The article below is up to date based on the latest tax laws. It is accurate for your 2017 taxes, which you will file by the April 2018 deadline. Learn more about tax reform here.
The key to tax planning near the end of the year is simple – defer income and accelerate expenses if either is going to save you money on your taxes.
Income is taxed in the year it is earned, so if additional income is going to put you in a higher tax bracket and cause you to pay more taxes, you may want to get paid on January 1st and not December 31st. Expenses are deducted in the year they are paid, so if paying tax-deductible expenses early helps lowers your tax liability pay your expenses on December 31st rather than January 1st.
With that in mind, what are some flexible income and expense items you can defer or prepay? Check out the below year-end tax tips that you can take advantage of until December 31st to help you save on your taxes!
Holiday or Bonus Income. Do you receive a bonus around the holidays? If your bonus pushes you into the next tax bracket, ask your employer to delay that bonus until January 1st and you won’t owe income taxes on it until you prepare your taxes for the following year. You also want to make sure that the deferred bonus is also reported to the IRS in the correct tax year by your employer if you defer income.
Charitable Contributions. If you make a charitable contribution with a credit card on December 31st, you can claim the charitable deduction on this year’s taxes regardless of when you pay the credit card bill. It’s common for folks to contribute in December but not actually pay out the amount in January.
College & Education Expenses. If you take advantage of the various education-related credits, you can accelerate these too. You can prepay for the spring term in December to claim that on your tax return this year, since education tax benefit is based on when you pay the education expenses.
Retirement Contributions. Retirement contributions to a tax-deferred account, like a 401(k), can reduce your income so consider increasing your contribution to a 401(k) to reduce your taxable income. In 2017, you can contribute a maximum of $18,000 per account and every dollar you contribute will reduce your taxable income. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000.
The same applies to Traditional IRAs, which have a contribution limit of $5,500 for 2017 with an additional $1,000 for those 50 and older, as long as your income is below a threshold.
Medical Expenses. You can deduct medical expenses if they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. If you are near the threshold but not quite over it in 2017, you can prepay medical expenses for the next year to get above the 10% mark.
Flexible Spending Account. Don’t forget to use your flexible spending account by the end of the year! At the end of the year, the money in your FSA may disappear if you don’t use it depending on your account. Take care of some of those medical expenses you’ve been putting off that are covered by your FSA like over-the-counter medication or co-pays for additional doctor’s appointments.
If you find yourself with a lot left over, it’s a good time to review how much you’ve set aside for your FSA and adjust it accordingly. You don’t have to pay taxes on FSA contributions but you don’t want to be putting away too much and be stuck trying to find ways to spend it or lose it.
Business Expenses. Do you run your own business? If you have business expenses, look to shift them into this year. Did you want to purchase a new computer? Upgrade your current equipment? Get a new phone? Expenses related to your business are typically tax deductible and you’ll want to consider making those investments to reduce your taxable income.
It doesn’t have to be a full-time business to qualify. If you are a part-time driver for a ride-sharing company like Uber, many costs associated with your car would be included since the car is required to perform your job. This would include the car’s registration, insurance, maintenance, tires, and even cleaning costs.
Estimate Your Taxes. You can use TurboTax TaxCaster to estimate your taxes and see if you need to make any last minute tax moves. The IRS treats income taxes withheld from your paycheck as if they were paid in equal amounts throughout the year. So if your calculations show you’ll owe money, you can increase the withholding on your last paychecks of the year to make up the difference.
Don’t worry about knowing these tax laws. TurboTax will ask you simple questions about you and give you the tax deductions and credits you are eligible for.