If you managed to claim every possible tax break that you
deserved when you filed your return this spring, pat yourself on
the back. But don't stop there. Those tax-filing maneuvers are
certainly valuable, but you may be able to rack up even bigger
savings through thoughtful tax planning all year round. The
following ideas could really pay off in the months ahead.
Tax Savings for Young People
Tax Savings for Single People
Tax Savings for Young Families
Tax Savings for Older Families
Tax Savings for Affluent Families
Tax Savings for Older Affluent Families
Tax Savings for Empty Nesters
Give yourself a raise. If you got a big tax refund this year, it
meant that you're having too much tax taken out of your paycheck
every payday. So far this year, the average refund is nearly
$2,800. Filing a new W-4 form with your employer (talk to your
payroll office) will insure that you get more of your money when
you earn it. If you're just average, you deserve about $225 a month
extra. Try our
easy withholding calculator
now to see if you deserve more allowances.
Boost your retirement savings. One of the best ways to lower
your tax bill is to reduce your taxable income. You can contribute
to up to $16,500 to your 401(k) or similar retirement savings plan
in 2010 ($22,000 if you are 50 or older by the end of the year).
Money contributed to the plan is not included in your taxable
income. Haven't started one yet? Read
Why You Need a 401(k) Right Away
Switch to a Roth 401(k). But if you are concerned about
skyrocketing taxes in the future, or if you just want to diversify
your taxable income in retirement, considering shifting some or all
of your retirement plan contributions to a Roth 401(k) if your
employer offers one. Unlike the regular 401(k), you don't get a tax
break when your money goes into a Roth. On the other hand, money
coming out of a Roth 401(k) in retirement will be tax-free, while
cash coming out of a regular 401(k) will be taxed in your top
bracket. A provision in the fiscal cliff bill enacted Jan. 1 allows
you to convert money in your regular 401(k) to your Roth 401(k).
(Previously, this type of conversion wasn't available unless you
were 59 ½ or older or had left your job) Just remember that you'll
have to pay income taxes on the amount you convert.
Fund an IRA. If you don't have a retirement plan at work, or you
want to augment your savings, you can stash money in an IRA. You
can contribute up to $5,500 in 2010 ($6,500 if you are 50 or older
by the end of the year). Depending on your income and whether you
participate in a retirement savings plan at work, you may be able
to deduct some or all of your IRA contribution. Or, you can choose
to forgo the upfront tax break and contribute to a Roth IRA that
will allow you to take tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
Go for a health tax break. Be aggressive if your employer offers
a medical reimbursement account -- sometimes called a flex plan.
These plans let you divert part of your salary to an account which
you can then tap to pay medical bills. The advantage? You avoid
both income and Social Security tax on the money, and that can save
you 20% to 35% or more compared with spending after-tax money.
Starting in 2013, the maximum you can contribute to a health care
flex plan is $2,500. Use our
to figure out how much you can save.
Pay child-care bills with pre-tax dollars. After taxes, it can
easily take $7,500 or more of salary to pay $5,000 worth of child
care expenses. But, if you use a child-care reimbursement account
at work to pay those bills, you get to use pre-tax dollars. That
can save you one-third or more of the cost, since you avoid both
income and Social Security taxes. If your boss offers such a plan,
take advantage of it.
Ask your boss to pay for you to improve yourself. Companies can
offer employees up to $5,250 of educational assistance tax-free
each year. That means the boss pays the bills but the amount
doesn't show up as part of your salary on your W-2. The courses
don't even have to be job-related, and even graduate-level courses
Be smart if you're a teacher or aide. Keep receipts for what you
spend out of pocket for books, supplies and other classroom
materials. You can deduct up to $250 of such out-of-pocket expenses
... even if you don't itemize.
Pay back a 401(k) loan before leaving the job. Failing to do so
means the loan amount will be considered a distribution that will
be taxed in your top bracket and, if you're younger than 55 in the
year you leave your job, hit with a 10% penalty, too.
