Congrats. You filed your 2018 tax return. But don’t stuff it in a file cabinet just yet. Instead, look it over to uncover steps you can take right now to lower your 2019 tax bill.
The IRS revised the withholding table early in 2018 which resulted in less withholding for most taxpayers and consequently smaller refunds or even balances due at tax time, says Robert Westley, a CPA and member of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Specialist Credential Committee.
His advice: Check to see if you may need additional withholdings from your paycheck. The IRS calculator can help you with that. Use IRS Form W-4 to indicate any additional amount you want to be withheld.
Evaluate your filing status
Choosing your filing status is generally a straight forward decision, but it can pay to compare the filing statuses you are eligible for each year, says Westley.
“A married couple can file jointly or separately, but in most cases filing separately is unlikely to decrease the overall tax bill,” he says.
If, however, one spouse has substantial unreimbursed medical expenses, filing separately will lower their adjusted gross income and allow the spouse with significant unreimbursed medical expenses to obtain a higher deduction amount, says Westley.
Maximize chances for pre-tax dollars
Maximizing the use of pre-tax dollars is a smart way to lower your 2019 tax burden. Ask your human resources department about any your pre-tax employee benefits, says Westley. Those might include health and/or dependent care flexible spending accounts, commuter benefits; a Section 125 premium-only insurance plan, and a health savings account (HSA).
Maximize chances to defer income
Maximize how much you contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement plan. Employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan can contribute $19,000 this year. Plus, those aged 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000 to their retirement plan.
Review investments for tax efficiency
Search for ways to harvest tax losses to offset any gains you may have recognized or will recognize during 2019. Tax loss harvesting, for example, is the practice of selling a security that has experienced a loss as a way to offset taxes on both gains and income.
“When harvesting tax losses, be sure to keep in mind the wash-sale rules when buying back into the market” says Westley.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a wash sale occurs when you sell or trade securities at a loss and within 30 days before or after the sale you buy substantially identical securities. Internal Revenue Service rules prohibit you from deducting losses related to wash sales.
Westley also says fixed-income investors ought to review their 2018 marginal tax bracket and calculate whether taxable or tax-exempt fixed income offers a higher after-tax yield.
Jonathan Gassman, a CPA, and CEO of the Gassman Financial Group, recommends rebalancing your investment portfolio “to provide additional tax-advantaged cash flow.” He suggests adding more dividend-paying stocks, which are taxed at preferential rates, and investing in bonds issued by the federal government, which may be exempt from state and local taxes.
Control what you can
Westley says those who are under the standard deduction threshold because of the new $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions should focus on what they can control.
“Since charitable deductions are fully controllable, bunching your charitable contributions into a single year, rather than contributing smaller sums over serval years, may put you over the new standard deduction hurdle,” he says.
For 2019, the standard deduction amounts are $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly and surviving spouses.
The new SALT cap will further increase the tax savings for taxpayers who can move their domicile lower tax states, says Gassman. Low state and local tax states include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and South Carolina.