2020 Year End Tax Planning Basics

As we approach year-end in what has been a challenging year for financial planning and investing, we would like to present you with some year-end tax planning recommendations. The window of opportunity for many tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so its important to evaluate your tax situation now while there is still time to affect your bottom line for the 2020 tax year.

Most of us do not have the ability to make large transactions that will save us millions of dollars in taxes. However, taking maximum advantage of a number of seemingly small moves can still save a significant amount in federal and state income taxes.

Maximize All Retirement Plan Contributions. For 2020, the maximum contribution to 401(k) and similar plans is $19,500. If you are 50 or over, you can contribute an additional $6,500 for a total of $26,000. Since these contributions are done through payroll, you will need to adjust your withholdings if you wish to increase your contribution.

If you work for a smaller employer your retirement plan may be a Simple IRA. The contribution limits are lower than for a 401(k) plan: $13.500 if you are under 50 and $16,500 if 50 or older. Employer contributions are either a 3% match or a 2% across-the-board contribution to all employees. Under certain circumstances the employer contributions can be reduced.

If you cannot afford to contribute the maximum amount, at least contribute enough to maximize your employer’s matching contribution. If your employer matches your contribution up to 3% of your salary, make sure you are contributing at least 3% of your salary. Your employer match is “free money” and you should always attempt to garner that benefit.

Consider Making a Roth IRA Contribution. Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars and future withdrawals can be made tax-free. There are income limits to be considered. If you are single and earn less than $124,000, you can make a full Roth contribution. If you earn more than $139,000, you cannot make a Roth contribution. In between those two amounts, you can make a partial contribution. For married filing jointly taxpayers, those limits are $196,000 and $206,000.

Maximize Contributions to College Savings Plans. Contributions to the Maryland 529 Plan are deductible up to $2,500 per beneficiary per year by an individual and up to $5,000 per beneficiary per year by married taxpayers filing jointly on your Maryland state income tax return. Excess contributions can be carried forward for ten years and used in future years. All gain withdrawn from 529 plans are tax-free if used for qualifying education expenses. Up to $10,000 per year can be used for elementary and secondary private school costs.

Maximize Contributions to Health Savings Accounts. High-deductible health insurance plans coupled with Health Savings Accounts can generate significant savings, especially for those not covered by employer-provided health insurance or those who are self-employed. Individuals can contribute up to $3,550 in 2020 and families can contribute up to $7,100. If you are 55 or older anytime in 2020, you can contribute an additional $1,000 These contributions are tax-deductible and withdrawals from HSA accounts are tax-free if used for qualified medical expenses. Unlike flexible savings accounts, HSAs are not a “use it or lose it” proposition; unused amounts can be carried over to future years.

In addition, health insurance premiums are tax-deductible for self-employed individuals as long as neither spouse is covered by an employer-provided health insurance program.

Required Minimum Distributions. Required Minimum Distributions were suspended for 2020 but will be back in effect in 2021. If you were having monthly withdrawals to satisfy the RMD, make sure you re-establish them for January, 2021.

If you reached age 70 ½ before January 1, 2020 you must take an RMD in 2021. Under the Secure Act if you were not 70 ½ on January 1, 2020 you do not have to take a RMD in 2021. However, if  you turn 72 by the end of 2020 you will need to take a RMD in 2021..

Failure to take proper minimum distributions will result in a 50% excise tax on the untaken portion of the minimum distribution. The minimum distributions rules for 401(k) plans and IRAs are different if you are still working at age 72; you must still take RMDs on IRAs but not on your current employer’s 401(k) plan.

Maximize Charitable Contributions. The fourth quarter is a time when many people review their charitable contributions for the year. Contributions can be cash or non-cash so if you haven’t worn that plaid sports coat or polka dot dress in two years, you may want to consider giving it away. Most major charities such as Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries have guidelines as to the charitable value of various household items and clothing. Non-cash contributions in excess of $500 per year must be reported to the IRS on Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions. With fewer taxpayers itemizing deductions because of the higher standard deduction, it may pay off to bunch charitable contributions into one year in order to itemize and then take the standard deduction the next year.

Review all non-qualified investment for potential tax losses. All gains and losses in retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.) are non-taxable events until the monies are distributed from the account. However, non-qualified accounts (individual and joint accounts) are taxed differently. Mutual fund capital gains are distributed to the investor and must be reported on their income tax return. Selling investments with a loss is a simple means of offsetting some or all of the capital gains distributed. In addition, individuals can deduct up to $3,000 of additional losses against all other income. Any net losses in excess of $3,000 can be carried forward to future.

Be aware of the wash sale rules, which state that taxpayers cannot sell a holding at a loss and purchase the same holding within 30 days before or after the sale. Losses in violation of wash sale rules are not deductible.

If we manage your investments, we will review your account in early December and take losses as appropriate. These transactions will be reflected on your year-end investment statements.

 

James J. Denora, CPA, CFP®