Tally job-hunting expenses. If you count yourself among the
millions of Americans who are unemployed, make sure you keep track
of your job-hunting costs. As long as you're looking for a new
position in the same line of work (your first job doesn't qualify),
you can deduct job-hunting costs including travel expenses such as
the cost of food, lodging and transportation, if your search takes
you away from home overnight. Such costs are miscellaneous
expenses, deductible to the extent all such costs exceed 2% of your
adjusted gross income.
Keep track of the cost of moving to a new job. If the new job is
at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job was,
you can deduct the cost of the move . . . even if you don't itemize
expenses. If it's your first job, the mileage test is met if the
new job is at least 50 miles away from your old home. You can
deduct the cost of moving yourself and your belongings. If you
drive your own car, you can deduct 24 cents per mile for a 2013
move, plus parking and tolls.
Save energy, save taxes. Congress extended a $500 tax credit for
energy-efficient home improvements, such as new windows, doors and
skylights, through 2013. Be advised, though, that $500 is the
lifetime maximum, so if you claimed $500 in energy-efficient
credits before this year, you can't claim this credit. There are
also restrictions on specific projects; for example, the maximum
you can claim for new energy-efficient windows is $200.
Think green. A separate tax credit is available for homeowners
who install alternative energy equipment. It equals 30 percent of
what a homeowner spends on qualifying property such as solar
electric systems, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps,
and wind turbines, including labor costs. There is no cap on this
tax credit, which is available through 2016.
Put away your checkbook. If you plan to make a significant gift
to charity in 2013, consider giving appreciated stocks or mutual
fund shares that you've owned for more than one year instead of
cash. Doing so supercharges the saving power of your generosity.
Your charitable contribution deduction is the fair market value of
the securities on the date of the gift, not the amount you paid for
the asset, and you never have to pay tax on the profit. However,
don't donate stocks or fund shares that lost money. You'd be better
off selling the asset, claiming the loss on your taxes, and
donating cash to the charity.
Tote up out-of-pocket costs of doing good. Keep track of what
you spend while doing charitable work, from what you spend on
stamps for a fundraiser, to the cost of ingredients for casseroles
you make for the homeless, to the number of miles you drive your
car for charity (at 14 cents a mile). Add such costs with your cash
contributions when figuring your charitable contribution
Time your wedding. If you're planning a wedding near year-end,
put the romance aside for a moment to consider the tax
consequences. The tax law still includes a "marriage penalty" that
forces some pairs to pay more combined tax as a married couple than
as singles. For others, tying the knot saves on taxes. Consider
whether Uncle Sam would prefer a December or January ceremony. And,
whether you have one job between you or two or more, revise
withholding at work to reflect the tax bill you'll owe as a
Beware of Uncle Sam's interest in your divorce. Watch the tax
basis -- that is, the value from which gains or losses will be
determined when property is sold -- when working toward an
equitable property settlement. One $100,000 asset might be worth a
lot more -- or a lot less -- than another, after the IRS gets its
share. Remember: Alimony is deductible by the payer and taxable
income to the recipient; a property settlement is neither
deductible nor taxable.
The stork brings tax savings, too. A child born, or adopted,
during the year is a blessed event for your tax return. An added
dependency exemption will knock $3,900 off your taxable income, and
you'll probably qualify for the $1,000 child credit, too. You don't
have to wait until you file your 2013 return to reap the benefit.
Add at least one extra withholding allowance to the W-4 form filed
with your employer to cut tax withholding from your paycheck. That
will immediately increase your take-home pay.
Tally adoption expenses. Thousands of dollars of expenses
incurred in connection with adopting a child can be recouped via a
tax credit, so it pays to keep careful records. The credit can be
as high as $12,970. If you adopt a special needs child, you get the
maximum credit even if you spend less.
