We all want to be as efficient with our money as possible, and one way to accomplish that is to minimize the amount we pay in taxes.
Unfortunately, many of us aren’t as good about that as we should be. Often, people make financial decisions throughout the year without giving any thought to the tax implications and whether a different approach might have been wiser.
Let’s look at a few things that could help you in your quest to lower your tax bill, so you can keep more dollars to spend on the things that matter to you.
Understand your tax brackets
The U.S. tax code is quite overwhelming, so it’s difficult to understand all the nuances. But at a minimum, you should know where you lie in terms of the marginal tax rate. There are seven marginal tax rates that range from 10% to 37%, and as you move into higher income brackets, the percentage of your income over a certain amount is taxed at a higher rate. It’s important to be aware of this when you are making financial decisions.
For example, perhaps you are considering buying an investment property. But if the rental income from that property puts you into a higher tax bracket, it might not be as good a deal as you originally thought. Be aware of your marginal tax rate because you have greater control over your taxes if you understand where your starting point is.
See your tax professional two to three times a year
Many people visit their tax professionals once a year – usually after the tax year is over, which means they will simply be told how much they owe or how much their refunds will be. Once Dec. 31 has passed, it’s too late to do much about the bottom line, so this visit essentially is a “tell me the damage” visit.
The better approach is to see your tax professional two to three times a year.
- The first visit should happen about mid-year. Talk about any changes to your life that might have tax implications. Review what happened in the prior year so you can avoid repeating mistakes.
- Make a second visit toward the end of the year to discuss how things are going. If it looks like you should expect a refund, perhaps this would be a good time to do a Roth conversion because the refund could absorb some of the tax you would need to pay on the conversion. If you are going to owe money to the IRS, you should consider whether to deposit more in your retirement account or perhaps make a charitable donation, either of which could help reduce your tax bill.
- Finally, the third visit to your tax professional would come after the tax year is over. This is the visit many people already do during tax-preparation season, where they learn what the damage is.
Take advantage of deductions
For most of the taxpaying population, itemizing deductions is no longer a thing. That’s because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 raised the standard deduction so high that a typical taxpayer can’t cobble together enough deductible expenses to total more than the standard. That’s the case for many retirees as well. For example, for 2021 the standard deduction is $12,550 for single taxpayers and $25,100 for married couples filing jointly ($12,950 and $25,900, respectively, for 2022).
But there are still strategies you can use to lower your tax bill through itemized deductions. One way is to give appreciated assets to charity. Maybe you have an IRA that will have required minimum distributions (RMDs) that will be taxed in the future. You could set up a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) that transfers funds to a charity and those donations qualify as your RMD.