It’s All in the Planning

If you want to pay the least amount of income tax each year, then it may be helpful to start doing some tax planning. Don’t worry—you don’t need an accounting degree to make some smart tax decisions. A little planning goes a long way.

Step 1: Start a filing system

Start a filing system to organize your documents. Any successful tax planning strategy requires you to maintain records of all transactions and receipts that may affect your tax return. This helps to keep track of important documents and avoid forgetting about transactions that occur months before the tax filing deadline.

There are several apps and websites that help filing and keeping up with your record.  QuickBooks online allows you to scan and store your receipts.  If you don’t have a business, some credit cards- I know for sure the American Express Platinum- allows you to scan and store receipts.  These electronic “helpers’ make the filing and organizing easier than piles or folders of receipts.

Step 2: Understand tax deduction requirements

Before you get too far along in the tax year, you should evaluate all available IRS deductions and the requirements to claim them. By doing this beforehand, you can be proactive in preparing to claim a deduction at the end of the year.

For example, it is better to start saving medical receipts at the beginning of the year in case you have enough medical to deduct for the year instead of waiting until a big expense happens later in the year and having to scramble to go back and recreate the earlier part of the year.

If you or your children are heading back to school soon and will need a loan to pay your tuition, it may be better to take out a student loan rather than using a credit card. This is because you can deduct the interest that accrues on a qualified student loan, but not on a credit card, even if used for educational purposes.

Step 3: Evaluate the tax credits offered

Tax credits offer a significant opportunity to save money on income taxes since they reduce your actual tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis.The types of tax credits offered each year change more frequently than deductions. Credits are often available for a limited time and cover specific types of expenses.

For example, the federal government currently offers taxpayers a credit that covers 30 percent of an unlimited amount of costs to purchase and install solar-energy equipment such as energy-producing solar panels. As long as the product includes a certification by the manufacturer that it satisfies government requirements, you can claim the credit.

Therefore, if you are planning to install solar panels on your roof this year, but are unaware of the credit, you could miss out on an opportunity to save money. And if you find out about the credit after you install the panels, you run the risk of being ineligible for the credit if your panels do not include a manufacturer’s certification. By knowing the requirements before you purchase the panels, you can insure you are eligible for the credit.

Step 4: Reduce Current Income and Build Future Wealth

There are two ways to save on taxes.  Lower your income or increase your deductions.  One way to lower income is to take advantage of all retirement plans available.  Make sure you are maxing out your employer’s 401K or 403b plan. Even when you have access to these plans you may be able to contribute to your own plan especially if you have any kind of side income.

 Use an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) instead of a savings account. Many taxpayers put their savings into a typical bank account that earns taxable interest. However, you can avoid paying tax on the interest each year by depositing money into a traditional IRA instead where the interest will accumulate tax-free. When you do, you might also be also eligible to claim a deduction each year for a certain amount of contributions you make to the account.

Each person’s situation is unique.  Make sure you see your financial advisor to make the changes now that will help you next tax season.