Save for college the tax-smart way. Stashing money in a
custodial account can save on taxes. But it can also get you tied
up with the expensive "kiddie tax" rules and gives full control of
the cash to your child when he or she turns 18 or 21. Using a
state-sponsored 529 college savings plan can make earnings
completely tax free and lets you keep control over the money. If
one child decides not to go to college, you can switch the account
to another child or take it back.
Use Coverdells to pay for private school tuition. Coverdell
Savings Accounts allow parents and grandparents to use tax-free
dollars to pay private-school tuition and other education-related
costs for elementary and high-school students. You can contribute
up to $2,000 to a Coverdell Education Savings Account for any
beneficiary in 2013. The maximum contribution was scheduled to drop
to $500 this year but the fiscal cliff bill permanently extended
the $2,000 threshold. You don't get a deduction, but money you
stash in a Coverdell grows tax-deferred and can be withdrawn
tax-free to pay education bills. Beyond tuition and fees, you can
use Coverdell money to pay for tutoring, books and supplies,
uniforms and transportation. You can buy a computer for the whole
family to use and pay for Internet access, too. The contribution
limit is phased out if your adjusted gross income is between
$190,000 and $220,000.
Use a Roth IRA to save for college. Sure, the "R" in IRA stands
for retirement, but because you can withdraw contributions at any
time tax- and penalty-free, the account can serve as a terrific
tax-deferred college-savings plan. Say you and your spouse each
stash $5,000 in a Roth starting the year a child is born. After 18
years, the dual Roths would hold about $375,000, assuming 8% annual
growth. Up to $180,000 -- the total of the contributions -- can be
withdrawn tax- and penalty-free and any part of the interest can be
withdrawn penalty-free, too, to pay college bills.
Use Savings Bonds to pay for college: If you cash in Savings
Bonds to pay for your child's college tuition, you may be able to
avoid taxes on the interest. The tax break is available for EE and
I Bonds issued after 1989. To qualify for the tax break, you must
have been at least 24 years old when the bond was issued. The
interest exclusion phases out when your 2013 modified adjusted
gross income on a joint return is between $112,050 and $142,050, or
between $74,700 and $89,700 for single filers and other types of
Fund a Roth IRA for your child or grandchild. As soon as a child
has income from a job -- such as babysitting, a paper route,
working retail -- he or she can have an IRA. The child's own money
doesn't have to be used to fund the account (fat chance that it
would). Instead, a generous parent or grandparent can provide the
funds, or perhaps match the child's contributions dollar for
dollar. Long-term, tax-free growth can be remarkable.
Use a Roth IRA to save for your first home. A Roth IRA can be a
powerful tool when you're saving for your first home. All
contributions can come out of a Roth at any time, tax- and
penalty-free. And, after the account has been opened for five
years, up to $10,000 of earnings can be withdrawn tax- and
penalty-free for the purchase of your first home. Say $5,000 goes
into a Roth each year for five years for a total contribution of
$25,000. Assuming the account earns an average of 8% a year, at the
end of five years, the Roth would hold about $31,680 -- all of
which could be withdrawn tax- and penalty-free for a down
Convert to a Roth IRA. Switching a traditional IRA to a Roth
requires paying tax on the converted amount, but that can be a
fabulous tax-saving investment because all future earnings inside
the Roth can be tax free in retirement. (Withdrawals from
traditional IRAs are taxed in your top tax bracket.)
Undo a Roth conversion gone bad. When you convert a traditional
IRA to a Roth, you must pay tax on the amount you convert. But what
if the investments in the new Roth IRA fall in value? You get a
chance for a do-over. You have until October 15 of the year
following the conversion to "unconvert" and avoid paying tax on the
money that evaporated. You can then redo the conversion the
Protect your heirs. Be sure beneficiary designations for your
IRAs and 401(k)s are up to date. If your IRA goes to your estate
rather an a designated beneficiary, unfavorable withdrawal rules
could cost your heirs dearly.
