One of the least exciting things I could choose to write about is year-end tax planning. But a penny saved is a penny earned, and when saving it by reducing taxes, it seems twice as sweet. So, let’s take a couple minutes to review some actions or record keeping tasks you can work on between now and the time you file your tax return
Prepare records – Whether you prepare your own taxes using one of the popular software programs available or use a professional tax preparer, you’ll have a better chance of maximizing your deductions and have less stress in the process if you have your records of income and tax deductible expenses organized in a logical manner.
Rather than provide you with a list here, I suggest you do an Internet search using the key words “checklist for tax preparation.” Believe it or not, there’s a website called taxpreparationchecklist.com, but many sites have handy lists you can print and use to get your started in organizing your records. Obviously, some records will arrive in January, particularly 1099s for bank and investment accounts, but your probably have quite a few records on hand now – it’s just a question of where they are.
One item I noted was lacking on the internet checklists. They did not seem to cover the area of tax credits for purchasing hybrid vehicles, or for making energy efficient improvements to your home very well. Make sure to include those records as well.
Retirement Plan Contributions – Deadlines for establishing and making tax deductible contributions to qualified retirement accounts vary between account types. Some are Dec. 31, and some are as late as you file your 2010 tax return. If you are eligible to contribute, make sure not to let the opportunity pass just because you missed a deadline. Remember, the deduction costs less than $1 for every dollar contributed based on your tax bracket. Example – a $1,000 contribution for someone in the 35 percent tax bracket only costs them $650 in after tax dollars.
Accelerate expenses – This may be more business oriented, but could apply to individuals in some cases. Some tax deductible expenses (almost any business expense and property taxes for homeowners come to mind) may not be due until after the first of the new year. But, by making the payment before Dec. 31, you can move the tax deduction up into this year, reducing your tax liability when filing 2010 tax returns.
One caveat on this topic is that if tax rates rise for 2011, delaying tax deductions may prove to be more effective. At this time, I believe the tax rates on personal income for most, if not all taxpayers will be extended into 2011 and perhaps longer. Whenever Congress is involved we cannot be sure, so you have to go with your best feeling on this issue.
Roth IRA conversions – I touched on this topic in articles earlier this year. Converting traditional IRA funds into a Roth IRA actually increases your tax bill, but a special rule for 2010 conversions allows you to postpone payment of the tax, paying half in 2012 and half in 2013 (when filing 2011 and 2012 tax returns respectively). Why convert? To help reduce future taxes for you or other family members. The decision to do a conversion can be a complicated analysis, but in general broad brush strokes you may benefit from a conversion if you meet the following conditions:
1. You will be able to pay the conversion tax from a source other than IRA funds
2. You will not withdraw the money in the converted IRA for at least 10 years
3. You intend on leaving the Roth IRA to your heirs.
Consult your tax advisor before converting, but don’t delay as conversions must be done by Dec. 31 to take advantage of spreading of the tax liability over two years as described above.
Tom Breiter is president of Breiter Capital Management, Inc., an Anna Maria based investment advisor. He can be reached at 778-1900. Some of the investment concepts highlighted in this column may carry the risk of loss of principal, and investors should determine appropriateness for their personal situation before investing. Visit www.breitercapital.com.