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Jim Hesseling
   

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The newsletter articles on this page provide valuable information on timely and interesting financial issues across a variety of subject areas, including retirement, investments, personal finance, annuities, insurance, taxes, college, and government benefits.


Questions to Ask Before Buying That Thing You've Always Wanted
Demographic Dilemma: Is America's Aging Population Slowing Down the Economy?
Ten Year-End Tax Tips for 2017
How much money should a family borrow for college?
How can families trim college costs?


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Ten Year-End Tax Tips for 2017

Here are 10 things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves between now and the end of the year.

1. Set aside time to plan

Effective planning requires that you have a good understanding of your current tax situation, as well as a reasonable estimate of how your circumstances might change next year. There's a real opportunity for tax savings if you'll be paying taxes at a lower rate in one year than in the other. However, the window for most tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so don't procrastinate.

2. Defer income to next year

Consider opportunities to defer income to 2018, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.

3. Accelerate deductions

You might also look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year, instead of paying them in early 2018, could make a difference on your 2017 return.

4. Factor in the AMT

If you're subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), traditional year-end maneuvers such as deferring income and accelerating deductions can have a negative effect. Essentially a separate federal income tax system with its own rates and rules, the AMT effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you're subject to the AMT in 2017, prepaying 2018 state and local taxes probably won't help your 2017 tax situation, but could hurt your 2018 bottom line. Taking the time to determine whether you may be subject to the AMT before you make any year-end moves could help save you from making a costly mistake.

5. Bump up withholding to cover a tax shortfall

If it looks as though you're going to owe federal income tax for the year, especially if you think you may be subject to an estimated tax penalty, consider asking your employer (via Form W-4) to increase your withholding for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly through the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck. This strategy can also be used to make up for low or missing quarterly estimated tax payments.

6. Maximize retirement savings

Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can reduce your 2017 taxable income. If you haven't already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so by year-end.

7. Take any required distributions

Once you reach age 70½, you generally must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you're still working for the employer sponsoring the plan). Take any distributions by the date required — the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required.

8. Weigh year-end investment moves

You shouldn't let tax considerations drive your investment decisions. However, it's worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves that you make. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.

9. Beware the net investment income tax

Don't forget to account for the 3.8% net investment income tax. This additional tax may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified AGI exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately, $200,000 if head of household).

10. Get help if you need it

There's a lot to think about when it comes to tax planning. That's why it often makes sense to talk to a tax professional who is able to evaluate your situation and help you determine if any year-end moves make sense for you.

Deductions may be limited for those with high incomes

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than $261,500 ($313,800 if married filing jointly, $156,900 if married filing separately, $287,650 if filing as head of household), your personal and dependent exemptions may be phased out, and your itemized deductions may be limited. If your 2017 AGI puts you in this range, consider any potential limitation on itemized deductions as you weigh any moves relating to timing deductions.

IRA and retirement plan contributions

For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) plan ($24,000 if you're age 50 or older) and up to $5,500 to a traditional or Roth IRA ($6,500 if you're age 50 or older). The window to make 2017 contributions to an employer plan generally closes at the end of the year, while you typically have until the due date of your federal income tax return (not including extensions) to make 2017 IRA contributions.

 
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