Roll over an inherited 401(k). A recent change in the rules
allows a beneficiary of a 401(k) plan to roll over the account into
an IRA and stretch payouts (and the tax bill on them) over his or
her lifetime. This can be a tremendous advantage over the old rules
that generally required such accounts be cashed out, and all taxes
paid, within five years. To qualify for this break, you must name a
person or persons (not your estate) as your beneficiary. If your
401(k) goes through your estate, the old five-year rule
Help your adult children earn a credit for retirement savings.
The Retirement Savers Credit can be as much as $1,000, based on up
to 50% of the first $2,000 contributed to an IRA or company
retirement plan. It's available only to low-income taxpayers,
though, who are often the least able to afford such contributions.
Parents can help, however, by giving an adult child (who cannot be
claimed as a dependent and who is not a full-time student) the
money to fund the retirement account contribution. The child not
only saves on taxes, but also saves for his or her retirement.
The bank of mom and dad. If your adult children ask for a loan
to help them buy a house or start a business, beware that Uncle Sam
has something to say about the deal. If the kids want to borrow
more than $10,000, you may be required to charge a minimum amount
of interest. And if you don't? You have to report the "phantom"
interest as income anyway.
Deduct interest paid by mom and dad. UWhen parents make payments
on a child's student loan, the child can claim a tax deduction for
the interest, as long as the parents can't claim him or her as a
dependent, even if he or she doesn't itemize.
Make the most of the tax-free home sale profit. Up to $250,000
of home-sale profit is tax free ($500,000 if you are married and
file a joint return) if you own and live in the house for two of
the five years leading up to the sale. If you are bumping up on the
limits, consider selling and buying a new home to start the
tax-free clock ticking again. There is no limit on the number of
times you can claim tax-free profit on the sale of a home.
Don't underestimate the cost of home-equity debt. Generally,
interest on up to $100,000 of debt secured by your home can be
deducted, no matter what you use the money for. But if you are
among the growing number of taxpayers subjected to the alternative
minimum tax (AMT), home-equity debt is only deductible if the loan
was used to buy or improve your home.
Second homes can offer a vacation from taxes. If you're trying
to figure whether you can afford a second home, remember that
you'll get some help from the IRS. Mortgage interest on a loan to
buy a second home is deductible just as it is for the mortgage on
your principal residence. Interest on up to $1.1 million of first-
and second-home debt can be deducted. Property taxes can be written
off, too. Things get more complicated -- and perhaps more
lucrative-if you rent out the place part of the year to help cover
Watch the calendar at your vacation home. If you hope to deduct
losses attributable to renting the place during the year, be
careful not to use the house too much yourself. As far as the IRS
is concerned, "too much" is when personal use exceeds more than 14
days or more than 10% of the number of days the home is rented.
Time you spend doing maintenance or repairs does not count as
personal use, but time you let friends or relatives use the place
for little or no rent does.
Stay actively involved in rental real estate. Generally,
anti-tax-shelter legislation prevents losses from real estate
investments from being deducted against other kinds of income. But,
if you are actively involved in a rental activity, you can deduct
up to $25,000 of such losses ... if your adjusted gross income is
less than $100,000. You don't have to mow grass and unclog toilets
to qualify as actively involved; but you should make sure you're
involved in setting rents and approving tenants and management
Use a tax-free exchange to acquire new property. By trading one
rental property for another, for example, you avoid the capital
gains taxes you'd incur if you sold the first property ... leaving
you with more to invest in the second.
Use an installment sale of real estate to defer a tax bill. If
the buyer pays you in installments, the IRS will let you pay the
tax bill on your profit in installments, too. You must charge
interest on the deal, and each payment you receive will have three
parts: interest (taxable at your top rate), capital gain (taxed at
a maximum of 20% in 2013) and return of your investment
Convert a vacation home to your principal residence. Until 2009,
there was a sweet tax break for folks who sold their homes, claimed
tax-free profit and then moved into a vacation property. After they
lived in that home for two years, they could sell and claim
tax-free profit again ... including appreciation from the days the
place was a vacation home. There can still be some real tax
benefits to this strategy, but the value has fallen. A portion of
any profit on the sale of a
vacation-home-turned-principal-residence will not qualify as
tax-free home-sale profit. The taxable portion will be based on the
ratio of the time after 2008 the property was used as a vacation
home to the total period of ownership.
