It’s not too late to cut your 2013 tax bill.? Prior to Dec. 31st:
- ?Increase your 401(k) and 403(b) contributions if you haven’t been contributing at the maximum rate all year.? This year you can put away up to $17,500 ($23,000 if 50 or older) into your 401(k) or 403(b) plan.? If you?re self-employed, consider setting up a Solo 401(k) by 12/31.
- Take a look at your withholdings and instruct your employer to withhold additional taxes if you haven?t had enough taxes withheld during the year and might get hit with an underpayment penalty.
- Consider selling your non-retirement investments that have decreased in value since your capital losses can offset other capital gains realized during the year (including from your mutual funds), and then can be used to offset up to $3,000 of wages and other income.
- Send in your January 2014 mortgage payment early enough so it will be processed prior to 12/31/13.? By sending in your payment a few weeks early, you can deduct the interest portion of that payment a full year earlier.
- Clean out your closets and donate your clothing and household items to a charitable organization since “non-cash” contributions are deductible if you itemize.? Don?t forget to get a receipt. And make sure to make a list of the donated items, including each item?s condition since only donations of clothing and household items in “good condition or better” qualify for a deduction.
- For gifts of money, making your donation by credit card before December 31st allows you to deduct the donation on this year’s return, even if you don’t pay your credit card bill until 2014.? And you always have the option of donating appreciated investments to charities. You get to claim your donation based on the value of the assets donated, without paying any capital gains taxes on the appreciation.
- Pre-pay your projected state tax shortfall if you’ll be itemizing your deductions and won?t be subject to the alternative minimum tax.
- Pre-pay or pay off your medical bills if your total medical expenses exceed 7.5% of your income and you itemize.
As people switch jobs, change financial planners, or just move through life, it’s not uncommon to leave a trail of IRA accounts, 401k accounts, and 403b accounts. Why not take this opportunity to clean up these retirement accounts by consolidating them into one or two accounts?
Consolidating all of your retirement accounts into just a few accounts makes a lot of sense for many reasons, including:
? The fewer the number of accounts, the easier it is to manage your investment portfolio. There are recommended asset allocations based on your age, financial goals, and risk tolerance available on most financial websites. Plus, make sure to either periodically rebalance your investment portfolio on your own, or seek the assistance of a financial professional to help maintain the recommended asset allocation for your portfolio.
? You also generally have the opportunity to borrow half of the balance in your 401k or 403b account, up to $50k. This can include a Solo 401k as well. Please note, however, that you can only take out a loan from the account at your current employer based on that employer’s rules. For that reason, rolling old 401k and 403b money into your active 401k or 403 account could give you tax-free access to more of your retirement money in case of a financial hardship or to use as the down payment on a home. You can also usually roll IRAs into a 401k or 403b account too thanks to one of the Bush Tax Acts. (Please note that if you leave your current job and have not paid off the full amount borrowed, the remaining outstanding balance will be treated as a taxable distribution subject to federal income taxes, state income taxes, and depending on your age, a 10% early withdrawal penalty as well.)
Consolidating your accounts should actually be quite easy. Since one goal of every financial institution and investment advisor is to hold and/or manage as much in assets as possible, and they all love slow moving retirement assets, they should be extremely helpful as you complete the necessary paperwork to initiate and complete these rollovers.
Caveat converter. Anyone who contributes to a Traditional IRA each year, and then converts that IRA to a Roth IRA, probably does NOT want to roll their 401k and 403b accounts into an IRA. The way the formula works that determines how much of a Roth Conversion is taxable, the more money you have in IRAs, the higher the percentage of the conversion that is taxable. IRA assets include Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs.
Why not also take this opportunity to rebalance your entire investment portfolio as part of the spring clean up? Consider putting less tax-efficient investments in your tax-advantaged accounts while keeping index funds, ETFs, non-dividend paying stocks, and tax-exempt bonds and bond funds in your taxable accounts.
And while you’re at it, why not take this opportunity to review who is listed as a beneficiary on your retirement and insurance accounts too? No matter what your will says, the person who will receive money held in your retirement or insurance accounts when you die is the person listed as the beneficiary on that account on the day you die. If you got married, divorced, re-married, had kids, have kids getting married, reached the point where your kids are having kids, or other circumstances to your family life, did you update the beneficiaries listed on each retirement and insurance account to direct those assets to the proper person or charity upon your death?
Each winter, when my staff and I meet with our clients to review their tax information, we get this question a lot, “Should I go with the Roth version of my employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) plan, or should I stick with the traditional version?”
Taxpayers first had the option of contributing money to a Roth account back in 1998. Remember, when you contribute money to a Roth account, you elect to forego a current year tax break in exchange for a promise from the government that distributions taken from the Roth account down the road won’t ever be taxed.
Through 2005, the only access you had to these tax-free accounts was to contribute to a Roth IRA. Many middle-income and high-income taxpayers never had the opportunity to contribute to a Roth IRA, however, since their incomes exceeded the relatively modest threshold based on their filing status. (The Roth IRA threshold for 2012 is $125k for single individuals and $183k for married couples.)
Congress liked that people were giving up a current year tax break by opting to go with a Roth IRA instead of to a Traditional IRA, so decided to expand this opportunity to 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans. As we wrote in our October 2005 Newsletter in an article called The New Roth 401k and 403b, employers could begin to offer the Roth version of these plans as of January 1, 2006.
What’s the difference between the Traditional and Roth versions of these popular retirement savings plans? With the traditional 401(k) or 403(b) plan, the salary deferrals you make reduce your taxable salary and grow tax deferred. You will then owe income taxes on distributions taken from these accounts when you retire.
Let’s say you earn $200k, and you max out your 403(b) salary deferrals for $17k during the year. In this case, your W-2 will report taxable wages of $183k in Box 1. Assuming you are in the 33% federal tax bracket, the $17k you contribute into your 403(b) plan saves you $6,667 in federal income taxes. That’s a pretty good tax break I would say.
What happens if you instead decide to go with the Roth version of the 403(b) plan for your salary deferrals? When you contribute money to a Roth account, you forego a current year tax-break. Your W-2, therefore, will report the full $200k as taxable wages in Box 1, instead of $183k that would be reported had you gone with the Traditional 403b. The benefit of giving up this tax break is the tax-free treatment of the compounded growth on the $17k of salary deferrals. In other words, you won’t owe any federal income taxes on the distributions taken from this account when you retire.
In Part 2, I’ll give you advice about the amounts you should be savings.