Despite past, present and future changes to the tax rules, some year-end tax-planning advice remains unwavering. Here are a few time-tested strategies to consider:
- Maximize retirement plan contributions. You’ve heard this advice many times, because it’s one of the best strategies for saving tax dollars, especially when wages are your primary source of income. The maximum contribution to a 401(k) for 2019 is $19,000. You can increase that by an additional $6,000 if you’re 50 or older. For SIMPLE plans, the maximum 2019 contribution is $13,000, and the catch-up amount is $3,000. Can’t manage the entire amount? Try to contribute enough to take full advantage of any matching contributions offered by your employer.
- Time itemized deductions. Amounts you pay for medical fees, property taxes and mortgage interest are deductible in the year you pay them. However, some expenses must exceed a percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI) before you receive any tax benefit. For example, out-of-pocket medical costs have to be greater than 10 percent of your AGI for 2019. Have less than you need to itemize? Consider accelerating or postponing expenses when possible to shift the deductions into the current or future year, depending on which year gives you the bigger tax break.
- Make the most of charitable donations. Payroll contribution programs and checks written and mailed to your chosen charity before year-end can get you a tax deduction, as can credit card charges made by Dec. 31. Donating appreciated stock owned for more than one year is a charitable tax-saver that gives you an itemized deduction for the fair market value of the stock while letting you avoid the capital gains tax generated by a sale. Keep in mind that you have to itemize to claim charitable contributions, and you must have written documentation of your donation.
- Take your required minimum distribution. If you’re required to take distributions from your retirement plan, do so by Dec. 31 or you face a 50 percent penalty. If you just turned 70½ this year, you could wait until April 1, 2020, to take a first distribution.