Take advantage of tax-free rental income. You may not think of
yourself as a landlord, but if you live in an area that hosts an
event that draws a crowd (a Super Bowl, say, or the presidential
inauguration), renting out your home temporarily could make you a
bundle -- tax-free -- while getting you out of town when tourists
overrun the place. A special provision in the law lets you rent a
home for up to 14 days a year without having to report a dime of
the money you receive as income.
Home buyer's Bible. Be a packrat with paperwork. Some costs
associated with buying a new home affect your "tax basis," the
amount from which you'll figure your profit when you sell; others
can be deducted in the year of the purchase, including any points
you pay (or the seller pays for you) to get a mortgage and any
property taxes paid by the seller in advance for time you actually
own the home.
Don't buy a tax bill. Before you invest in a mutual fund near
the end of the year, check to see when the fund will distribute
dividends. On that day, the value of shares will fall by the amount
paid out. Buy just before the payout and the dividend will
effectively rebate part of your purchase price, but you'll owe tax
on the amount. Buy after the payout and you'll get a lower price,
and no tax bill.
Check the calendar before you sell. You must own an investment
for more than one year for profit to qualify as a long-term gain
and enjoy preferential tax rates. The "holding period" starts on
the day after you buy a stock, mutual fund or other asset and ends
on the day you sell it.
Keep a running tally of your basis. For assets you buy, your
"tax basis" is basically how much you have invested. It's the
amount from which gain or loss is figured when you sell. If you use
dividends to purchase additional shares, each purchase adds to your
basis. If a stock splits or you receive a return-of-capital
distribution, your basis changes. Only by carefully tracking your
basis can you protect yourself from overpaying taxes on your
profits when you sell. A new IRS rule requires financial services
and brokerage firms to report to the IRS the cost basis for stocks
purchased on or after January 1, 2011 and mutual funds purchased on
or after January 2, 2012. They'll also provide you with this
information, which should make it easier for you to avoid costly
mistakes when you sell. For older shares, though, you'll still need
to track your basis to avoid overpaying taxes on your profits.
Mine your portfolio for tax savings. Investors have significant
control over their tax liability. As you near the end of the year,
tote up gains and losses on sales to date and review your portfolio
for paper gains and losses. If you have a net loss so far, you have
an opportunity to take some profit tax free. Alternatively, a net
profit on previous sales can be offset by realizing losses on sales
before the end of the year. (This strategy applies only to assets
held in taxable accounts, not tax-deferred retirement accounts such
as IRAs or 401(k) plans).
Tell your broker which shares to sell. Doing so gives you more
control over the tax consequences when you sell stock. If you fail
to specifically identify the shares to be sold, the tax law's FIFO
(first-in-first-out) rule comes into play and the shares you've
owned the longest (and perhaps the ones with the biggest gain) are
considered to be sold. With mutual funds, an "average basis" can be
used when determining gain or loss; but that alternative isn't
available for stocks.
Avoid the wash sale rule. If you sell a stock, bond or mutual
fund for a loss and then buy back the identical security within 30
days, you can't claim the loss on your tax return. The IRS
considers the transaction a wash, since your economic situation
really hasn't changed. It's easy to avoid being stung by the "wash
sale" rule, though. Watch the calendar or, buy similar but not
Ask your broker for a favor. The law allows investors to deduct
a loss on a worthless security, but only if you can prove the stock
is absolutely worthless. If you own stock you're sure isn't coming
back, ask your broker to buy it from you for a nominal amount. You
can then report the sale and claim your loss.
