  The good news is that you have up until April 15th, 2019 (or when you file your taxes) to make this determination.  I’ll also cover this in an additional article.


If you think one of these strategies may make sense the only way to know is estimate your taxes for this year and run some sample scenarios to see what works.  You can also look at last year’s tax returns (if things haven’t really changed this year) to get a good understanding of where your taxes might be this year.  You don’t have much time left for this year so feel free to reach out to us if you need more help.  Happy Tax Planning!