The end of 2010 is fast approaching, but there is still time to make some adjustments that may positively affect your 2010 tax bill. Currently, there is considerable debate on whether to extend the so called “Bush tax cuts,” which are scheduled to expire Jan. 1, 2011. The consensus is that the tax cuts will be extended for lower and middle income taxpayers, with some provisions for temporary extension for upper income taxpayers (individuals earning over $200,000 and married couples with incomes over $250,000).
This would lead us to assume that federal tax rates will remain basically the same for 2010 and probably 2011. Therefore, the general rule of deferring income and accelerating deductions at year-end is still good tax planning strategy. If you used a tax advisor in the past, you should meet with your advisor to assess your tax situation and discuss how the following tips may apply to your situation.
Determine where you are
Start by taking out last year’s tax returns, your most recent pay stubs and your investment account statements. Make a copy of your Form 1040 and pencil in estimates of your 2010 income. Use your investment account statements to estimate your interest and dividend income and also whether you have capital gains or losses. If you have a business, estimate your business income for 2010. If you have rental property, estimate your full-year income and expenses.
Estimate your itemized deductions for 2010. These include: allowable medical expenses, all state and local taxes, allowable interest, charitable contributions, allowable losses and miscellaneous deductions. Pencil in your total deductions on your Form 1040 and subtract it from your adjusted gross income to determine your taxable income. Use the tax tables to determine your estimated tax. Subtract any applicable credits from your total tax. Using your pay stubs, estimate your withholding for the year and add quarterly tax payments. Subtract your payments from the total tax to determine the amount of your overpayment or tax due.
Allowable deductions reduce your taxable income and your tax bill. The following is a sample list of actions that you can take before year-end to help reduce your tax burden:
n Pay state and local estimated income taxes before the end of the year.
n Pay property taxes before year-end.
n Pay your January, 2011 mortgage payment in December. The interest will be deductible this year.
n Be charitable; make contributions to your favorite charities. Additionally, non-cash contributions, such as clothing, household goods and appreciated securities can be deducted at their fair market value.
Harvest your losses
Analyze your investment portfolio with the objective of balancing out capital gains and losses. If you have stocks that have “paper” losses, try to sell enough losers to offset your realized capital gains for the year. Additionally, you can deduct an additional $3,000 ($1,500 for married filing separately) of losses from your regular income. Two words of caution: Be careful to avoid a “wash sale” that is re-buying the same security within 30 days before or after you sold shares. Additionally, losers that you dump have to be securities that you are comfortable selling at this time.
The basic intent of deferring income is to lower your taxable income for the current year. This is limited for most wage earners; however there may be some opportunities. Deferring a year-end bonus to January 2011 will escape taxation in 2010. Investment property, such as real estate, which is being sold near the end of the year, could have the closing delayed until early 2011.
Get ready for 2011
First, setup a tax filing system for all of your tax-related receipts and statements. Keep a copy of your tax returns forever. If you anticipate receiving a large refund because of over withholding, consider filing a new W-4 to reduce your payroll withholding. Plan ahead for your 2011 IRA, 401K, and similar retirement account contributions. If you have a medical or child-care flexible spending account, make sure you use the full balance this year and plan ahead for next year.
The information provided is a basic guideline to get you started. It is recommended that you consult a qualified tax professional to assess your personal situation.
Michael G. Shinn, CFP, is a Registered Representative and Advisory Associate of securities offered through Financial Network Investment Corporation, member SIPC. Visit www.shinnfinancial.com for more information or to send your comments or questions to email@example.com. © Michael G. Shinn 2010. Neither Michael Shinn nor Financial Network provides tax advice. Please consult a tax professional before implementing any strategy.