Think twice about selling stock for a profit if you're subject
to the AMT. Although long-term capital gains benefit from the same
20% maximum rate under both the regular tax rules and the
alternative minimum tax, a capital gain can effectively cost more
in AMT-land. The special AMT exemption is phased out as income
rises so, for example, a $1,000 capital gain can wipe out $250 of
the exemption, effectively exposing $1,250 to tax. That means your
tax bill rises by more than $150 for that $1,000 gain.
Pay tax sooner rather than later on restricted stock. If you
receive restricted stock as a fringe benefit, considering making
what's called an 83(b) election. That lets you pay tax immediately
on the value of the stock rather than waiting until the
restrictions disappear when the stock "vests." Why pay tax sooner
rather than later? Because you pay tax on the value at the time you
get the stock, which could be far less than the value at the time
it vests. Tax on any appreciation that occurs in between then
qualifies for favorable capital gains treatment. Don't dally: You
only have 30 days after receiving the stock to make the
Minimize the bite of the "kiddie tax." The rule that taxes a
child's income at the parents' rate now covers children up to age
19, or up to age 24 if the child is a full-time student. You can
minimize the damage by steering a child's investments into tax-free
municipal bonds or growth stocks that won't be sold until the child
turns 19, or 24 for full-time students.
Consider tax-free bonds. It's easy to figure whether you'll come
out ahead with taxable or tax-free bonds. Simply divide the
tax-free yield by 1 minus your federal tax bracket to find the
"taxable-equivalent yield." If you're in the 33% bracket, your
divisor would be 0.67 (1 - 0.33). So, a tax-free bond paying 5%
would be worth as much to you as a taxable bond paying 7.46% (5 ÷
0.67). A bond swap may pay off. It's a fact of life: As market
interest rates rise, bond values fall. If you have bond that have
lost value, consider a bond swap. You sell your losers, cash in the
tax loss and invest the proceeds in higher-yielding bonds to
maintain your income stream.
Use Treasury bills to defer taxes. Interest on three- and
six-month Treasury bills is taxed in the year it is paid. So,
buying a T-bill that matures in 2013 means you don't have to report
the income until you file your 2013 return in 2014. Remember,
Treasury interest is completely exempt from state or local taxes,
Death and taxes. Someone who is terminally ill may want to sell
investments that show a paper loss. Otherwise, the "tax basis" of
the property -- the value from which the heir will figure gain or
loss when he or she sells -- will be "stepped-down" to
date-of-death value, preventing anyone from claiming the loss. If
you want to keep property, such as a vacation home, in the family,
consider selling to a family member. You get no loss deduction, but
it could save the buyer taxes later on.
Time claiming Social Security benefits. If you stop working, you
can claim benefits as early as age 62. But note that each year you
delay -- until age 70 -- promises higher benefits for the rest of
your life. And, delaying benefits means postponing the time you'll
owe tax on them.
Dodge a 50% tax penalty. Taxpayers older than 70½ are required
to take minimum withdrawals from their IRAs each year. Failing to
do so, subjects them to one of the toughest penalties in the tax
law: the IRS claims 50% of the amount that should have come out of
the account. Your IRA sponsor can help pinpoint the amount of the
Keep careful records of the cost of medically necessary
improvements. To the extent that such costs -- for adding a
wheelchair ramp, for example, lowering counters or widening a
doorway or installing hand controls for a car -- exceed any added
value to your home or vehicle, that amount can be included in your
deductible medical expenses.
Include travel expenses in medical deductions. In addition to
the cost of getting to and from the doctor, you can deduct up to
$50 a night for lodging if seeking medical care requires you to be
away from home overnight. The $50 is per person, so if you travel
with a sick child to get medical care, you can deduct $100 a day.
Starting in 2013, you get a tax benefit only to the extent your
expenses exceed 10% of adjusted gross income, or 7.5% if you're 65
Crank in the value of deducting long-term-care premiums.
As you shop for long-term care insurance
, remember that a portion of the cost is deductible. The older you
are, the more you can write off. For employees, this is a medical
expense which means it only saves money if your medical expenses
exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (7.5% if you're 65 or
older.) If you're self-employed, you avoid the haircut and get this
deduction even if you don't itemize.
Give it away. Money you give away during your lifetime won't be
in your estate to be taxed at your death. That's one reason there's
also a federal gift tax. The law allows you to give up to $14,000
to any number of people in 2013 without worrying about the gift
tax. If your spouse agrees not to give anything to the same person,
you can give $28,000 a year to each individual. If you have four
married kids, for example, and you give $28,000 to all eight
children and in-laws, you can shift $224,000 out of your estate
gift-tax free each year.
Choose the right kind of business. Beyond choosing what business
to go into, you also have to decide on the best form for your
business: a sole proprietorship, a subchapter S corporation, a
C-corp or a limited-liability company (LLC). Your choice will have
a major impact on your taxes.
Hire your children. If you have an unincorporated business,
hiring your children can have real tax advantages. You can deduct
what you pay them, thus shifting income from your tax bracket to
theirs. Since wages are earned income, the "kiddie tax" does not
apply. And, if the child is under age 18, he or she does not have
to pay Social Security tax on the earnings. One more advantage: the
earnings can serve as a basis for an IRA contribution.
Watch start-up costs. Generally, the costs of starting up a new
business must be amortized, that is, deducted over years in the
future. But you can deduct up to $5,000 of start-up costs in the
year you incur them, when the tax savings could prove particularly
helpful. Take our
quiz on savvy start-up moves
Avoid the hobby-loss rules. There's a
heads-the-IRS-wins-tails-you-lose rule if the IRS determines your
activity is a hobby rather than a for-profit business. You still
have to report any earnings as income, but there are restrictions
on deducting expenses and you can't deduct a loss. To avoid this
problem, run your activity in a business-like manner, including
having a separate bank account and having business cards
Time receipt of self-employment income. Those who run their own
businesses have a lot of flexibility at year-end. To push the
receipt of income into the following year, delay mailing bills to
clients until late in December that payment is received after
December 31. Or, pay business expenses before January 1 to lock in
Don't be afraid of home-office rules. If you use part of your
home regularly and exclusively for your business, you can qualify
to deduct as home-office expenses some costs that are otherwise
considered personal expenses, including part of your utility bills,
insurance premiums and home maintenance costs. Some home-business
operators steer away from these breaks for fear of an audit. But a
new IRS rule that takes effect this year will make it easier to
claim this tax break. Instead of calculating individual expenses,
you can claim a standard deduction of $5 for every square foot of
office space, up to 300 square feet.
Cut compensation, boost dividends. Principals in closely held
businesses may want to shift part of their compensation from salary
(which is taxed in their top bracket) to dividends (which is taxed
at a maximum 15% rate). This can pay off if the corporation is in a
low tax bracket, so the loss of the deduction for dividends paid is
more than offset by the owner's savings.
Stash cash in a self-employed retirement account. If you have
your own business, you have several choices of tax-favored
retirement accounts, including Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs)
and individual 401(k)s. Contributions cut your tax bill now while
earnings grow tax-deferred for your retirement.
Pay estimated taxes ... or not. If you receive significant
income not subject to withholding -- from self-employment or
investments, for example -- you probably need to make quarterly
estimated tax payments to avoid an IRS penalty. But, if withholding
will equal 100% of your 2012 income tax bill (or 110% if your
income was over $150,000), you don't need to make estimated
payments ... no matter how much extra income you make in 2013.
Take Uncle Sam shopping for your new business vehicle. It may
not be the greenest of strategies, but if you need a new vehicle
for your business, realize that Congress offers special tax
incentives if you buy a heavy sports-utility vehicle or a pick-up.
While the first-year write-off for most business cars is limited to
around $12,000, you can "expense" much more if you buy a heavy SUV
or pick-up truck for your business.